MW first 15 years have coincided with an interesting time in the life of the urban Indian man, a period that has seen fundamental changes not only in his lifestyle but also in his values, aspirations, relationships with women and family and so on. His was the first generation of men to benefit directly from the opportunities unleashed by the economic liberalisation of the early 1990s and the internet revolution that came soon after. The material rewards that followed were accompanied by a profound remoulding of his life and thinking, in a manner that would not have been anticipated even a decade earlier.
FCB Ulka, one of the country’s leading advertising agencies, recently set out to explore these changes through a project called ManMood, the largest single study ever conducted into the mind of the urban Indian man. Over 27 workshops were conducted and 16 in-home family interactions were held among SEC A and B households, featuring men in the 18-44 age group in eight cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi, Mysore, Indore and Jodhpur — to get a fair representation of urban India. The study generated over 100 hours of free and frank conversations, which served as a rich source of insight and understanding into the Indian man.
These insights were further supplemented by the analysis of data points from secondary sources, such as the Indian Readership Survey and the Target Group Index, as well as literature reviews of almost 75 studies and reports, including the FCB Ulka Hindi magazine Study, The Cogito Consulting Reel vs Real Life Report and others. The study, compiled by Ruta Patel, head of strategic planning at FCB Ulka Advertising, Mumbai, and Sunil Shetty, head of strategic planning at FCB KL, Malaysia, highlights seven key truths about the new Indian man. The composite portrait that emerges is not an encouraging one.
Vanity, thy name is man. He wants to be well turned out and sees no harm in indulging in grooming himself. He has somewhere to reach in life and regards his appearance as an enabler in reaching there.
The importance of grooming is being brought home to the Indian man emphatically by a variety of factors, not least of which is Bollywood and television. There is a significant incidence of appearance anxiety today among the youth and young consumers, who easily ascribe a causal relationship between grooming and success: “The reality is today, the better you look the further you get… so it’s important to invest”
However, men continue to seek simplicity in their grooming regimen with just 2-3 products: “I use the basics, Face wash, deo and lightening moisturizer only.” This repertoire of grooming products used by men however increases exponentially the lower you go down the age ladder.
Interestingly, in the less economically affluent segments, it is often the man who introduces newer branded cosmetics into the household, even as the woman of the house often continues to use traditional remedies: “She prefers to use natural products, I bought a L’oreal face wash and deo, since I have to go out and work and get money today”
Miss A Brand That Talks To Them: A distinct dissatisfaction with male oriented grooming brands, especially in older age groups: “You either have women’s brands or these so called sexy brands, there is no normal one for people like me.” This reality is worsened with the convenience of using brands that are essentially seen as feminine: “I end up using Dove products but they are really for girls”
Consequently, toiletries purchase is shifting from a family decision to an individual one: “Woh alag soap use karte aur main alag, hamare yahan alag-alag products aate hain ghar pe”
E-Commerce Drives Awareness In Smaller Towns: When it comes to clothes, men are more brand conscious than ever before, across town classes. They see brands as differentiators and believe they are recognisable by others and cue a distinct imagery for themselves: “Even in Jodhpur, today we have all the brands thanks to Myntra and Flipkart, so I get my fave brands like Levi’s”
Appearance Anxiety Is Much Higher Than Ever Before: Acceptable fashion truths are actively sought, as the Indian man does not want to be caught off guard in what is not in sync with the latest styles: “I once walked into office with sports shoes on formal clothes, I thought it’s ok, but the way everyone laughed was very insulting”
At work he has to constantly make an impression, while at home housework suppresses his masculinity. He can only be himself among his friends. But, even among friends, there is a degree of hierarchy.
Between work and home, the man of today feels stifled. At work he is constantly trying to make an impression that will help him get ahead in life and therefore meet his ambitious financial targets.
At home he is required to play dual roles which he really doesn’t connect or relate with. He feels his ‘masculinity’ is being supressed by fulfilling what he believes are traditionally a woman’s roles.
His friends in this situation are his escape mechanism, with whom he feels he doesn’t need to put up any pretences. They are still friends of convenience but hold a critical place in his life.
