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. That’s right, dark skin is flammable.