With Halloween coming closer, the entire Western world, particularly USA, has been made aware of certain things they cannot and should not be doing this time. Cultural appropriation of another religious, racial or ethnic community for the sake of costumes is not accepted anymore – but more importantly than that, “brownface” or “blackface” is no longer acceptable. Even if it is the Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister and a much loved person on the internet. It was primarily Justin Trudeau’s picture where he dressed up as Aladdin in one Halloween years ago and did a “brownface” to fit into his character – that has again reinvigorated and strengthened the discourse on what is appropriate and what is not, when it comes to imitation and wearing someone’s entire culture as a costume. Sadly, Bollywood has not yet become “woke” enough to check their own standards of beauty and the rampant colourism, much less apologize for it.
I could not even focus on the contents of the trailer of the film ‘Bala’ starring Ayushman Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar because I was too busy gaping at the travesty that was Bhumi Pednekar’s face. Her complexion was forcefully made much darker than it really is for the sake of authenticity and realism. Lesson #23456 from Bollywood—if you are an ordinary person from a small town, you must have a darker complexion. However, if you are a female student competing for the trophy of Student of the Year, heavens forbid if you are not fair.
I could not even focus on the contents of the trailer of the film ‘Bala’ starring Ayushman Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar because I was too busy gaping at the travesty that was Bhumi Pednekar’s face.
This is definitely not the first time I have seen something like this happen in Bollywood films. In ‘Super 30’, Hritthik Roshan was made to appear like he had a more brown-ish complexion. Same for Alia Bhatt in ‘Udta Punjab‘ and Ranveer Singh in ‘Gully Boy‘. If a character is poor, facing hardships – of course they have to be darker in complexion.
At times, the makeup put on them was too apparent. Too strong. I could not avoid it like I could not avoid Yami Gautam’s face on my television where she was measuring her own fairness (no worries, from a Stage 1 where she looks laughably darker, she does reach Stage 10 where she is extremely fair, as she actually is).
The issue is not in which character looks like what – but the more important issue is about actual representation of dark-skinned people. If the director, producer, casting people already have a vision in their minds, why not just cast actors who fit into those criteria rather than modify the face of the actors they choose in a way that is nothing but just a cruel mockery.
Recently, Bengali actress Swastika Mukherjee posted a series of photos on her Instagram where she tried to speak out against the colourism that still pervades in our society. She brought forth the imagery of Kali and how the Goddess might be dark, but she is still a symbol of power and bravery. Although, in the process, the actress ended up mocking the dark women she tried to empower in the first place. Although Mukherjee is otherwise fair, it was obvious from the pictures that she had applied makeup to look much darker and thus, represent the woes of a darker complexioned woman in this society. While the initiative is somewhat commendable, the extremely careless and lousy execution of it angers me more. At the end of the day, she can remove her darker makeup and go back to being an accepted face in society where nobody passes snide comments at her skin color.
The issue is not in which character looks like what – but the more important issue is about actual representation of dark-skinned people.
While, for women like me, it is not a costume. It is who we are although we strive everyday not to be defined by it but end up being confined to those boxes only. In matrimonial ads, my complexion will be put before my credentials as that will be a more important criteria for any prospective groom and his family. A distant neighbor aunty will give me unsolicited advice on how to look fairer with some homemade concoction. At the end of the day, I will be watching television ads where they proudly declare colourism by showing how with a darker skin, a woman cannot achieve anything but when she is fair, the world will fall at her feet.
I still remember when I was 10, I asked my mother to buy me the fairness cream of ‘Fair and Lovely’ because I did not like how I looked in the mirror. It did not resonate with what I saw on TV or magazines. Now, at the age of 20, I have come to love myself as I am but the mirror still haunts me because societal norms pressurize me with its indirect disapproval of what I look like.
It is not just me who is a victim of colourism, it is every woman who goes to a cosmetic store and looks for a foundation or powder that will make them look fairer. It is also the woman at the sales counter who will push the customer to buy lighter shade products. It is also why despite living in a country where most people have brown complexions, Lakme – an indigenous brand, could never come up with more than 5 extremely fair shades and call it their “range”. Brands like Maybelline and NYX have a diverse shade range in USA but surprisingly in India, their shade ranges are woefully inadequate.
Either these brands think dark people do not exist in India, or they just do not care. The first one, however, is not very possible because every time I go to any beauty website, I get bombarded with products that “brighten” or “whiten”. Gone are the days of Fair and Lovely with its explicit advertisements. Today, products from herbal or ayurvedic brands also carry promises of brightening my skin, evening it out – all of it, which I know, is code for whitening it and making it fair.
Also read: Colourism In India: Dark Is Not A Dirty Word
In a world where my mother as a new bride was criticized by her in-laws for being too dark, she also had to see her young daughter ask her for Fair and Lovely (as I was taught not to be happy with the way I looked with the complexion I inherited from her). The pain that she faced due to her complexion, that I face, that millions of women face every day for colourism – I refuse to let Bollywood or any famous person making a mockery out of it and use it like a disposable, profitable product.
Featured Image Source: Mango India