Making Fun Of Dark Skin Is Not A ‘Roast’: Actor Boldly Slams Comedy Show For Body Shaming

Posted on September 28, 2016 in Media, Society

By YKA Staff:

That Indian society is highly colourist is hardly a secret. From fairness cream ads to TV shows, popular culture in India seems hell bent on reinforcing regressive attitudes regarding skin colour. The carnivals of racism and sexism that pass for comedy shows in this country are perhaps some of the worst offenders in this regard. But as pervasive as these negative stereotypes are, their influence and hold over the entertainment industry in this country is seldom talked about, especially by insiders.

This detailed account posted by actor Tannishtha Chatterjee of the harassment she faced at one such comedy show is thus vital and timely. Not only does it call out the industry’s regressive biases – a horrible daily reality for many women and men – but it also links these biases to the casteism that they are born out of, which is something that needs to be talked about.

Something has shocked me out of my wits yesterday. I was invited as a guest to a popular comedy show called comedy night bachao to promote my latest release Parched with my director Leena yadav and my co-actor Radhika Apte. I was told that the flavor of the show is COMEDY and the purpose is to roast, humor, and offend. My perception of roast was formed by all the SNLs I watched over the years, and the commonly held perception that a roast is a celebratory humour at someone’s expense. It is a mock counter to a toast.
I was actually looking forward to be roasted.

And then this show began. And this was an entirely novel understanding of roast that equates itself with bullying. And to my utmost horror, I soon realized that the only quality they found worth roasting about in me was my skin tone. It began with “aap ko jamun bahut pasand hoga zaroor… kitna jamun khaya aapne bachpan se?” And went on in that direction… the only thing they could roast about a dark-skinned actress was of course her dark skin. They could identify me only with that.

I could not believe I was sitting in a nationally televised comedy show in 2016 in Mumbai amid such regressive (I cant call it humor), and blatantly racist content. Though I was feeling suffocated, I decided to give it another chance, and sat through another equally offensive segment. Nothing changed. I could not sit there anymore. I had to leave.

When I told the organisers what I felt, they said, “But we told you it is a roast!” I explained to them the common perception of roast and how it is different from bully. That there is no humour value in a joke about some ones physical attributes especially one that stems from deep prejudices. I don’t think they got it. Some friends also told me don’t take it so seriously, it’s just a comedy. I think that’s what the show also thinks. It’s all fun and games! Except there is nothing funny about this. Precisely because -In a country where we still sell fair n lovely/handsome and show adverts, where people don’t get jobs because of their complexion, where every matrimonial advert demands a fair bride or groom and the color bias is so strong, in a society which has a deep-seated problem with dark skin, which also has deep roots in our caste system, in a country where dark skin is marginalized, making fun of it is not roast. Even considering that dark skin is a joke comes from that very deep prejudice. And I tried to explain why this is not personal and it is a larger issue about what our mindset is. And why cracking jokes about deep biases in our society is irresponsible.

And that it is not a question about apologizing to me, but propagating this idea and continuing with this mindset in the name of comedy is what is hugely problematic, specially because it is a popular show on a nationalized Chanel. It has nothing to do with the show at a personal level. But it leads to a larger debate. Why does skin tone still lend itself to jokes? How is it funny to call someone dark? I don’t get it.. In an India of 2016 I still have to be apologetic about my skin tone? What is this white-skin hangover? Where does all our pride as a nation go away when it comes to the acceptance that most of us have a darker skin tone?

Once I was asked “Your surname is Chatterjee? Oh you are Brahmin.. What is your mothers surname? Maitra! Oh…. She is Brahmin too…” And then indirectly he hinted how is my skin tone still dark…? This is so deep rooted and linked to our perceptions of caste, class and skin tone. Upper caste =Fair skin =touchable. Lower caste=dark skin=untouchable. Yes I have pronounced it. Probably most of us will not admit to our hatred for the dark skin also comes from our caste bias.

I made a film called Parched. Why I am saying “I made” is because all of us who are a part of this film feel that this was not just a film for us. That its MY FILM. We wanted to express a lot of things about gender, body, skin , sexuality, caste etc through our stories. It has been a revelation that the journey just begins here as we realise through our promotional process that we are constantly subjected to exactly those issues from which this film was engendered. The list is long long and the biases are deep deep….The privilege that allows these are what we had hoped to challenge.

You can view the original post here.

UPDATE: The makers of the TV show at Colors have issued an apology to Tannishtha.

Image source: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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