Comedian Sarah Silverman recently revealed that she had issues in her career because an image of her in blackface became viral. In popular culture, blackface was worn by Caucasians to depict African American characters in theatre. Unfortunately, blackface has also been used as a caricature, by racist Caucasians, mostly to stereotype African Americans.
Recently, I wrote a long post condemning the decision to cast young women to play badass shooters, who broke age-related stereotypes. I also called out actress Taapsee Pannu’s response to the criticisms as nothing short of whataboutery.
Lo and behold!
Once again, Bollywood has stooped a new low with the trailer of ‘Bala’ and the associated brownface controversy.
Actress Bhumi Pednekar plays a character called “Ms Bold”, and she shared a poster of the character throwing away fairness cream products. Clearly, they want to show a woman overcoming stereotypes and prejudice associated with dark-skinned people. I mean, if that is what they want to show, then casting a fair-skinned woman with brownface is yet another painful, painful irony. It is similar to the case of ‘Saand Ki Aankh’, where the movie itself is about badass, aged women, breaking stereotypes, ironically played by younger actresses. This propagates the notion that older women are incapable of generating revenue.
I have seen several responses to the film, including the tweets from dark-skinned people, who were hurt by the idea of Bollywood’s inability to cast dark-skinned actors or actresses.
Brownface has been part of the movie culture for years. Like Prakash Raj’s (extra) darkened face in ‘Odiyan’, Bhavana in ‘Nammal’, Alia Bhatt in ‘Udta Punjab’, Ranveer Singh in ‘Gully Boy’, Hrithik Roshan in ‘Super 30’, Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra in ‘Pataakha’.
Now, there will be counter-arguments, including the most common “acting requires makeup and brownface is part of the makeup to present the character”. The question it raises is; is there scope for dark-skinned actors and actresses in Bollywood?
Wearing a wig or bald cap or shaving, should not be deemed the same as denying a person opportunity because of his or her skin colour. Especially when members of the industry itself, earn money from fairness products. Very few people have the courage to call out the racist mindset that drives this forward.
The movie ‘Vivah’ describes the fair girl as more beautiful and the jealous mother is shown applying a large chunk of powder on her dark daughter. The actress who plays her daughter, Amrita Prakash had to be darkened for the movie.
This feeds the whole racist mindset that fairness means beautiful, leading to a large culture that conjures demand for the fair-skinned.
There was a viral image from a children’s book where a fair-skinned woman was described as “beautiful” while a brown-skinned woman was called “ugly”.
Actor Nawazuddin Siddique revealed that an actress once refused to work with him because he was too dark. Even the dark-skinned actresses, Deepika Padukone, Rani Mukherji, Kajol, Priyanka Chopra, and others, were not spared from lightening makeup.
‘Saand Ki Aankh’ and Taapsee Pannu’s response to the ageism controversy was a sad example of how Bollywood is getting feminism wrong. Actress Sonam Kapoor, who is known for making bold statements on the wage gap, sexual harassment, LGBTQIA rights, and MeToo, did not take a clear stance on colour-based discrimination. During an episode in Koffee with Karan, she said: “If you’re not good looking, they think you’re a good actor.”
When Abhay Deol called her out for endorsing fairness products, she responded with whataboutery.
Bollywood, as an industry, has been cashing in on fairness and a majority of the performers, are fair-skinned, especially women. This is sad to see in a brown-skinned nation, where people turn into activists when a black person is discriminated against by Caucasians and the same disrespect is shown to dark-skinned individuals.