In Defense of Mahira Khan's Gai Soap Commercial

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

If you grew up in the middle class ninetees, you'd probably be aware of Gai soap. There's a lot to choose from in the detergent aisle in the mart in our city homes today, but back then, i remember my grandmother was adamant about the use of washing her clothes with the big brown block of soap that we won't even find in the marts we frequent today, let alone look at it. And wash her clothes with her hands. As a kid, you'd only get the regular PTV channel, and there'd be nothing more to do but let it remain on through the days. Specially in the village on Eid.

"Gai soap bananay walo ki janib se eid ki khushiyaan mubarak"

This advert would keep blasting on the screens after every minute. And as much as you would grow sick of it every year on every eid, you liked making fun of it. As you were watching Meera of Reema in the flicks that they starred in those days, a whole cow would erupt on the screen all of a sudden wishing you a happy Eid. The absurdity of flipping through channels didn't exist back in the days of watching TV on my grand father's ten channel only SONY Tv set he had collected money to buy; the first colored tv in the family. Ten channels, and all of them PTV. And if you flipped channels, gai soap would be on all of them. But Gai soap stuck. And even as we grew up and stopped visiting the village and got new television sets in our homes, and cables installed, the memory of the tacky font and the cute animations remained. So did the smell of the hot air, and the dust from the plantations in the fields, mixed in with the soapy scent of Gai soap that my grandmother's soap reeked of. Yes, even on Eid.

Fast forward fifteen years from that one year i had to spend in my village to now, We have huge flat screen TV's in the house, our ad free versions of globalization in the form of Netflix only tv shows and we live in the city indefinitely with only visiting the family in the village on Eid. And even the village is now a mini city. It has a mall, and a multitude of marts. Marts that sell detergent powders instead of soap. And instead of Meera or Reema on our screens, we have Mahira Khan reigning the entertainment world. So it only made sense that when Gai soap would make a come back, it would choose Mahira Khan to disrupt our screens with. Yes, the world has evolved, that is why we have the Gai Soap Detergent that Mahira is endorsing.

The advert very artistically blends our culture with globalization, showing Mahira donning not only a jeans and a top, but also wearing various cultural outfits. The advert captures scenic shots of the versatility of the land of Pakistan, and Mahira really captures the essence of the Pakistani girls whom you'll find across the country. The world has since then been upset, and making fun of Mahira Khan for having taken such a tacky brand to work with. Because Mahira Khan is the classy, well educated artist we all have come to adore, and Gai soap is something to be made fun of because come on! Gai, and soap, how does that connect? But I think otherwise.

It makes sense for Mahira to be the face of gai soap not because Mahira is the rich girl from a big city, but because Mahira is the girl the girls across the country can connect to. As people from the cities with wifi invaded lives and being up to date with every tv show in the west, we forget that we are a country where a lot of the people are still watching tv on the old sets, that internet has not yet taken over the lives in the villages, and there are people who still watch only one channel. I would know, because even the outskirts of my village, people don't have gas lines. And their homes got an electricity connection five years ago. With Mahira having risen to the top in the past few years, Mahira was the girls to go-to for this ad because she represents the struggle of the hard working individual. And by embodying different cultures in the ad, the girls from the villages will be able to relate more. Because lets admit, we city people really aren't the target audience for gai soap. Its the people sitting in the two bulb lit room who've been using the gai soap who will transition into the detergent; not us city folks.

"As Mahira endorses Gai Soap, and the modern world reacts to it, we need to look at the situation and what it shows about us as a society. We've become accustomed to seeing our celebrities too much. Their millions of followers has made them appear more human, more relate-able, people we can look up to in certain situations. They reply to our tweets, and we've associated a certain lifestyle with them, and us. In that carefully curated lifestyle, we have some places to be, views to see, and things to have. And share it all with the rest of the world. There's a sense of belonging that comes with emulating a famous celebrity. Because of social media, we've come to entitle this certain approach to high brow living as a restriction to the metropolitan life. This thinking is damaging, because it romanticizes the idea of a high brow life and limits a human being to being a certain way to be approved by us. People's instagram and twitter profiles are a representation of their mind. Cool people do cool things. So when Mahira decided to step out of the "brand conscious" image our lives project, it shattered the concept of this high brow living.

Gai soap is not exactly something people who own iPhones would like to own, even if it's kept in the laundry room. Its a symbol of our third world country mediocrity, a representation of an outdated living style. It's not something as cool as Mahira Khan's instagram. But with Gai Soap's Detergent Mahira tells the the story of not just Gai soap's step towards entering the modern world, but also how we reject outsiders and things that represent a step or more down from the image of advancement we project through our lives. Gai Soap is just nowhere in there. And we refuse to let it in.

The power of advertisement is not only for the digital masses. I admit i first saw the ad on instagram, but we're missing the bigger picture here. Mahira Khan's guy soap ad depicts nostalgia and reality alike. How a thing of the past is now trying to re-invent itself and trying to make things not only better for the city people, but the lives of the people beyond the cities - places where Gai Soap reigned, and still does. Remembering not everyone can afford a smartphone in our country, but people do wash their clothes with soap and with hands instead of washing machines. And for them, the transition to detergent from soap through this ad is a symbol of advancement. Mahira should be appreciated for that, rather than made fun of. Her being a part of the campaign is a huge deal not because she is a superstar, but because she is showing us the versatile dynamics of human life and how even a person like her can stand up and show empathy towards someone just trying to make a place in this tough tough life. Which is exactly what Gai soap is trying with their new detergent.

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