Dear Varun Dhawan, is this a passenger or a creep?

The Kalank [2019] actor’s suitcase advertisement doesn’t speak highly of the conduct of Indian passengers during their travels.

Screenshot of Varun Dhawan ogling at a woman in the Skybag TV commercial

By Mayur Lookhar

Manners maketh man. It is a British saying, but applicable to every man on the globe. Civil conduct goes a long way in earning respect for a man. Not all possess civil qualities, but that is what separates gentlemen from men.

Recently, actor Farhan Akhtar was among those who had hit out at the distasteful body spray advertisement for allegedly promoting rape culture. [It’s a different matter though that the Akhtar co-distributed K.G.F franchise has itself been slammed for glorifying criminals and excessive violence]. Nevertheless, we welcome a celebrity condemning such distasteful content in the garb of a TV commercial. The company [Layer’r SHOT] has since apologized and pulled down the controversial ads.

It is bizarre as to how this advertisement got cleared. A little bit of research helped us to know that while the CBFC [Central Board of Film Certification] does approve TV commercials that are screened in movie theatres, but there is no vetting of all other ads that directly release on TV, digital platforms and other mediums. Offended consumers can write to Advertising Standards Council of India. The ASCI has a CCC [Consumer Complaints Council] that adjudicates over such grievances. The jury mostly contains members from civil society.

Layer’r SHOT’s attempt to shoot in the dark boomeranged. But what about the others? Is it the only offensive, insensitive content going around in advertising circuit? We recently saw a TV commercial featuring popular Bollywood actor Varun Dhawan. You can see the suitcase/ trolley bag ad below.

With a catchline of #ChaseTheWorld, our man Dhawan is changing his boarding pass at the airport quicker than changing diapers. And this multiple destination change, all because he wants to travel to the destination where the particular beauty, mostly air hostess is heading.

While it is good to chase the world, but we’re afraid this conduct of Dhawan’s character in the Skybags advertisement doesn’t speak volumes of Indian passengers during their travels – be it air, water, or even road.

Ads shouldn’t be taken seriously, and a little bit of over-the-top, illogical action is fine as long as it is genuinely cheeky. Dhawan is a likable guy on and off the screen. It surprised us as to how the Kalank [2019] actor agreed to shoot for such a commercial. The constant changing of destination enables Dhawan to move his Skybag up and down. It shows the strength, the smoothness, the durability of its wheels, but in the process, Dhawan has raised a question mark on Indian passengers’ character.

The moment he has eye contact with a beautiful air hostess, Dhawan decides to take the flight that she is operating. He had no qualms in ogling at a dusky air hostess inside the lift. Huh, aren’t we Indians notorious for ogling? The flirtatious behavior reaches lecherous proportions when Dhawan gleefully tells the last woman, some airline booking executive, “Woh chhodo, tum kahan se ho (Leave that [ticketing] aside, where are you from?”

Sir, do you really want to travel or have you just come to the airport to ogle at women? It makes you wonder, is this man a passenger or creep? Worse, the ad agency, company chose to involve foreigners in the commercial, thus all the more embarrassing Indian passengers.

Sexual crimes, particularly against women and children are always on the rise. Is Varun Dhawan or Skybags encouraging stalking? Sorry Varun, and his fans, but such TV commercials set a dangerous precedent. What does it say about Indian passengers? Are we creeps?

This writer comes from a civil aviation family, and we have witnessed some unruly conduct by Indian passengers at the airport or during in-flight. Every now or then some passenger gets drunk and indulges in flirtatious behaviour with cabin crew. While it is dangerous to reveal names, but we’ve heard stories of celebrities indulging into bad behaviour during a flight or at the airport.

A former TV star, who is popular for playing a patriarch in TV and films, is said to be on the black list of many airlines. Another seasoned actor, whose son was involved in a major controversy, is also rumored to have indulged in abusive behaviour on a few occasions. A source informed us that s/he had once slapped a noisy 90s Bollywood singer for stalking a desi girl in the lift of a Dubai hotel. Mika Singh was accused of similar conduct by a Brazilian model during an event in the Middle East few years ago. Another 90s singer, who sings in multiple languages, too, has had his in-flight turbulent experiences. Though unverified, but we once heard that in the 90s, female cabin crew staff from an international [South Asia] airline had written to their company heads refusing to serve Indians, especially those who boarded from a particular South Indian sector.

If you think only Indian celebrities are notorious, then you are wrong. A now retired pilot recently told us how a famous Hollywood star, who played an iconic Indian character, got cosy with his/her friend in the business class. Desi or videsi, the common factor to celebrities is their urge for smoking, drinking. A renowned Hollywood actress kept on requesting the Indian pilots to allow her to smoke. This resulted in a slight delay to the flight as the pilots and other airport officials permitted the popular actress to smoke on the boarding stairs.

Anyway, celebrity in-flight conduct is an altogether different issue. Coming back to Varun Dhawan, we hope that the actor is careful of the kind of creatives he does in future. There was a recent government ruling that requires celebrities to do due diligence before they choose to promote any product. A fine of up to Rs10 lakh [1 million rupees] can be imposed on celebrities for misleading ads. Repeat offence can see the fine stretch up to Rs50 lakh [5 million rupees] and even a jail term up to 5 years.

The Union government recently tightened norms related to mass advertising in print, television and social media under The Consumer Protection Authority (Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Necessary Due Diligence for Endorsement of Advertisements) Guidelines 2022. This change comes after some Bollywood celebrities were criticized for promoting gutkha [chewing tobacco] brand.


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