Bollywood welcomes proposal draft to ban fairness cream ads and more
The obsession with fair skin and vanity is not a new phenomenon in our country, but it could soon see the government cracking down hard on ads propagating such products. In a draft proposed by the Health and Family Welfare Ministry as an amendment to the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements Act, 1954), advertisements for magic remedies, fairness creams, treatment for stammer, cure for AIDS and more would come under the scanner. The punishment is a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to ₹50 lakh. The ministry has released a list of total 78 diseases, disorders and conditions under the ban.
This move has been welcomed by many Bollywood celebrities. “I hope it impacts consumers and they stop buying these fairness creams and realise that’s no standard of beauty. It is a very personal choice of a human being to look the way he or she wants to but if I am asked, I will never endorse fairness as benchmark for beauty, says actor Taapsee Pannu.
In the past, actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Yami Gautam, John Abraham and Alia Bhatt have endorsed fairness and lightness creams, and a huge debate was triggered when Abhay Deol called out celebs for promoting these products in a 2017 Twitter post. A lot of actors have also been vociferous about refusing such endorsements.
Actor Dia Mirza says,“As we evolve in our understanding of what kind of advertising perpetuates stereotypes, gender discrimination and falsehoods, we must collectively take responsibility to ensure this ends.”
Artiste Sona Mohapatra, who has served as a brand manager for a leading FMCG firm, feels corporates need to have a conscience before deciding to make such ads. “I welcome this move wholeheartedly and it is about time that we acknowledge the regressive, deeply disturbing nature & impact of such advertising campaigns. Many years ago when I was a brand manager for a leading FMCG firm that was on the verge of launching a new baby care range, once again the positioning idea for the brands campaign that was being presented most strongly by the consumer research teams was around ‘fair babies’. I remember putting my foot down and refusing to sanction that campaign despite a lot of people in the team trying to convince me about how we need to give the consumer what they want and that it was my job to be most concerned about the best business and most money that the company could make. Truth is there is something called corporate responsibility and even individual conscience and consumerism cannot fuel all our decisions,” she says.
Adding that we must celebrate our identities, she says, “Our country and society as a whole has suffered the debilitating effect of being colonised for years and has been inflicted with the harmful subjugation and mental conditioning of being ‘inferior’ due to issues like our ethnicity and the colour of our skin. It is ridiculous that we fuel this toxic low self-esteem amongst our people even after so many decades of being free from our white exploiters from the past. A deracinated people and low self esteem plays havoc in the progress of a country and in fact in the survival of a civilisation. Ours is a rare undivided one for 5000 years and we should be proud of celebrating our natural skin colour. Fuelling insecurities and harming the psyches of a collective with such mass propaganda meant to fill the coffers of a few needed to be checked and this is a great move and it sends the right message to all.”
However, filmmakers, who have worked in the field, feel that until there is a proper legislative procedure in place, the laws won’t work. “People from the biggest companies are violating the existing laws. There is a shameless celebrity endorsement, therefore the government doesn’t fiddle with them. Has the gutka ban worked? No. The point is, nothing works unless they have a mechanism that can make it work. The enforcing agencies are untrustworthy, unreliable and easily manipulated. People have to be convinced that this rubbish,” says filmmaker Pritish Nandy.
For ad guru and filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar, it is important that change begins from within the fraternity. “I was offered a fairness cream ad for babies, but I refused. We need to clean up our own act first. If we don’t self censor, then the government is going to step in with a heavy hand,” he says, adding, “By the time the judgement is passed and the fine is levied, public will have forgotten what the issue was. The company has already made its millions. The immediate action should be to arrest them and put them in jail for a week till further action.”
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