Gladly Towards Darkness

04 Jul

I’m not a huge fan of reality shows, especially Indian reality shows which don’t even pretend to hide the fact that they have very little to do with reality. But I’ll come across a few of them from time to time and once in a while I’ll sit through them.

A couple of weeks back, for example, I came across some kind of modeling show on an Indian music channel. I don’t remember what it was called but it was like a bitchier aspiring-punk version of America’s Next Top Model or whatever that horror Tyra Banks hosts is called (sorry, not a fan).

The only thing I remember of it, though, is that the women in it didn’t look like they were auditioning for a Fair and Lovely ad. This, I thought, was significant.

Indians have a thing for fair skin; anybody who’s ever dipped a finger into indian culture should know that much. We have giant hoardings in our cities, obnoxious ads on our TVs and full page adverts in our magazines that tell us fairer skin can get us better jobs, better husbands, happier parents, make dreams come true and little children love us. Back in the day, this only applied to girls. With the advent of the metrosexual male, we now have the likes of Shahrukh Khan (who isn’t exactly bleached white himself) informing the boys that they better polish up their skin if they want to pull in the chicks.

But here’s what’s interesting about all this: in the old days, even ten years ago, none of this would have raised an eyebrow. People would either have nodded their heads or shrugged their shoulders and gone on their way. Maybe stopped in at the local chemist’s shop to pick up their own tube of Fair and Lovely. These days, however, there is a definite backlash.

Not enough to stop the sales of the stuff or abolish the fair standard, mind you. Amazonian extras with a roses-and-cream complexion are still dancing back up for Govinda or whoever, and I bet matrimonial ads still ask for “beautiful fair homely girls” (that ‘homely’ pun cracks me up every time, especially because half the time when an auntie-type person says so-and-so is goodlooking they mean to say so-and-so has fair skin).

But it’s a long way from the days when a chubby, plump little Rekha was slathering on the foundation and the powder so she could look more like the other South Indian imports Hema Malini and Vyjayanthimala. Rekha looked “different” from all those other girls: she wore tiny clothes that clung in all the wrong places (or right places if you were a total perv), she didn’t walk around with her mouth pursed into a tight rosebud like she really wanted to spit but couldn’t find a spittoon, and all those glamorous shades of pink, rose and orange looked absolutely ghastly on her. She made her peace with it by deciding to forever camouflage her skin (quick! when was the last time you saw Rekha without 200 lbs of makeup on her face?) and switch to sarees and salwar kameezes (in which she looked and continues to look fabulous except for that unfortunate period in the 1980s when everybody’s fashion sense flew out the window. I mean, gold turbans? WTF?!).

But that was okay because by then we had Smita Patil, who is commonly referred to as beautiful, but who I’ve always thought incredibly sexy. She even made boxy blouses with unattractive sleeve lengths (that hit-the-elbow look? Not nice) look hot.

These two were, however, exceptions to the rule. By and large we were all about the gori chittis. For every Madhavi (from Agneepath, remember her?) who tried to make it, there was a moon-faced Jaya Prada (and I don’t mean that as a compliment) weeping and wailing and lip-syncing her way to the top. Till, I think, Madhu Sapre exploded on the scene.

Yes, she was as dumb as a brick (or else had a problem articulating stuff) and will go down in history as the only pageant contestant ever in the universe who didn’t know the correct answer to every question is “world peace” but she was one hell of a supermodel. She made every other model in India look like a pretender to the crown with effortless ease. I think she’s still being sued for it too. The ultimate sign of success!

I was reading this post gushing about Lakshmi Menon (pic above, more at link) and it occurred to me that the Indian fashion industry has perhaps been far more accepting of darker skinned Indians than any other medium in India. Madhu Sapre, Bipasha Basu, Nina Manuel, Vidisha Pavate, Carol Gracias, Diandra Soares… I can think of perhaps Mehr Jessia as the one top model who was really light-skinned. I’m sure there are tons of other models with lighter complexions out there but at the top? I don’t really follow fashion so if someone as oblivious as I have heard of the above women, it must mean something, surely.

