A cricket World Cup advertisement for toothpaste has, improbably, created outrage on social media amongst a section of Indian Bengalis.

The Indian advertisement, which takes potshots at Bangladesh just before the India-Bangladesh, World Cup match is being attacked as racist for using cultural motifs common to both West Bengal and Bangladesh in order to stereotype the latter. These include a Tagore poem as well as a popular dessert.

Chew everyone up

The advertisement is one in a series of promotions released by Dabur’s Red toothpaste brand. In the spot, veteran actor Manoj Pahwa eats a variety of foods associated with the countries India is playing World Cup matches against. The tie against Pakistan featured Pahwa crunching his way through walnuts from Chitral with the hastag: #SabkoChabaJaayenge – Hindi for “we will chew everyone up.” England was represented with stickjaw toffee and the West Indies match featured a coconut tart as well as an elongated “yo man”.

The advertisement before the India-Bangladesh match on Tuesday match had “tiler nadu” or sweet sesame balls as the food that typifies Bangladesh. As part of the typecasting of Bangladesh, the advertisement also featured Pahwa reciting a line from a famous poem of Rabindranath Tagore’s: “Bristi Pore Tapur Tupur”, the rain falls pitter-patter.

However, neither sesame sweets not Tagore are specific to Bangladesh. Rather, both cultural symbols are shared by Bengalis on both sides of the border. As a result, the use of this common heritage to stereotype Bangladesh exclusively has angered some Bengalis in India, who took to social media to vent their anger with some even running the hashtag, #boycottdabur.

Bengali film maker Srijit Mukherji attacked the advertisement as “moronic, dimwitted, humourless, tasteless”, arguing that it “whipping up a brand of faux nationalism imposed in Hindi in name of cricket, with scant respect for the diverse languages and cultures of this great nation”.

Journalist Soumyajit Majumdar called the advertisement “absolutely racist” since it targeted “every aspect of Bengali culture, including Rabindra Sangeet”.

Others were very specifically aggrieved with the use of Tagore – probably the most popular cultural icon of Bengal – as well as the use of the sesame sweet given that it is a popular part of Hindu Bengali religious rituals.

There was also some trivia: Mayukh Ranjan Ghosh, a journalist, pointed out that Dabur itself was founded by a Bengali.

Bengal and Bangladesh

The main point of anger, however, was the use of symbols common to all Bengali-speaking people to stereotype Bangladesh. Irate users pointed out the irony of such an approach which implicitly implied that West Bengal did not own these symbols or that Bengalis were different from other Indians.

By the time this article was published on Tuesday afternoon, a Charge.org petition had been been launched to demand an apology from the company.

Stung by the criticism, Dabur has taken down the ad. In an email to Scroll.in, the company apologised for the ad:

 “Dabur Red Paste’s #SabkoChabaJaayenge campaign series was planned around the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2019 as a fun-filled way of reaching out to crores of cricket fans in the country. Since the airing of the latest India Vs Bangladesh ad in the series, we have received some comments from people in the digital space who felt that it hurt their cultural sentiments. It has since been withdrawn and we sincerely apologise if we have unintentionally hurt anybody’s sentiments.” 

This is not the first time a jingoistic ad around the 2019 cricket World Cup has created controversy. A Star Sports’s advertisement which portayed India as the father of Pakistan and Bangladesh before the June 16 India-Pakistan Word Cup game was seen as an attempt to stoke aggression.

Note: This piece has been updated with Dabur’s statement.