Tenuous Relations: Even as there are dramatic changes in the way we look at our close relationships, there is an even more dramatic shift in the extended family phase. The extended family is seen as welcome as long as they are in line or ahead financially, and hence can provide the right role models for their own family, else the relationship is restricted to family marriages and events. A housewife in Jodhpur proudly said: “I encouraged my husband to move out of the joint family since they are not as educated as we are and hence my child doesn’t get the right environment”
Rising entertainment options have further obviated the need for the traditional Indian extended family and increasingly the practise of dropping over unannounced has practically disappeared. Friends have taken up this space in his life, which the extended family has vacated.
Friendship Is The Last Bastion Of Traditional Masculinity: Friends remain the one area where men can still be men, and that aspect continues to be very important to the man. There is no taboo subjects when among friends: “You talk about girls and things which you can’t talk about with anyone else”
For men, friends are a reaffirmation of traditional norms of masculinity, which is being challenged at home and office: “It’s like at home, and at work we have to be more correct, with friends you can be like you are…”
Hierarchy Of Friendships: However, even this area has not been without change, because friendships today are more about convenience than about bonding, but even as the quantity of friendships have expanded dramatically thanks to WhatsApp and the like, the quality of friendships has deteriorated to a significant extent, and often an hierarchy of friendships emerges, signalled by the way friends are wished on birthdays:
Close friends – Call and meet on birthdays Friends – Call on birthdays
General friends – SMS
Casual acquaintances – Facebook message
His is a new convention of parenting — from considering his children as assets, he today understands only too well that his investments in his children are a one-way street, pushing him to deem them as liabilities
Children continue to be seen as the most precious gift, but increasingly parents know that this gift comes with an expiry date. There is an increasing awareness that their role in their children’s life once they grow up and become independent may be limited, hence they are also preparing themselves financially for an independent existence.
There is a rising awareness that children will live their own lives, where their role may be limited: “Jab tak college mein hai, hamaare saath hai, uske baad uski marzi. Waise maine khudko mentally tayyar karliya hai”
Investment In Children Is Time Bound: They see their duty as being limited to providing the best possible start for their child through the right education, but increasingly expect children to shoulder the burden of expensive post-graduation degrees.
There is an increasing expectation that children help shoulder the rising financial burden of education: “I asked my son to take an educational loan for his MBA, that way he learns the responsibility”
Sound Education Seen As Future Insulation From Duties : The right education also absolves them of future responsibilities: “I ensure my daughter is working and has the right qualifications, tomorrow she should not be dependent on us, if something goes wrong”
The Indian parenting paradigm has changed, from living for children to living for themselves while providing the right start to kids.
He is all for gender equality, but is not very happy about its consequences. He sees the new roles he is expected to play vis-à-vis his spouse as one-sided and unfair. While he has to share the responsibilities at home, he feels his wife does not share the pressure of providing for the household.
The relationship between the husband and the wife has increasingly become a relationship of equals, with both partners sharing and supporting the family. The more materialistic nature of modern Indian society is also being manifested among women, and the pressure of providing for the wants of the family is also being felt visibly by the man of the house.
The husband today is increasingly expected to contribute time towards the welfare of the household beyond just earning money, a fact which he is aware of but resents. His contention is that since he brings home the income, he needs to be freed of the other aspects of taking care of the household, but he is being slowly but surely forced to take a more active role in household affairs as well. There is an increasing pressure on men to deliver on their roles as the provider.
“The options are so many, everybody wants something all the time — sometimes it gets a bit much”
The Relationship With His Wife Is On Shifting Sands: Women’s empowerment has perhaps had the most visible impact on the relationship between the husband and the wife, and the contours of these relationships have changed drastically. The role of the man as the head of the household today is more like a constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one, with the extent of power being negotiated constantly. The role of the head of the household has become nominal rather than real.
“Earlier, my father would speak and mom would listen. Nowadays, I have to convince my wife, not just tell her something.”
The woman has become far more assertive than ever before, and the biggest change is visible in north India, where women have come into their own and are not at all shy of showcasing the extent of empowerment.
“At home, all decisions are mine. After all, I am also well-educated and can handle the home better than my husband”
In southern India, the rituals of respect tend to be maintained rather more overtly.
