Of colourism and self-worth

The frame opens with a group of people waiting impatiently outside a labour room. Soon they hear the cry of a baby.

Published: 23rd February 2021 05:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd February 2021 05:31 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: France-based animator Vinnie Ann Bose’s short film ‘What is your brown number?’ tackles the important issue of colourism with wry humour. Released recently on YouTube, the four-minute film, has been produced by Studio Eeksaurus

The frame opens with a group of people waiting impatiently outside a labour room. Soon they hear the cry of a baby. The doctor emerges to announce that it’s a boy and the relatives are overjoyed. But the jubilation comes to a sudden end when the doctor disappointedly hands over a report indicating the newborn’s ‘brown number’.

The baby ranks 80 and is on the higher end of the spectrum that positions everyone from one to 100 depending on their skin tone. While one stands for the fairest, the shade card goes darker with each point. In the world where France-based animator Vinnie Ann Bose sets her characters in, a person’s worth is determined by the lightness of his or her skin colour, not much unlike India, we inhabit today.

Vinnie’s animated short film, ‘What is your brown number?’ produced by Studio Eeksaurus and released on YouTube last week tackles with wry humour the important issue of colourism ingrained into the Indian psyche. The four-minute short which was conceived in 2015 as part of Vinnie’s graduation project while she was studying in NID, Ahmedabad does not contain so much of a story arc.

Rather, it is a montage of various disquieting encounters we all have surely come across. A mother has a mental breakdown fearing for her dusky school-going daughter’s slim marriage prospects. An unemployed man prays to god in hope of becoming fairer which, according to him, would lead to success. A 20-something woman whose brown number is 52 cakes her face with makeup to look 25.

While comedy is at the core of the four-minute film, Vinnie portrays a grim reality. The 28-year-old heightens the horror of the prejudice, which is otherwise man-made and arbitrary, by making it innately biological. In the film, every person is born with a brown number impressed on his or her face, as if a birthmark. It cannot be shed or escaped.

“As final year students in NID, we could apply to various production houses to produce our graduation films. When Studio Eeksaurus selected me, the brief was to make a film on a socially relevant topic. Suresh Eriyat and I settled on the issue of colourism. It is so entrenched in our society that it has been normalised and no one talks about it. It made sense to employ humour to address such a ridiculous prejudice and a lot of research went into it.

I delved into how beauty and success are defined by complexion and how this particularly affects women. The brown number palette directly refers to and is a sarcastic take on the shade card that you got free with Fair & Lovely (now Glow & Lovely) a few years back. I tried to question where such prejudices stem from and found that colonialism and caste system have a huge role to play.  This in result has shaped the general notion that north Indians are fairer than south Indians, or that people from lower economic status are darker than the ‘elite’,” says Vinnie, a Kochi native.

With close to 40 official selections to film festivals around the world and numerous awards to her credit, Vinnie points to how ‘What is your brown number?’ has made people in the west aware of the issue. “The people in France who watched this film have told me about how they were unaware of such an issue in India. I think that my aim as an animation film maker is to narrate stories that are true to my homeland and reflect my experience as an Indian woman,” adds Vinnie.

Her ongoing project titled ‘Sulaimani’ is about two Malayali women who end up in an Indian restaurant in Paris. “It will delve into the idea of home and how food is a comforting element but the underlying theme would be the place of women in Indian society.”Watch ‘What is your brown number?’ on the YouTube channel @Studio Eeksaurus


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