By the way, I don’t know if you’ve all seen this freakishly lit ad of Shahrukh’s but it’s a complete scream – if you can get past the ick factor of course. More than the whiteface, it’s the blackface that cuts me up: they apparently rubbed him all over with carbon. :mrgreen: That’s right, dark skin is flammable.


Posted by on July 4, 2008 in Life, Video


31 responses to “Gladly Towards Darkness

  1. OrangeJammies

    July 5, 2008 at 1:26 am

    You know, we don’t see it as obviously in everyday life here, so it’s easy to lose heart, but yes, now that you point it out, there is increased acceptance of extra melanin. In fact, one of those sappy Zee TV serials called Saat Phere: Saloni ka Safar, the lead, Saloni, has glowing deep brown skin, and, after being initially reviled by family and future prospects, comes out on top (no pun intended!) and is loved by her stellar, fabulously rich and fair (gasp!) husband AND his family AND hers….and guess what? By the audiences too!!! Applause!!!! 😀

  2. dipali

    July 5, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Saloni is rather lovely, isn’t she OJ, despite the general crappiness of the serial!
    I am so majorly pissed off with this stupid obsession with fair skin. It especially makes my blood boil when you see girls from
    less affluent backgrounds spend/waste their hard earned money on such products. Glad to know that there is some kind of reaction to these stupid ads and stupid products.

    All the models you mention and Lakshmi above are all so stunning:)

  3. Prasanth

    July 5, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Fair models at the top-the one and only fair,very fair, unbelievably wooden and amazingly incompetent Katrina Kaif !!

    If there is some acceptance of darker models in the industry, the we-want-white segment is not lagging far behind. Recently, in tune with our aspirations and inclinations, Ponds launched a star-studded, epic ad where the story of a once-i-was-dark-now-i-am-pretty Priyanka Chopra, a white-and-white-only Saif Ali Khan and an i-am-generally-clueless Neha Dhupia unfold over “three” ad episodes.!!

    Kahani Ad Ad Ki!

  4. bollyviewer

    July 6, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Wonder why we Indians are so obssessed with “fair skin”… Not just top models even top actresses arent all fair-skinned – Rani Mukherji and Kajol, for e.g. look pretty dusky.

    Anyway, I was sooooo glad to see “fair and handsome” on the supermarket shelves last time I visited India – at last men are feeling the pressure to to look good, too!

  5. desiGirl

    July 6, 2008 at 8:13 am

    That babe up top is Indian? Really? Wouldn’t have guessed!! These days more and more folks are looking like citizens of the world and what with crossovers and mixed cultures spanning continents etc, no one’s looking like they shld. I mean, someone called Singh could be an English bowler, a Madrasi bowler or even someone from SA.


  6. Amey

    July 6, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Models (and occasional actresses) apart, we still have ads which show that people prefer fair spouces, employees and so on.

    As for fair models, you forgot Katrina Kaif and Aditi Gowitrikar.

  7. Gagan

    July 6, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    it’s still deeply ingrained there..but it’s hypocritical as hell if u see as an outsider…i saw clear lust for beauty even with all their provisos for fair skin regardless of skin shade..but it was the public expectation that there is the way it should this is better than that.. like people could not let go of old associations and just go with attraction and the person in front of them.. no baggage…u see it everywhere.. in Havana Bay martin cruz smith’s cuba based novel he talks about how so many cultures have these sanctions toward dark skinned cubans but when these same prejudiced people visit cuba and invariably chase the women ( i expect this is true of visiting women for men too) they express their desire for dark women, ie when noone is looking.. it’s more than just association with dark with sexuality which is a complaint in the black community ( that darker skinned women are typecast as more wanton) but i think may be the supression of an open set of aesthetics by certain cultural expectations. I think the backlash to the gori chiti thing is a sign that people are just feeling more comfortable to express attraction without reprisals….honestly that fair lovely thing does a disservice to the way people look in india…the black faced actor looks ill before they wipe it away…nothing like people look in india..rekha is a great case in point.. i just wish she would take off the makeup.. or bipasha basu….i would never watch her again if she changed her look in that way.- i expect lot of people are that way but are not ready to admit it

