Zomato, a well-known food delivery app, recently faced significant backlash for its advertising campaign. The company received heavy criticism for its inhumane portrayal of a Dalit character named “Kachra” from the movie Lagaan, released in 2001.The dehumanisation of Dalits in popular media has been a longstanding issue in India, highlighting concerns regarding social equality and inclusion. Dalits, historically marginalised and oppressed communities, continue to face discrimination and prejudice, including in the representation of their identity in movies, television shows, and advertisements. Zomato issued an apology on their official Twitter account, acknowledging that their unintentional actions may have caused harm to some communities and individuals. They expressed regret and stated that they had removed the video.The ad aired on World Environment Day and received intense backlash on social media, with netizens condemning it as casteist, disgusting, and highly insensitive.
It is astonishing how this campaign got passed through several filters and yet slipped into being insensitive content
The two-minute ad featured actor Aditya Lakhia, who portrayed the character who originally starred as the character of a polio-affected Dalit character, named ‘Kachra’, in the Bollywood movie ‘Lagaan’. ‘Kachra’ translated to ‘Garbage’, Zomato’s campaign advertisement showcased him as various objects made from recycled waste, accompanied by text highlighting the amount of recycled waste used for each item. Zomato also emphasized their commitment to recycling and the environmental benefits of their initiatives, mentioning that they had recycled 20 million kg of plastic waste. The enraged netizens commented that Zomato had not adequately considered the dehumanizing portrayal of the character and the sensitivity surrounding caste portrayals in the Indian entertainment scene. ’Kachra’, the character of the movie itself portrays a very sad state of affairs of the caste system. Bringing the same character back to life in 2023 and using him as a representation for inanimate ‘objects’ with no voice, no emotions is a violation of humanity itself. It is astonishing how this campaign got passed through several filters and yet slipped into being insensitive content and how the importance of avoiding perpetuating such stereotypes was overlooked. What a miss!
As a trendsetter and a prominent brand known for its creative marketing content, Zomato is expected to exercise great responsibility. Given its reputation, the scrutiny and criticism received for the campaign were heightened. The disappointment was particularly noticeable because Zomato has previously produced impactful and heartwarming advertisements.Unlike Zomato’s mind-blowing ads, this one was painful to watch for this one seemed to hurt the sentiments of a section of audience. The blow came to Zomato harder because of the volume of netizens and customers it has accumulated, thanks to their usually genius social media content and a flawless online food delivery system.
This time, the netizens wasted no time in getting into the ring.
Approaching this campaign with a different perspective we found ourselves as big-fans of the patriotic masterpiece ‘Lagaan’, that makes every Indian’s heart sing with pride and joy. A lot of us only remember the character of ‘Kachra’ as a pivotal character that led to the victory of the Indian cricket team. Freeing them from the gut-wrenching possibility of having to pay ‘ Teen Guna Lagaan’ or three times the tax. The movie Lagaan was as much about how Indians treated each other as it was about Indians v/s the British. The glorious win and happy ending in the movie often omits the commentary on casteism associated with the imperative character ‘Kachra’ and his unfortunate story, from memory of most viewers. As years went by people remembered the sentiment and passion behind the movie. The backstory of the heroic character might have blurred over the years, if not completely wiped off from memory which might be one of the reasons things went south on this one.
Sensitisation and inclusivity is the backbone of a world that is just and works smoothly. As the human race progresses, this incident promises to show the importance of sensitivity and inclusivity training in educational and work places. Beyond that, it is essential to inculcate that objectifying of human beings, irrespective of caste, gender, race, ethnicity or being completely ignorant of the same is unacceptable.This unfortunate incident can be written off as an honest mistake, an unforgettable lesson for Zomato and all marketing companies in the game. Being said that, it is inexcusable and shocking from a brand of Zomato’s stature.
This is always room for redemption, especially for an indispensable brand like Zomato. For starters, they can begin by organising workshops or training sessions to sensitise their employees about caste, discrimination, and cultural sensitivities. Maintaining transparency in their communication and sharing the steps they are taking to rectify the situation will help them get back the trust of the audience. Providing updates on internal changes, initiatives and partnerships aimed at promoting inclusivity and avoiding similar mistakes. They can also start off by reaching out to the affected communities, particularly Dalit organisations and activists, to apologise directly for the offensive portrayal demonstrating an honest commitment to understanding and addressing the concerns raised. At the same time, prioritising diversity and inclusion within their organisation, especially in creative and marketing teams by having diverse perspectives.
Here’s hoping, Zomato swoops back in with one of their classic, original and witty campaigns, with food, love, laughter and togetherness…. that leaves everyone wanting more(for fans like us)!