Abraham Lincoln had said ” Achievement has no color”.
It is almost a crime to be female and dark-skinned in India. One can’t call it ‘racism’ as the term is understood today. But, yes, there is a continuous, covert/overt pressure on girls in the sub-continent to be fair, which is both discriminatory and damaging.
The obsession of society for our fair skin and the premium placed on it finds echoes in our cinema where the heroines and actresses need to be fair to be successful The men are not spared either, but they get a better deal.Although Shahrukh Khan has had to model and advertise for ‘Fair & Handsome’, the masculine equivalent to the fairness cream for females ‘Fair & Lovely’.
No one in Bollywood/Hindi cinema exemplifies Lincoln’s golden words than the late actress Smita Patil. Of exceptional caliber and talent, she ruled the parallel cinema in the late 70’s and 80’s. However, she was also accepted and successful in mainstream cinema and glamorous roles, which was/is somewhat rare, still.Her dusky good looks and sensuality challenged the traditional perception of beauty as well as , through the powerful roles she essayed, chauvinistic demands on what a ‘good’ woman ought to be.
Smita Patil was a very favorite actress of mine. In some ways, she reminded me of my gorgeous Ma, who is not fair skinned, the other common traits being that of an achiever with tremendous energy and fire. The electronics industry which Ma started in Bhubaneshwar, in the 80’s,had/s almost 70% women in its workforce. Many of the girls were destitute. Abandoned by their husbands or tortured for a plethora of reasons by their in-laws. As a teenager, I would visit Ma’s factory in the weekend invariably. I remember a very pretty, dark-skinned girl with hair till her knees, called Lakshmi, jokingly telling me ‘How fair you are! Your husband and mother-in-law will love you!”. Later, I found out that she was tortured for bringing in-sufficient dowry and being dark! Helped by my Ma, she took the courageous decision of walking out and carving a successful life for herself. She remarried a guy who was neither from her caste ,religion or color but one who respected her and made tea for her in the mornings 🙂
Ma had once told me that her light skinned mother-in-law was a little miffed because she wasn’t fair and was not above voicing her displeasure, albeit camouflaging it quite craftily. Somewhat like ‘ This saree will look nice on my elder ‘bahu’ ( daughter-in-law)! She is so fair ! You take the other one’. It was her father-in-law and my beloved grandfather who would side with my Ma every time with ‘ Bou Ma ( dear daughter-in-law), will your daughters grow upto be as beautiful as you ?” or ‘Bou Ma, I am so proud that you are an engineer’. Perhaps, the love my grandafther had for his daughter-in-law , was clear to every one when he declared “Bou Ma, when I die, you will do the ‘puja’ ( worship) of the Shaligram “. ( Read what is a ‘Shaligram’ here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaligram ) Women, because they are considered to be ‘impure’ since they menstruate ( JEEZ!)do not worship the ‘Shaligram’. So my grandfather destroyed many hypocritical diktats of society…he brought home a dark-skinned bride for his son, he gloried in her intelligence and independence, he didn’t believe she needed to have a son, he favored her over his sons as his spiritual heir 🙂
Time to say au revoir with one of my favorite songs from a favorite movie ‘Shakti’. It has Smita Patil and Amitabh Bachhan as the lead pair 🙂
PS : Ummm…. I am a bit ‘racist’ too, I guess! I don’t like men who are fair! ( Exception: Jimmy Page) Unfortunately, my guy’s Scottish lineage makes him fair & handsome. But love has conquered me and my prejudices. I just make the man sit for hours in the sun :D. I have also made him buy me a pair of Bulgari shades, so that he looks tinted 😀