Beauty and Bollywood: The Endless Vicious Obsession
Indian society’s uncanny obsession with fairness is nothing new. However, the inclination towards a particular complexion does not seem to disappear to any extent. The colonial hangover which dated back to almost thousands of years ago is still very much prevalent today. The fixation of colour and the definition of beauty has reached the farthest point to become a Brahminical one – fair skin with thick and long hair and many such fetishes.
Earlier in Bollywood, this groundless proposition was asserted in an uncompromisingly straightforward way through dialogue or a song – such as “… khambe jaisi khadi hain, ladki hain ya chadi hain”; since a woman should be of a certain height preferably smaller than a man, or “… gore gore mukhre pe kala kala til”, “… chitiyan kalaiyan ve” to name a few. However, the way to assert such standard has changed in recent years.
On the one hand, Hindi films have evolved in terms of story, narration, method acting by resorting to many isms and by not taking the audience’s intelligence for granted. On the other, some films still adhere to the decaying belief of what is beautiful and what is not. But how they are different is the way they interpenetrate the dogma into the narrative.
Recently, on the matter of Geroge Floyd, a man of colour who was stifled by white police in Minneapolis has sparked a global movement called ‘Black Lives Matter’. On the matter, prominent Bollywood actors like Priyanka Chopra and Disha Patani were quick to express revulsion on Twitter and other social media platforms and spoke against racism and condemned the act. However, their act to demand justice came out as rather hypocritical as these are the same celebrities who are often seen promoting skin lightening creams and fairness creams.
The hypocrisy is not just rudimentary to social media – Hrithik Roshan’s Super 30; based on the life of Patna mathematician Anand Kumar. Kumar who cracked Cambridge University but could not attend due to lack of financial means and to portray his financial status in the society, Roshan’s face was painted with a lot of shades darker than required.
This class-caste stereotyping can also be seen in Udta Punjab where Alia Bhatt’s character has been painted too dark to make her look like labour from Bihar who works in the field. Or Bhumi Pednekar in Bala who is a small-town girl and is constantly trying to break the stereotype of beauty. Over the years, these specific tactics have become an apparatus to mould the character as and when required.
Ironically, all these characters have been portrayed by actors who are a contrary kind. Another such example is Saand Ki Aankh’s two female protagonists Bhumi Pednekar as Chandro Tomar and Taapsee Pannu as Prakashi Tomar. The film is based on the lives of sharpshooters, the Tomar sisters by advocating that women can build their own identity at any given age. The film is about beautiful, strong and empowering women who intend to inspire an ode to womanhood, sisterhood and age-no-bar theory. However, where it contradicts itself is by casting women to play sexagenarian (age between 60 to 69) who are half the age.
Besides, the films which are talking about an issue of paramount importance turns out to be offensively regressive such as ‘Bala’ and ‘Ujda Chaman’. Both the movies had good intentions to talk about premature balding. Still, knowingly-unknowingly makes fun of its lead character who is suffering from a particular condition. These characters also highlight to be desperate who tries all kinds of concoctions to deny and believe the truth society wants them to think.
Bollywood and society’s beauty standards go hand in hand. Though cinema has evolved and tries to be consciously correct, it is time to be empathetic to shun the regressive mindset of society and not just be right.