Airtel’s Latest Ad Argues That Indian Women Can, Indeed, Have It All

It portrays a woman who is a boss at work, but can still cook dinner for her husband when she gets home. And it’s starting some important conversations about what that means.

1. This weekend, Airtel released a commercial featuring two working professionals (one man and one woman) trying to find their respective work-spouse balances:

2. In case you don’t want to watch it, here’s what happens: A woman tells her male employee that he has to finish [unspecified professional task] no matter how long it takes.

3. So he’s stuck late at the office, doing the work that his terrible boss has dumped on him.

4. While she’s like, bye. Because she’s the boss and she gets to do that.

5. Then she goes home and cooks a full Masterchef meal for her husband…

6. And meanwhile, her worker bee dude at the office tells his wife on the phone that he’ll be late getting home.

7. Finally, thanks to their super-fast 3G enabled video call, you find out that they’re actually married – *music crescendos* – TO EACH OTHER.


8. The ad, named “Boss,” has sparked predictably strong reactions. Some take issue with its portrayal of a woman who, despite being professionally successful, still cooks for her husband.

Not only is that Airtel wife/boss ad stupid,it's deviously regressive. Lesson to women: You may be BOSS, yet must cook2please @GabbbarSingh

— Tedhi Lakeer (@TedhiLakeer)

Ah, Airtel. Attempt to be 'progressive' and #feminist. End up with an ad even more retrograde and sexist than usual. Smh.

— Anuradha Santhanam (@anumccartney)

11. Others have been quick to point out that she wasn’t expected to, or told to, cook dinner. She chose to.

Why is the new #Airtel ad offensive/misogynistic? She didn't cook because she's the wife. She cooked because she got home early.

— Agratha Dinakaran (@Agratha)

#Feminism is about choices, people. Husband didn't call and ask her to prepare a hot dinner when he got home. She *wanted* to cook. #Airtel

— Agratha Dinakaran (@Agratha)

14. And finally, in the minority is the most progressive camp, citing pragmatism as the driving force of her cooking spree.

Whoever gets home first, cook. There. I just solved Airtel. Next?

— Rohan Joshi (@mojorojo)

16. This ad joins a spate of recent campaigns from around the world that have aimed to bridge the gap between “woman” and “boss.”


Pictured above: Screenshots from a Pantene Philippines ad campaign from 2013. More here.

17. And, in particular, to pardon women from the gendered pejorative “bossy” and instead allow both genders to equally own the title “boss.”

18. Women reportedly make up only 30% of the Indian work force, and earn only 62 paise for every rupee that a man earns for equal work.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

This is in large part because India, like most of the world, is deeply entrenched in a patriarchy that tasks women with motherhood before their careers. Indra K. Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo (pictured above), said in a recent address that women cannot have it all – where “all” means being a good professional, mother, and wife – and it is unreasonable to expect them to. Airtel, portraying a functional marriage where the women is more professionally successful than the man, obviously believes otherwise. Regardless of which side of the conversation one falls on, one thing to be grateful for is that at least it’s being had.

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Rega Jha is the Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed India and is based in Mumbai.
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