What has beauty to do with skin colour and poverty?


There was an old interview of Nushrat Bharucha, Hindi film actress, where she said she was rejected for “Slumdog Millionaire” because she was considered too good looking to play the role of a slum girl. 

Repeatedly, I see several biased and thoughtless comments from people stating that even their maid looks better than a certain celebrity. The latest celebrity to get trolled with such biased comments is Suhana Khan. 

When did beauty have anything to do with poverty? More specifically, when did beauty have anything to do with skin colour? 

Fair complexion is automatically associated with royalty. For women, the beauty standards are rigid and myopic. Pale skin, light eyes, tall, slim figure are all considered essential traits of being beautiful. But, the most common deciding factor is your skin colour.

A practice which I absolutely detest in the Telugu film industry is where they scout fair North Indian actresses to play the lead roles. The Malayalam film industry is relatively progressive in casting the right actors for the right roles. It’s refreshing to see the likes of Nimisha Sajayan and Fahadh Faasil play the lead roles in mainstream Malayalam movies. 

Colorism is a disease across the world. How many coloured actresses do you know in Hollywood who play the lead roles? I can count them on my fingertips. Halle Berry and Viola Davis come on top of my mind. No surprise Danny Boyle’s team informed Nushrat Bharucha that she was too good looking to be a slum girl and offered the part to brown-skinned Frieda Pinto. 

It would have still been realistic if Danny Boyle cast Nushrat Bharucha to play the role of the slum girl. Don’t we have fair people who fall into the poverty groups? Don’t we have rich people who are dark-skinned? Why are we falling back to the prehistoric standards of beauty where the female protagonist was always light-skinned, blue-eyed and blonde, while the antagonist was dark-skinned, brown eyed and haired? 

Colorism is elitist and prejudiced, and it’s high time we fling it outside the window. I want the era of Smita Patil to be back in our industry. Nepotism apart, I think it’s great if we have more brown-skinned women such as Suhana Khan playing lead protagonists in Indian cinema. 

It’s an ironic stance, considering the average Indian woman is brown-skinned. Shouldn’t we be embracing and celebrating our skin colour?

I remember the times when my daughter was the only brown-skinned student in the dominantly Caucasian class, including her teachers. One day, she asked me if she could be light-skinned. I asked her why she wanted to change when she was already beautiful the way she was. Today, the same girl who is in her teens now refuses to use filters to lighten her skin colour in pictures. I’m so proud to see her journey from being unsure to unapologetic about her skin colour and feeling absolutely beautiful in it. 

I see hope in our future generations as they dispel biases and stereotypes around beauty.

*I’m participating in #BlogchatterA2Z.

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Tina Sequeira
Tina Sequeira is a marketer and moonlighting writer. She is passionate about tech, creativity, and social justice—dabbling in and writing about the same.

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