Knowledge Center

How reframing can help you keep things fresh

Remember the 2004 box-office hit Main Hoon Na? When Amrita Rao’s Sanjana goes from dressing to express to dressing to impress? No more finger-less gloves, bucket hats, unevenly cropped tees or nose rings. The girl becomes all about straightened hair, fluttering dupattas, swaying hips and unarguably feminine attire.

While problematic on many levels, this narrative serves as an accurate example of what Semioticians recognise as ‘reframing’. The subject remains the same in essence but just comes to be perceived differently (Zayed Khan’s ‘Lucky’ could confirm that for you).

Reframing changes how something is labelled or classified. The focus of the onlooker can be altered so drastically that their emotional response undergoes a 180-degree shift.

Do note that the perspective awarded may be fresh but it is still created out of ideas long-embedded in culture. Sanjana’s makeover gained heft because it noticeably shifted from one established code of conduct to another: from ‘tom boy’ to feminine.

Being a profession centred around ‘keeping things fresh’, marketing is rife with examples of reframing.

Compare, for instance, the terms ‘cashback’ and ‘discount’. Whichever of the two you choose to employ, the end result is the same: reduction on the marked price. However, both hold different meanings at the point of purchase. A cashback connotes having to wait for something that could immediately have been the customer’s through a discount.

It all comes down to the realisation that it isn’t just about what you do but also about how you do it.

However, successful reframing doesn’t just involve conveying the right meaning. It also involves an effective appeal to the appropriate ‘collective imaginary’ (a belief system that becomes the basis for action).

To return to Amrita Rao’s character in Main Hoon Na: Back in 2004, Indian movie goers were comfortable with the idea that a woman had to go through her Cinderella moment to be accepted by mainstream society. It affirmed their gender identity, and assured them of a shared belief with their community about how things should be. It made them feel safe in the knowledge of being right.

That is how collective imaginaries feed and grow.

Today, you may not agree with all that the film proposed. But back then, the audience, the collective imaginary did; something that the writers and director tapped into. And lo and behold, theirs became the second highest grossing Indian film of 2004 (another Shahrukh Khan starrer Veer-Zaara grabbed the first spot).

The bottom line

We are all chasing originality in a time of content abundance. But let’s face it, what is termed as ‘originality’ these days is just an idea cloaked differently; someone taps into an unexplored dimension of a concept, and it becomes the new ‘big thing’ (think Stranger Things).

So given that you’re saying the same thing as others (and you probably are), say it in a way that is different from before. And this time, try reframing.


  1. Reframing Ikea: Commodity-Signs, Consumer Creativity and the Social/Self Dialectic