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India 2015: THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Empowerment

More Indian women today take journeys seeking self-discovery and greater fulfillment

Brands need to understand this quest or they probably will be left behind 

 Siddhant Lahiri
Regional Account Planning Director
J. Walter Thompson

J. Walter Thompson is South Asia’s leading and most admired marketing communications agency that offers a truly integrated network across South Asia. It provides powerful 360 degree total communication solutions to its clients across India through: Mainstream advertising, Hungama Digital Services, Social Wavelength, Encompass, Thompson Social and J. Walter Thompson Rural.


Roughly one year ago, a little Hindi film called Queen brought us face to face with a phenomenon that defines today’s contemporary urban Indian woman. The main character’s journey of self-discovery, her desire for personal fulfillment and courage to challenge traditional society, has important implications for brands.

The film tells the story of a young, nai?ve girl who travels to Europe alone after being jilted at the altar and, in the process, transforms into an independent, self- sufficient woman. However, the most remarkable thing present in this journey, interestingly, is a critical absence: Queen has no king. Not even a prince. Only a knave, and a pale one at that.

You may ask why this is important. Well, examine the context: in a country ostensibly entering a golden era, discussions of how skewed this nation is against women (societally, culturally, politically and even economically) are commonplace. The national capital has unofficially been declared unsafe for women. Gender ratios in education and employment are ridiculously lopsided. And yet, within this everyday quagmire, the modern Indian woman has – quietly, imperceptibly, but exhilaratingly – decided to reclaim hegemony on the one thing that matters most to her: herself. Queen depicts this in a simple and clear way – and becomes one of the most important films in recent Indian cinema.

Increasingly, women are traveling to be with themselves, where the physical journeyisbothanoutwardmanifestation of and an aid to an inward journey. Women are just picking up their bags, laptops and cameras and embarking to destinations with varying degrees of exotica and quaintness, all the way from Dharamshala to Cambodia. There are only two conditions – there should be no boredom, and there should be no companion.

This is not a result of wanderlust, per se. The need for exploration and adventure here trumps the need to simply travel. For the geographical journey itself, ultimately, is secondary – the real journey lies within. This is a relatively new trend and while in its infancy when it comes to its pop culture depiction, it is already apparent that there are three major aspects that define this new trend:

1. There’s no need for a man in the journey of self-discovery

Who needs a man to go anywhere? In fact, who needs anyone? More than the destination, the key aspect here is the company of oneself. Interestingly, the objectives behind the solitary confinement that prisons impose and the solitary expeditions we go on are similar: to use the time and focus that solitude brings to explore the self. Having the support (or the distraction) of a man not only hampers the process, but brings in another contender to share the credit for your growth.

2. It’s not outward rebellion, just gentle negotiation for respect and self-identity

Gaining independence, confidence or self-awareness is rarely about big, grandiose moments for all the world to see. However, that doesn’t mean it is not significant. In reality, the narratives of such transformations are comprised of small, intimate moments, but they mean the world to the people who matter most – ourselves.

3. There’s no instant personality overhaul, just a gradual assertion of the self

By the end of Queen it is undeniable that the protagonist Rani has changed. However, it is not a drastic personality overhaul – she remains the same person she was in scene one. Her characteristics, idiosyncrasies and quirks do not undergo any major transformations. After all, going on such journeys only to change as a person would be defeating the purpose. The idea is to become what you are, inhabit what is more-or-less your current personality, only more fully. Over time, Rani too comes into full bloom, gaining confidence and maturity and an ability to handle everybody – her parents, her ex-fiance? and his parents – without fear or flustering. And what makes it all special is that she does all of that without becoming a different person – just a more confident, assured version of herself.


The implications for the travel industry are broad: be it travel companies, security apps or even information-providing travel apps. Mainstream, non-travel brands
too are exploring this phenomenon.
We saw glimpses of this in the Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign about empowering young people. Examples of these journeys appear in commercials from brands like Maggi, Vodafone, Nikon and Woodland shoes. And there’s the ad for Titan watches where a young woman, unperturbed by her boyfriend ditching her, sets out on a girl trip with her mom.

Going forward, a great shift in focus is required from brands. Until now, brands talking to women have focused on the external relationships, and external gratifications: becoming a better daughter, wife, mother or housewife. Perhaps now it’s time that brands started focusing on the most integral, internal relationship she has – with herself.

The ultimate gratification conventionally is the happy outcome that results from building strong external relationships. Queen is almost a study in the opposite – how an unfortunate outcome of an external relationship led to a far stronger internal relationship – and it depicts how strongly this nonconventional thought connects with the modern urban Indian woman.

Clearly, self-discovery (and traveling to attain it), is becoming increasingly passionate topics for women. Today, any brand that talks to women must not ignore the process or the importance of self-discovery (and possibly a journey as its physical manifestation). Like they say, sometimes you have to go far to come closer to yourself.