  8. Tanay

    July 6, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    amrita, whatever be the color, don’t listen to the crap that SRK is sporting on that AD, becos Mehmood bhai had already told in 1965 in Gumnaam that ‘hum kaale hain to kya hua dilwaale hain’ 🙂

    Also is the soft inclination, sometimes told on the face sometimes in a veiled manner, you get what i mean right, only a desi behavioral pattern, or you can see the outbreak elsewhere too ?

    digression: moving to the male domain, why did micheal jackson, go for a makeover, was it for medical reasons or becos he was into the entertainment industry or was it his person choice ?

  9. narendra shenoy

    July 7, 2008 at 11:49 am

    It will take a long long time for the prejudice against black skin to vanish from Indian genes. Beautifully written. As usual.

  10. Amrita

    July 7, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Oj – I actually know who you’re talking about and that girl is freaking amazing. She carries off some super loud colors with such elan, it really makes me appreciate what my mother keeps telling me about bright colors and Indians. I still think Ma’s wrong (where I’m concerned anyway) but if anyone could prove her right, it’s that chick.

    Dipali – you just touched on the crux of the matter, it’s the girls from the less affluent backgrounds who’re the targets for this type of marketing. Although I’ve heard plenty of affluent people make brain dead comments about color.

    Prasanth – lol, Priyanka Chopra? Either she’s been insisting on industrial strength foundation all these years or else the casting director thinks everyone who buys their product is an idiot.

    Bollyviewer – me too!!! I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it (for more than obvious reasons).

    DG – yup, and from the sound of her name, she’s a Malayalee. I know! I approve of this multi-culti thing.

    Amey – and I bet those are a fair reflection of actual people on the ground too 😦 I guess Aditi Gowtrikar makes it into the top model category but I never really thought of katrina as a top model. She always struck me as actress-in-waiting while the rest of them were always models. Maybe it was the Sallu connection.

    Gagan – ah! yes, yes, the talking london, looking tokyo school of sexay. gross. I don’t quite get you on the reprisals thing though – how do mean it makes people more likely to express their attraction? It sounds interesting. Re: the blackface, I don’t know why this is, but I’ve always noticed this about Indians putting on blackface – it’s GREEN!! See Dharmendra in Razia Sultan. 😀

    Tanay – LOL, that song and that movie were both awesome and cringeworthy. Madrasis everywhere didn’t know whether to hug him or stone him.
    How do you mean “soft inclination”? Also, MJ = Crazy. that’s why.

    NS – I sadly have to agree. 😦 But if Indians are now taking their cues from fashion magazines and the so called upper crust in these globalized days, then along with the size zero figure, we might have gained an unexpected benefit.

  11. Amey

    July 7, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Talking about Katrina, she is one of the few models/actresses whose fairness is mentioned specifically. On the other hand, you will find “dusky beauty” almost every time Bipasha, Shilpa Shetty etc. are mentioned.

    And yes, billboards apart, the ground reality is still almost the same.

  12. memsaab

    July 7, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    And I, who am as white as a sheet (a white sheet, I mean) worry that my legs are going to blind people in the summer if I don’t put some bronzer on them.

    People spend big bucks on fake tans, on sunbed tans…and risk their health (and their future good looks) for the sake of being nice and dark!

  13. Sudeep

    July 8, 2008 at 5:27 am

    I love brown skin.. esp Carol Gracias kinds coz it reminds me of choc cake.. aahhh!! :))
    Well the world is not fair to everyone .. 😀

  14. sachita

    July 9, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    But this whole idea of beauty is somewhat biased, isn’t it?
    If not for fair skin, the long legs, caucasian features – I am not even sure how the idea of beauty gets defined in my own head. do i find somebody beautiful/handsome inherently or is it coz of collection of beauty definitions I have been hearing from say when I am 1 year old.

