April 14th, 2017
With the recent backlash against the racism regarding darker skin colour embedded deep within the society’s mindset, various celebrities have taken a stand against the corporate portrayal, which further encourages this. Lately, Abhay Deol’s fearless naming and shaming of various well-known Bollywood celebrities endorsing fairness products were applauded, as many people could hope that those public influencers will now own up to their actions. Further, another celebrity, Sonal Sehgal has now emerged with a short film exploring the dark side of fairness creams.
Sonal Sehgal who began her Bollywood career with Nagesh Kukunoor’s Aashayein took a sabbatical from acting in 2013 and went on to study filmmaking in New York. Dancing In The Dark, her short film is a result of her academics as well as a realisation that her past endorsements of fairness products may have had grievous repercussions on many people.
The Stigma with Dark Skin
Some days ago, Tarun Vijay, BJP Parliamentarian sparked a racism controversy with a TV discussion about the recent attacks on African students in Greater Noida, stating that, “If we were racist, why would we have all the entire south…Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra…why do we live with them? We have black people around us”.
Regarding this incident, model-actress Sonal stated,
“I realised that he was not being deliberately racist, this prejudice against skin tone runs so deep in our society that it has become acceptable. Why else would someone say something like this on national TV? Why else would ads promoting how to become six shades lighter play without anyone reacting to them?”
Sonal Sehgal’s Realisation
Sonal reveals that one of her first modelling assignments was for fairness soap when she moved to Mumbai about 12 years back. She admitted that she did not think twice at that time, as this assignment helped her earn enough to support with a whole year’s rent.
However, 3 years later in 2008, Sonal had become popular with two primetime shows. Sonal’s realisation came after her maid, Gangu, approached her with two different brands of fairness creams asking her about the brand she used. Sonal expressed her guilt: “I suddenly understood that I had failed Gangu and millions of gorgeous, dusky women across the country, including my own sister, by becoming a part of the mafia that undermines their self-esteem. Being an educated, city-bred girl with a scientist father and a school principal mother, I realise that these creams don’t work, but women like Gangu believe they need them to conform to our standards of beauty”, Sonal said, as she recalled her school friend’s incident who was darker than her and was urged to drink milk by her grandmother so she wouldn’t be a ‘tawa blackened by the flame’.
The Short Film: Dancing In The Dark
Sonal took a sabbatical in 2013 to enrol in a New York film school, where she was part of the elitist crowd that an Indian like her would be fair-skinned. She realised that in India, most of the country consists of dusky and beautiful people. Sonal finally made a short film Dancing In The Dark, in 2015, as she returned back from her filmmaking course in New York.
The video captured the essence of the incident with her friend and Gangu into the story of a talented background dancer who is moved to the last row because she is dark-skinned, and used soaps and creams in a desperate attempt to lighten her skin tone, only to see it backfired. Sonal says, “It was in the song-and-dance space but I didn’t have sponsors. I made this film with the help of some friends with Ritika Kumar, whose dance classes I used to attend, as the lead. It was to expose the dark side of an industry and a society where fair equals beautiful and successful”.
Sonal Sehgal (left) and Tannishtha Chatterjee (right)
For two years after the film completion, the video remained unpublished, as she was discouraged to fight such a big battle alone. Tannishtha Chatterjee, who had seen this film soon after it was completed appealed that it was time to now publish the film, owing to the recent spark caused by Tarun Vijay’s remark. Chatterjee was also seen storming out of a comedy show after being roasted for her skin colour.
Sonal who took responsibility and is apologetic about her past skin-lightening product endorsement, says, “If a fair-skinned girl brings up the discrimination, she won’t be seen as playing the victim card and people may take notice. It’s time to change mind-sets, shame models into turning down ads that endorse a skewered role model. I feel responsible for letting this kind of racism perpetrate, for not speaking up earlier”.
Her full statement and video “Dancing in the Dark”
The Logical Indian View
An unhealthy obsession with light skin has long prevailed in various countries of South Asia. Various corporates and influencers promote light skin as being associated with positive experiences such as better marriage and job prospects, which in turn leads to the negative stigma with a darker complexion. This causes many such dark-skinned people to forcefully confront a malicious cultural complex leading them to be viewed as less desirable. Hence, the society has commonly started to judge a person’s value on this superficial trait over many years.
According to the study by World Psychiatry, the journal of World Psychiatric Association, by agreeing to stereotypes and internalising self-stigma, “People are dissuaded from pursuing the kind of opportunities that are fundamental to achieving life goals because of diminished self-esteem and self-efficacy. People may also avoid accessing and using evidence-based practices that help achieve these goals.”
The Logical Indian truly supports the idea of celebrities who should now take responsibilities of the products they endorse, considering the massive influence they have on their audience. Every such step makes a mark on the society’s mindsets, and such changes are absolutely necessary to allow the acceptance of all skin colours as equally beautiful in a country as diverse as India.