With another early call time, our group boarded the bus and headed off with early morning chatter introducing our next adventure. Our first stop brought us to a tall, white, banal exterior building located in the western part of Mumbai. A quick elevator ride brought us to an opposing interior: red walls, pop art decor, and an open office design. This visit was the most interesting to me as we delved straight into the characteristics and attitudes of the evolving Indian market. Our speakers addressed, and dismissed, the common Indian stereotypes ("curry nation," snake charmers, etc) and highlighted the trends appearing in Indian culture. Our speaker described India's diversity as, "Many Indias within one India," and not only did I find the succinct phrase to responsibly encompass India's population of 1.3 billion, but I also felt like it captured the underlying themes of what I was learning everyday (when people ask me what India is like, I often repeat the same phrase.)
Our speakers highlighted the issues this demographic divide can bring to both advertising, and communication to India's diverse 1.3 billion. Of India's 1.3, only 10% of those individuals have spending money. To put that in perspective, roughly 130 million Indians have spending money, or equivalently, roughly 40% of the United State's population. Not only is that a huge market, but the weight of the other 90%, 1,170,000,000 people, immediately sparked my innate curiosity (Who are these people? What problems were preventing economic benefits from reaching them?) This lecture gaged my understanding on Indian culture as a rising opportunity and a simultaneous cultural quagmire. This lecture series concluded with several advertisements that had run with social messages commenting on topics from women's place in society to positively highlighting the differently-abled, and all included a melodramatic tone enforced with bombastic musical compositions and emotion-inducing camera angles. This lecture offered us a view into Indian culture that connected our personal experiences with the Indian culture we had haphazardly presupposed as different. After the presentation, we all had questions.
After our meeting, we were quickly back in the bus. Typical to Mumbai, traffic caused delays, and we were rushed into our next meeting: Bollywood actress, Konkona Sen Sharma. Most prominently known for her roles in movies such as Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Page 3, Omkara, and recently Lipstick Under my Burkha, her talents have traversed both in front of the camera and behind it. Standing a tall 5 feet, we met her in the central, northern part of Mumbai in a conference room coterminous with a very nice Marriott hotel. Although we were a little late, and partly flustered, she was gracious in answering our questions. She spoke of her time in India's movie industry and her experience working both globally and in India. She acknowledged both the hardships of being a woman in the film industry while noting her own privilege she had been granted. We were only able to meet with her for a short time as she had to leave, but I very distinctly remember how well she carried herself. The calmness of her voice in cohabitation with her careful pick of diction reinforced her collected air that left an impression.
Again, we were back on the bus. As we passed by the crowded streets and intertwined our way through traffic, I thought of the banal exterior of the advertising agency and my dual surprise with its modern interior; I thought of our composed speaker inside the grandness of that hotel; I thought of our day through the Mumbai's biggest slum, and their furtive economy. Truly, Indias within India encompasses more diversity than I had already seen, yet the juxtaposition of the city had never stopped enthralling me.