  15. Amrita

    July 9, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Amey – that is true. It’s like they’re surprised someone with darker skin is actually good looking and have to qualify it. But Katrina a magnificent woman, whatever her skin color. I love the fact that she doesn’t starve herself into a stick.

    Memsaab – grass is greener etc 🙂

    Sudeep – ahem, TMI 😀

    Sachita – yup, psyche plays a big role. I remember an aunt of mine telling me that she thought her younger daughter was too typically Indian looking whereas her elder daughters were exotically beautiful. And I kept thinking, but her younger daughter is beautful and her elder daughters look like Sai Baba! What is she talking about?! But I figured out years later she meant her elder daughters looked like European models of black ancestry. None of which still makes sense to me but it apparently did to her. People!

  16. Anonymous

    July 9, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I don’t know what everybody’s problem is! White people can darken their skin by tanning/bronzing and black people can straighten their hair using relaxers, weaves and extensions and everybody can even their skin tone using foundation, but Indians, ONLY Indians, are criticised for lightening their skin…??? People (such as you people) would say these lightened-skinned Indian actresses, models etc etc are so wooden blah blah blah, but would you people would say the same thing to a dark-skinned person? Obviously not! Lightening skin is part of cosmetics and loads of people of all ethnicities do it! Persians, Arabs, East Asians, African/Caribbeans, Basque people etc and they don’t all use special lotions to lighten their skin (e.g. some Africans use mehndi). And they lighten their skin to a lighter tone, not a different colour! Even being too light “risks” someone being negatively called “gori”. For some reason, lightening skin is “racist” to dark people, but I suppose it’s not racist when someone darkens their skin….? Seriously, GET OVER IT!

  17. sachita

    July 10, 2008 at 1:34 am

    Katrina? Katrina is a shock, she can’t dance, can’t even act horribly (leave alone good), she has two standard expressions, who let her into hindi films?

  18. Anonymous

    July 10, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    ^ ^ ^ ^

    That is exactly what I mean!

  19. Amrita

    July 11, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Sachita – all of that is true but I still have a soft spot for her 😀 I think because she comes across as someone who doesn’t harbor any delusions about why she’s a success unlike some other folks who go about talking like they’re the next Meena Kumari.

    Anonymous – (go ahead, choose a name of some kind 🙂 ) I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. People get upset about skin lightening creams because of what it represents and how it’s being marketed – 1) Fair skin = good, darker skin = bad and 2) There is a historical fair/dark bias in countries where skin lightening creams are sold.

    And no, it’s not just India. I don’t know where you got that idea. It’s pretty much the whole of Asia and north Africa as well I believe. In fact, China is a big market for them. And somebody was saying on another board that these creams were first developed by Shiseido, a Japanese company. So this anti-India bias you detect is really in your head.

    As far as telling a darker person that they’re a crap actor: um, hell yes! You should see some of the comments directed the way of Hollywood actors, black, white or in between. It’s just that you don’t see a darker non actors in India because if you’re dark, then you better be able to act or nobody’s going to keep you around. But if you can think of someone who’s darker and is completely useless as an actor, go ahead and call them out. I don’t know why that should be a problem.

  20. Pitu

    July 13, 2008 at 1:51 am

    Great post! Diversity shd be celebrated. As a selfish consumer of Bolly films, I love the fair, the dark, the petite, the tall, the skinny, the chubby, the curly, the poker straight, the aquiline noses, the buttons, the ingenues, the sophisticates- in short, everyone 😀 This rule applies to Hollywood also. Anon: Yes, it’s true in the West everyone wants the chocolate skin but there are also super pretty ‘fair’ fair actresses whom everyone agrees are pretty as they are. Case in point- Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet.

    Shameless plug- I tackle the Bolly beauties list on my blog 🙂
    Amrita, feel free to reprimand for aforementioned shameless plug.

    Also, dark + atrocious actor = Suniel Shetty *gag*

    Also, as my hubs likes to *sing* ahem- The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice 😉

    ……..*runs away*

  21. Amrita

    July 14, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Ahem, I have images in my brain 😳 I really wish it hadn’t been preceded by the words “Suneil Shetty” though because now the two things are linked. 😦

    Also, plug away. This is a plug friendly blog.