“When guests come home, it is my responsibility to take care of them. I don’t mind, it’s a small thing to do”
Increasing Preference For Working Wives: Constantly playing dual roles at work and home is leading to frustration among men: “Teaching our daughter is my responsibility at home, but it just gets too much at the end of a working day”
Perhaps in recognition of this reality, there is a high level of expressed preference for a working housewife who then also shares the burden of providing for the family: “Jab shaadihogi to biwikohaath to batanahoga, dukaanmeinkuch der baithjaaye, yakuchchota job kar le”
Or in other cases, the husbands are seen encouraging their wives to continue education post marriage: “I got married after my 1st year MSc, my husband encouraged me to complete my PhD”
In his world, the value of ‘values’ is decreasing steadily. Values are viewed as deterrents in his path to success, and a bending of rules is seen as a necessity to survive.
The never ending chase to succeed has resulted in three out of four men expressing some level of dissatisfaction with their standard of living today. Life has become a continuous climb to reach the ever-elusive temple to Mammon.
Anything which stands in the way of making this journey easier needs to be dismantled. This generation places very little store by ‘values’ and tends to instead swear by ‘practicality’.
Raising Kids To Be More Realistic: The worrying aspect is that they feel the need to ensure that children are brought up on a healthy dose of such practicality, since good values may make it difficult to succeed. They are unabashed about comprising to achieve their goals.
“You should not set limits, if you set limits then Ambani would not have become Ambani”
Assuage Guilt By Blaming The System And A Growing Need For Money : There is a rising belief that the need to compromise on values is a function of the society we live in. Rather than an aberration, bending of rules is today seen as a necessity to survive.
“Practical banna important hai. Jhootaaj business keliye compulsory ho gayahai”
An exponential increase in expenses further aggravates this trend.
“You cannot imagine how much I have to save. Five years ago, Rs 1 crore was a large amount, but today that seems like just a small sum”
Bollywood Portrays Villains As Heroes: Today, negative characters are heroes too, and in style. The portrayal of the villain has seen a sea change, from the non-aspirational scum of society to a sophisticated, steely and charismatic character. These characters are often portrayed by heroes from within the industry. Also, promiscuity as a tool to get ahead is no longer only for the negative cast. Lead actors are also seen compromising on values to achieve their goals. All of this is being accepted by the viewer, being a reflection of his reality.
His experiences have led him to conclude that ‘you are only as good as the money you make’.
The Indian man increasingly defines himself by his possessions. However, this materialistic definition of self-worth means that the goalpost of success is constantly shifting and seems ever-elusive, since both the list of items necessary to be seen as successful keeps increasing, as does their associated cost.
Possessions like home electronics are where the traditional game of one-upmanship is being played to the hilt, with bigger or more expensive devices being coveted at the cost of being in debt. The acquisition of an expensive electronic item obviates the concern of taking on a loan, due to the perceived image as an ‘asset’
Money Is Everything: The attitude to money is perhaps one of the biggest changes in the Indian consumer landscape — this generation does not value money as an asset, but rather as an enabler.
Accordingly, the attitude towards money is not one of conservation, but of optimal utilisation to achieve desires. At the same time, money is also one of the biggest stressors for today’s men. As expenses and inflation mount, estimating the correct amount of money for a better tomorrow is becoming tougher and tougher.
Not Destiny’s Children, And Proud Of It: This generation of men consider themselves completely free to carve out their own future, without being bound to follow well-trodden paths due to a paucity of opportunities. They are supremely self-confident that their past or birth does not limit their aspirations or dreams.
“If I have a better launchpad, I will get a better start, but the finish is always in my hand.”
A Burning Need To Get ‘Somewhere’ Fast: The impact of this attitude has profound consequences not only on their personal lives but their professional aspirations and ambitions as well. The feeling that I am only as good as the money I make implies that they also look at their careers from the perspective of ‘best returns’. “You need to measure how much you are making – if growth is slow, it’s time to consider the next step”
Loyalty is of shrinking utility to this generation, which proudly proclaims that you need to be only as loyal as your options permit. In smaller towns, a paucity of knowledge and opportunities means that jobs are seen as limiting in the growth prospects that they provide.
