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Watch out! How ‘cultural blindness’ tripped up Titan

What on earth is ‘cultural blindness’?

We’ll get to that in just a bit. First, let’s go over what happened to Titan earlier this week.

Okay, shoot.

Last month, Titan (a joint venture between the Tata Group and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation) unveiled a special edition line of watches: the ‘Namma Tamil Nadu’ collection. The watch dials in this line featured symbols of Tamil culture: motifs of temple architecture, the mythical Annapakshi bird (woven in Kanchipuram silk) and even the Tamil script.

To showcase this line, the company released an ad film, which has triggered a controversy.

I watched the ad, but I don’t understand what the fuss

is about.

The ad, directed by filmmaker Niyantha Shekar, is indeed slick. It, too, artfully showcases symbols of Tamil culture. And on the face of it, there may seem nothing exceptionable about it.

What then?

Earlier this week, the ad faced a backlash among a section of Tamil Twitterati, who even trended the #BoycottTitanWatches hashtag. Stung by the backlash, Titan withdrew the ad, and Niyantha, who faced a torrent of social media criticism, deleted his Twitter account.

Again, why?

As I said, there appears to be nothing outwardly provocative in the ad, and the visuals and the commentary seem to tastefully pay tribute to Tamil culture. But a closer look gives a clue to what might have triggered the response.

Tell me more.

One particular frame, which celebrated the distinctive Tamil alphabet ‘zha’, appears to have riled up supporters of the DMK party. It showed a Tamil journal Zhagaram rolling off the press: one headline, in particular, quoted Arjun Sampath, a local leader of a pro-Hindutva party, as saying that actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth would “demolish” DMK leader MK Stalin.

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