Its new advertisement 'Kachra Bhi Khelega' — meant to be an awareness campaign about food waste and recycling — has drawn backlash for being insensitive and casteist. After being called out on social media, Zomato has withdrawn its ad and issued an apology.
The ad featured the Dalit character 'Kachra' from Aamir Khan's Lagaan who was used metaphorically to represent kachra or garbage.
For the unversed, the hit 2001 film Lagaan featured a marginalized Dalit character who was ostracized from the village due to his caste. Throughout the film, his real name is not revealed and instead, other characters use 'Kachra' as a casteist slur to refer to him.
Later, in the course of the film, he is included in the cricket team by Aamir Khan despite the backlash from other team members. He eventually helps the team win against the British players.
The problematic Zomato ad prompted people to point out that the voiceless character only played into the fancy of an upper-caste 'saviour complex' and wasn't an authentic or sensitive depiction of a Dalit person.
In a bid to promote environmental cleanliness, Zomato aimed to focus on the importance of recycling, and gave several examples of how waste can be recycled into various products.
However, to depict their idea, they use the Lagaan actor to play the recycled products including a towel, lamp, and a table.
Naturally, the ad did not sit well with social media users. They were quick to point out that the creators were highly tone-deaf and casteist.
A user wrote, "Zomato is serious about recycling. They recycled casteism from 2001"
Another user commented, "This is just so offensive. One has to wonder who these people are who created the advert, approved it and put it online without once thinking about it"
Here are more reactions:
After the backlash, Zomato has taken down their ad and given out an official statement. They wrote, "On world environment day, our intent was to spread awareness about the potential of plastic waste and benefits of recycling in a humorous way. Unintentionally, we may have hurt the sentiments of certain communities and individuals. We have taken down the video."