In the wake of BJP leader Tarun Vijay’s comments about dark-skinned people in southern India and the assertion that Indians are not racist , cross-over actor Abhay Deol has taken on Bollywood stars who endorse fairness creams to bolster their brand earnings. Those who endorse these brands include some of the biggest stars on the Hindi movie marquee such as Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Shahid Kapoor and John Abraham. Millions of fans look up to stars such as Khan, who’ve stayed on top of their game for decades as role models. His career trajectory from being the perpetual outsider to the Badshah of Bollywood is seen as a success story. Khan has a sizeable following in the Indian diaspora. Given this, it would be appropriate for him to turn down assignments that convey the wrong message, that whitening one’s skin is something to be sought after.
If he had not agreed to endorse fairness creams, Khan may have had to forgo a sizeable amount of money, but he would have earned the respect of millions of admirers. He would have also joined the select club of younger, conscientious actors such as Kangana Ranaut, Ranbir Kapoor, Randeep Hooda and Swara Bhaskar who’ve reportedly turned down offers to endorse fairness creams. Then there are actors like Nandita Das who champion campaigns against discrimination on the basis of colour. Das wrote on her blog: “I am shocked to see the rise in the number of dark actresses looking paler and paler with every film and magazines, hoardings, films and advertisements showing only fair women.” Bollywood stars have a disproportionate influence on the young in India. Many aspire to emulate their success stories and blindly follow their actions. So, to suggest that fair skin is somehow more desirable is to the detriment of those who are dark and encouragement to them to change their skin tone by using the product peddled by the star.
Our obsession with fairness can no longer be blamed on a colonial hangover. We are inherently racist and we should accept this if we have to change. From students from Africa to south Indians, many Indians are positively insulting and unaccepting. In the past we have seen even politicians encouraging discrimination based on colour as was the case with the Ugandan students in Delhi who were targeted by a former AAP minister. Our matrimonial advertisements are a giveaway. From fair to wheatish, a dark skinned partner is never sought. The parents of dark children are objects of pity as this is seen as a negative in the marriage market. Our bias is not skin-deep, it goes far beyond that. Our stars should be changing mindsets, instead many of them are reinforcing them.