  22. Pitu

    July 14, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Ahahaaahaaa berry berry juicy Suniel Shetty? *laughs like the evil woman she is*

  23. Amey

    July 15, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Well, the model connction of Katrina may be because of “Boom”. I am not so aware of her career before movies.

  24. Gagan

    July 17, 2008 at 3:39 am

    by reprisals i guess meant community sanctions, in both communities, ie in interracial couplings here in the west there is always that on both sides and honestly relationships are hard enough that it takes a strong sense of self of self to resist the disapproval expressed on both sides. It seems to depend so much on where in society ur. the extremely well off or the intellectual high brow crowd are more easy with it… the working class tend to be more honest since life is such a struggle. it’s the middle class that seems to most hypocirtical because they may not feel comfrotable where they are..

    the ideal i was talking about is kind of a possiblity now …with the ethnic diversity seen in the west ,,, and even in india as people move all over to different places following jobs…the fake idea of racial purity seems to be less justifiable when people are from all over are thrown together..

    in this kind of place there are less sorts of hangups about expressing attraction to the what were considered in cultural sanction. Its a good thing i think cos the old ideas only succeed in creating a fetish out of something, suprressing a natural desire for difference so that it comes out in all kinds of cliched ways. i guess it will never go away.. ..but it just needs to become more honest that the reaction ot denying the attraction does not express itself in an aggression against the object of attraction,like some people are wont to do. It’s so complicated and yet so silly when u think of the cultural rationalisations in a scientific sense.. ie far far more variation within members of a race than between different races.. and in india it seems even more absurd since in families there is so much variation in shade…went on there. hope that made sense 🙂

  25. Amrita

    July 19, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Pitu – blech blech, phtooo!!!

    Amey – she’s done print campaigns for some stuff. I used to see her on hoardings in the south. I have a feeling she isn’t anorexic enough for catwalks though.

    Gagan – OKay, I see what you mean now. My own family went from obsessively marrying into the same five or six clans to marrying the most nationally and internationally diverse group of people in a short 100 years. It’s stunning to think sometimes how NEW this world we live in really is.
    I do think however that it cuts both ways – when people are thrown together in such close quarters as never before, you have the option of growing as a person and widening your horizons but you can also turn into more of a close minded bigot, frightened by the diversity you see around you or put off by the notion that your way is not the only way.
    To me, these are such interesting times in India because we’re just feeling our way forward. There’s no massive intellectual push forward or backward for that matter. it’s just people pushing blindly in every direction and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
    It can be an unsettling and sometimes heartbreaking experience, but I think on the whole, we’re doing rather well for a mob 🙂

  26. Pitu

    July 19, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    ‘just people pushing blindly in every direction and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.’

    ….so basically the Mumbai local train can be used as a metaphor even here? yay!

  27. Amey

    July 20, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    @Pitu: Doesn’t mumbai local train fit as a metaphor for anything?

  28. Amey

    July 20, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Check this out:

    …advertisements that reinforce ideas of skin fairness to achieve success could be a thing of the past, if the National Commission for Women (NCW) has its way…

  29. Pitu

    July 20, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Of course! Jai Mumbai local trains!

  30. angela

    August 27, 2008 at 2:31 am

    I am a dark complexioned girl from kerala now in bnglr since 5 yrs.I had an inferiority complex reg my skin colour till i came to bnglr.But once i joined in a company here,i realised dat i m not ugly lookin.I started noticing dat guys are staring.. proposals one after the other started comin in.. some wanted to go around ..some wanted to marry.. this n that.. thankfully i chose the right guy n am gonna get married in a months time.(Note:my fiance is fair skinned). and most of my frinds(guys) , just drool over dark skinned gals.. they think they are more sexy and lovely..

  31. angela

    August 27, 2008 at 2:34 am

    both fair skinned and dark skinned people are gud.. now beauty depends on ur face features.. rite?? so aishwarya is beautiful doubt .. and Priyanka is also beautiful..what is wrong is biasing…

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