Sunday, 25 April 2010

End to an era of skin-barter?

The thought of this piece came to my mind while reading a passage in Alice Albinia’s brilliant book Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River in which in her uncanny style she seamlessly stitches the history of habshishs (Africans) in Sindh and their negative perceptions in the ‘morbidly skin colour conscious’ north Indian society in which Fair & Lovely is to be found in such scarcely stocked tea shacks in the remostest areas where busses even find hard to ply.

Sitting at the Heathrow airport and surrounded by swarms of ‘white faces’ around, I pondered over the skin fascination in Bollywood songs, which Albinia also mentions in passing. The mass production of ‘fair ladies’ is enrapturing – from the advertisements of the fairness creams that sometimes go back to the Vedas to discover the ‘herbal’ (and civilisational?) remedies to probably present-day commercial (racial?) pollution, to that of Bollywod songs that hardly miss to shower praise on ‘gora rang’ (fair skin) of ‘gora badan’ (fair body) – the gora badan has been a conspicuous object of desire. One could only wonder at this stage when did ‘gori’ (fem. fair) or ‘goriya’ (fem. fair) become synonymous with ‘ladki’ (girl). While on the one hand in numerous songs the female characters displayed pride (and arrogance) in their possession of fair skin, the heroes who usually felt the pinch of skin-discrimination (is this the Krishna tradition that influences to keep our heroes relatively dark skinned?) on the other often reminded them: Gore rang par na itna gumaan kar, gora rang do din mein dhal jayega , from the movie Roti (1974) which almost reprimanded the goriya not to boast her fairness because its ephemeral, because its going to fade away, sooner rather than latter. However, the gora rang and the gori baahein have often remained the prime and first of the many (if any!) instigators that propel our heroes to fall in love. Gori Gori Gori Gori baahein teri hain, jo chori chori chori chori dekhun inhein main toh (Your arms are fair, which I gaze upon secretly, movie Fight Club (2006) is just one of the thousand and many more instances that can be plucked from our illustrious archives of Fair-wood music industry. No wonder, the heroes often pleaded the girls to give their gora rang to them (Zulfein Yeh Kaali Gaalon Ki Laali, Yeh Gora Rang De De
Maheke Gulaab Jaisa Shabaab, Pehli Bahaar De De
, the blackness of your hair and the rosyness of your cheeks give me your fairness, your (physical) beauty is like a rose, give me the first spring (of my life), movie: Ek Rishta (2001) – which allegorically could mean two things: one, the physical bonding and second the emotional surrender. Whatever the case be, it was the body and its colour that preceded the individualism of the girl. This demand and the primacy of colour was/is well understood by the girls. Therefore, in moments of romantic despair when loyalty needed to assured, the girls offered to barter away their skin – mera gora ang lei ley, mohe shaam rang dei dey, (Take my fair body and give me your dark skin) movie: Bandini (1973). The Krishna cult in India somehow justified the presence of male dark skin, and apparently emboldened our Bollywood heroes to put their claims on goriya’s gora badan.

This age-old tradition of colour bartering is however seemingly coming to an end. Krishna is dead and Shahrukh Khan is the new God. He claims to be NOT ONLY A KHAN but also a handsome who uses Men Fair & Lovely. The cream of course has been ‘scientifically tailored for men’s skin’ which works on men’s skin in contrast to women’s skin in three different ways; it is designed to address three areas of men’s skin: toughness, roughness and harshness. We can raise our toast for the final arrival of democratic principles!

Now with the mass production of ‘fair hunks’ there couldn’t be any irony in one of the intimate scenes of the hard-hitting reality movie (Fashion), (which its director Madhur Bhandarkar claims to make) where the moral and ‘fair’ awakening of Priyanka Chopra’s character is immanently dependent on a ‘black’ encounter. Now with the use of Men F & L, it would be difficult for our directors to find suitable replacements where the morals could be discovered. In another ironical twist it could also symbolise the death of moral, for which we will raise another toast. But for the moment, we can just lament on the death of soulful err… skinful melodies of Bollywood.