Abhay Deol triggers debate on fairness products; ad filmmakers and actors weigh in
Actor Abhay Deol posted on Facebook, calling out Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Sidharth Malhotra for endorsing products promising fair skin. His stance has reignited the debate.Updated: Apr 13, 2017, 16:35 IST
Actor Abhay Deol has stirred a hornet’s nest — he has ruthlessly called out the big guns of Bollywood, including none other than Shah Rukh Khan, for endorsing products guaranteeing lighter skin. His unambiguous stance got huge praise on social media. Other stars who came in Abhay Deol’s firing line — he put up a series of Facebook posts — were Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, and Sidharth Malhotra. In one particular post, Abhay Deol also highlighted actors, including Kangana Ranaut and Ranbir Kapoor, who have refused to endorse any fairness creams or other fairness products.
While the support for Abhay Deol makes this country look liberal, the fact that ad campaigns promising fairer skin are still being made, and with celebrity endorsement, points to a certain mindset. However, strong negative reactions these days sometimes force the brands to backtrack — that’s what happened with a major skin care brand earlier in April 2017; it had to apologise for its “White is Purity” deodorant ad and also took down its Twitter post.
Abhay, on his Facebook page, posted screenshots with hard-hitting messages against celebrities who endorse fairness products. In retaliation, actor Sonam Kapoor, who has herself endorsed such a product, had a brief online spat with Abhay, reminding him that his cousin Esha Deol had also done a similar ad.
Reacting to these developments and the continued marketing of fairness products, veteran ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar tells us, “I’ve never done any such ads and refused all offers. We’re a highly racist and hypocritical country. It comes from years of conditioning, starting from the Aryans, then to Mughals and the British. The ruling class has been fair, and we as a nation haven’t done anything against it. The need for these products was built and based on this conditioning. We have to say that we’re brown, we’re lucky to be brown and proud of it. Women need to take a stand, as they are the ones targeted in these ads. Action has to be on the streets and not just [through] tweets.”
- “I think celebrities can come out and tell people how wrong this is. Take away the demand for the product, sensitise people,” says actor Sonal Sehgal.
- “The policies on such ads must change, because what they’re claiming is legally wrong. Constant writing and protest will also help bring the change. Stereotyping in pop culture needs to stop,” says actor Tannishtha Chatterjee.
Actor Sonal Sehgal, who did a commercial for a fairness soap about 12-13 years ago, says that she took the job for the money, as she was then a struggling actor. “When I got this call, I thought that the money was good and didn’t think beyond that,” she tells us. Later, Sonal decided to make a film on the fairness obsession after being asked by her domestic help which skin-lightening cream was the best. “I think celebrities can come out and tell people how wrong this is. Take away the demand for the product, sensitise people,” says Sonal.
Filmmaker Pritish Nandy, whose career also spans advertising and journalism, says, “I have a slightly ambivalent view on this. I believe that these fairness creams are rubbish and they should not exist. I am against the morality of the fairness business. On the other hand, if using these fairness creams benefits and reinforces the self-confidence of some young girl in a small village, then who am I to stand in their way? People must make choices, but I think Abhay Deol’s impassioned outcry has its own validity. I think more people should stand up to it, and then maybe our attitude towards fairness would change.”
Tannishtha Chatterjee, the actor who was ‘roasted’ on a comedy show for her dark skin, says, “We’re still colonised in our minds. Fairness is associated with being elite. I’ve had makeup artists telling me, ‘Since you’re playing an urban character, we can make you look fairer.’ The policies on such ads must change, because what they’re claiming is legally wrong. Constant writing and protest will also help bring the change. Stereotyping in pop culture needs to stop.”
Ad filmmaker Pinaki Bose has a different take, saying, “A fairness cream is just another personal care product. Then why can’t it be shown as another product for grooming? Why do we need to see it in the light of comparison of fair over dark? This comparison is something I don’t subscribe to. The onus is on us as advertisers and brand custodians to figure out a way to come up with creative ideas that don’t compare or talk about fair over dark, but treat it like just another product to groom yourself.”