“You can move ahead 1-2 steps with a job, but you can’t jump ahead like you can in business”
Unsurprisingly, a recent study found that India has the highest attrition rate among major economies.
Even Their Role Models Have Feet Of Clay: This trend is exacerbated by a lack of role models, especially for the younger generation. Icons of professionalism and institution builders are seen as yesterday’s heroes, and the reach of global icons is limited to a small set of urban, affluent Indians. Role models tend to come from within the community or area, and many of these role models have been successful by being ‘practical’ in their approach to business.
“Hamare yahan rehte hain, sheher mein sabse pahele BMW unhone kharidi thi”
The modern Indian man believes his is the ‘sandwiched generation’. While he lives responsibly and reluctantly cares for his parents, he seldom expects similar treatment from his children.
Indian men in the 35+ age bracket see themselves as stuck between their parents and their own children, in a manner that is not very encouraging. They have lived their initial years according to the advice of their parents, and now feel it is their duty to take care of their parents, something they do reluctantly.
In the bargain, they feel cheated, since even as their parents had the certainty of old age care, they are uncertain about their own children. Their lives are now dictated by the needs, desires and dreams of their children, which has left them with very little time to live for themselves.
This truth especially manifests itself in southern India, where very little is expected from kids.
“We were always expected to take care of our parents and we will… but our children don’t grow up with the same expectation.”
This generation is openly envious of the ‘youth’ today for the sheer freedom from responsibilities and societal expectations that they enjoy.
“Jab meri shaadi hui, mushkil se 4-5 din ka honeymoon tha, Mt. Abu mein. Aajkaltoh log mahinabharchuttileke Mauritius, Singapore jaisi jagah ghumne jaate hain”
The Pleasure Of Being Young: Younger men in the 18-24 year age bracket, however, seem to be enjoying the best of all worlds. With parents offering financial security, they can afford to be younger for longer, delaying the need to be responsible and even getting married later than ever before.
The financial security afforded by their parents allows them to indulge themselves, rather than worry about saving for tomorrow. However, this independence does not come free of cost, and in return for financial security, they allow their parents to participate in key life decisions, like marriage.
Arranged marriages hence continue to be in vogue, but with some key differences. Parents today curate a selection of possible spouses for the consideration of their children, rather than insisting on their preferred choice as the only possible partner. Websites such as Shaadi.com have widened the choice of possible partners significantly, but are often used more by parents than by the youth themselves.
“My parents are looking for a girl for me on Shaadi.com, they shortlist the profiles and share them with me. I have given them a fixed email ID, which they then send to the girl”
Parents Are A Burden: There is a palpable reluctance to take care of older parents across segments and ages. Even as there is a societal and personal expectation that they meet the responsibility, they do so unwillingly, unless there is a clear and visible contribution to their household either financially or in terms of sharing the workload.
“When both of us are working, my mother-in-law takes care of the household responsibilities.”
They are willing to pay lip service to traditions, but just to avoid friction and so long as it is temporary.
“When we are in Delhi, we live the way we want, dress the way we want, go out for drinks, but when we go to our home in Lucknow, restrictions are there. It’s OK it’s just for a few days.”
However, elders are expected to understand the burden that they impose, and not to extend the bounds of authority, and also to avoid imposing their belief systems on their children and family.
“My dispute with parents is when they impose their behavior on us.”
IN CONCLUSION, the picture of the modern Indian man that emerges from this study is of one whose life is driven by his burning ambition to succeed, and the pursuit of material wealth. And he is willing to sacrifice quite a bit to get there, including some of his values. He reluctantly cares for his parents and does not expect his kids to look after him in old age. He grudgingly accepts women’s desire to be treated as equal, but views the whole equation as unfair. In fact he feels he can be on his own only amongst his friends. He wants to look good, but only because appearance these days is an as an enabler moving ahead in life. It is, on the whole, not a pretty picture.
Illustrations by Gynelle Alves
Study facilitated by Sunil Shetty, Ruta Patel, Revant Chhabra, Ishan Shah, Marvin D’Souza, Omair Siddiqui, Sareesh Jameskutty, Tom George