The first teaser of Amar Kaushik’s latest venture, Bala, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, and Yami Gautam, was received with a lot of accolades by the movie-going audience. The subject of the movie seemed promising – removing the stigma around dark skin tone.
This excitement, however, was short-lived. Bhumi Pednekar’s character in the film is that of a dark-skinned woman. What struck the audience the most was that Pednekar’s face was made darker than her usual complexion. The outrage was evident and it was all over social media.
The practice of “brownface” – the desi equivalent of the infamous “blackface” in the United States, is not a new concept. Bollywood has been indulging in this for a very long time now and the latest fiasco is just another sorry feather added to their cap.
In recent times, the brownface has made an appearance on numerous occasions. Before Bala, it was Vikas Bahl’s Super 30 where Hrithik Roshan’s face was made darker than usual to portray the character of the Patna-based mathematician Anand Kumar. The mathematician’s portrayal on screen was more of a caricature with the forced Bihari enunciation in his spoken language and, of course, the make-up to darken his skin tone.
The question is not about whether there are enough roles for the dark-skinned actors and actresses, but why filmmakers still resort to casting an actor or an actress with a fairer skin tone and use makeup to pass it off as an authentic portrayal. Is there really a dearth of dark-skinned artists in the industry or are the producers too lethargic to search for one to suit their role?
If a filmmaker takes up the responsibility to create such a character, he or she must make an effort to look for a suitable actor or actress. With a number of new emerging talented artists, the pool of resource available is now bigger and better than ever.
Brownface- a popular phenomenon can also be attributed to the artists’ lack of moral turpitude when a good script comes their way. But should it be done at the cost of an unauthentic portrayal when an equally talented counterpart who suits the character, even more, could be a part of the cast?
The Indian society’s fascination for fair skin has never seen a dull moment. For an audience that is extremely influenced by Bollywood movies and the utopian life they show, the film industry has intensified the obsession with its careless representation of the people with “unconventional” skin tone.
The practice bars potential dark-skinned actors and actresses from getting equal opportunities in the industry.
Representation is still a pressing need of the hour and can only be accomplished if the film industry gets over its obsession with the eurocentric standards. It may have grown in terms of content it churns out, but is still primitive in equal opportunity.