Colourism And Bollywood: Demystifying The Notions Of Being Fair And Lovely

Colourism Bollywood

As I watch the recent Netflix release, A Suitable Boy, a beautiful depiction of a mother’s journey to find a suitable boy for her daughter, the ideal of fair is beautiful starts bothering me yet again. Set against the background of the post-independence era, the series primarily deals with life choices of upper-class people of those times, what’s striking here is the portrayal of a sexually-liberated woman. These women are always dark-skinned. Tabu who is one of the protagonists, playing the role of Saeeda Bai, or Lata’s bhabhi (sister in law) Meenakshi Mehra played by Shahana Goswami or Lata’s friend a liberal arts student talking about revolution are all women who have dark skin tone.

This is not something new in Bollywood, there have been an array of movies like this before. Remember Bala? A bald man looking for a light-skinned bride? This movie delved into deeper issues and not only deal with insecurities of women but also men. The lead who in real life is a light-skinned woman was cast as dark-skinned. Bollywood functions in a paradoxical way as an actress with dark skin tone are repeatedly cast as downtrodden or marginalised women and even actors with lighter skin are painted brown/black to play such roles. In showbiz one of the most important ingredient of being considered as good looking is equivalent to fair skin tone.

I wonder about this ingrained idea of white supremacy and obsession with fair skin, is it not going to leave us in generations to come? When the whole world is fighting against colourism and racism, we Indians are just looking for sugar-coated ways to shy away from addressing the core issue and this got reinforced on my visit to the nearest 24*7 store. I stumbled upon ‘Glow and Lovely‘ with the same ingredients and promises of making young women like me bright and lovely as its predecessor.

I recall there was another uproar about a song, “Beyonce sharma jayegi”, which has since changed the lyrics. This was not a first of its kind song, ‘gore gore gallo pe hai kala kala chasma‘ or ‘chitthiya kalaiya‘ were enough to put Bollywood to shame for before this. This song came at a time when racism is the most burning topic of discussion.

I wonder about this ingrained idea of white supremacy and obsession with fair skin, is it not going to leave us in generations to come?

Beyonce, a black woman, a cultural icon who has been very vocal about racial injustices across the globe was appropriated in a mindless Bollywood song, which translates to if a fair woman comes dancing, Beyonce will shy away. This mindless lyrics not just reflects the regressive mindset of Indians but is also problematic on a very nuanced level, it raises questions about the inherent racism which had been instilled in us and the way we always look at black people.

From Bollywood to television, from magazines to hoardings everywhere in a country that is largely high on melanin content if we look around all the images of women and men, are those with light skin tone. It often makes me wonder is there any skincare product whose USP is not skin –Lightening / Brightening element. So rather than playing on our insecurities all the time can’t we start talking about it and address the issue and not be in a constant state of denial?

What conclusion do we draw here?

So, the protagonist who is fair and lovely is she reflecting the purity in her character while the woman who defies the social structure is dark? Does my skin tone define the purity and piousness of my existence?

When the world is fighting against racism and raising the slogans like “Black Lives Matter” there is a need for the same discourse in India. What we Indians tend to do is conveniently ignoring the practice of exclusion and discrimination based on the skin tone of a person which is a deep-rooted issue embraced by both the oppressor and the victim.

Where are we? Where do we stand?

My education would only be judged by the virtue of my skin colour, which is not even in my control, it depends on my skin melanin content. It’s disheartening for fair-skinned women too when their worth is only defined by their skin colour. Who is to blame? The world is fighting against racism, there is a discourse and engagement but do we have that kind of engagement in India, do we talk about the Intersectionality about caste and colour in India. Can the makers of the skin lightening creams compensate for my self-respect which has been degraded as we live in a constant fear to prove ourselves and we are expected to undergo a transition to be lovely?

Let’s start talking about colourism and make it a slow process of transition where all of us are made to believe that “Being comfortable in our skin is beautiful”.

The views expressed are the author’s own.