Most of you might have come across posters of Bala recently. Saw 'fair-skinned' actor Bhumi Pednekar in a brown-skinned avatar?
You might be thinking, 'Bollywood, really?'
Problem: Irony 101 is painting your face brown to represent a person who has been at the receiving end of colour discrimination or the target audience for fairness cream advertisements. (According to them, if you're dark-skinned, then you know you're still struggling for a job, or society's approval for existence.)
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I guess the movie makers thought Bhumi Pednekar's acting skills would be top-notch enough to show the discrimination a dark-skinned person is exposed to in India.
Granted skills obviously are what makes a good actor. But what about the concept of equal opportunity? If the movie itself is parading the notion of equality, then why not start by casting a dark-skinned female actor?
Ms Pednekar justified her being offered the role in an interview with PTI. "I am an actor and it's my job to do different kinds of parts. With this logic, I should not have done Dum Laga Ke Haisha because I gained 30 kgs for the film," she said.
But then, if logic was ever in the picture, she would not have compared her being chosen for Dum Laga Ke Haisha with her being offered Bala, because, one can't exactly become 10 shades darker or lighter "naturally" for a role.
If that was possible, then I hope, like how she put up her weight-loss regime on Instagram, she'd reveal her secrets on how she slid many many shades down on the skin-colour spectrum. Was it turmeric powder or Fairness creams?
To give you some perspective on how troublesome 'brownface' is, imagine what would happen if Leonardo Dicaprio painted his face brown to play a role in a movie about discrimination. What would happen then?
Let's look at the solution:
Hire people from diverse backgrounds. Don't float around the "marketing for the wider audience" or "really talented actor" arguments in 2019.
With the Indian population reaching a whopping 1.3 billion, were there not enough dark-skinned actors capable of being Bala's (Ayushmann Khurrana) classmate?
In a 2019 Hindustan Times interview, acting trainer Mr Samar Jai Singh, who has been training actors since 1993 and has even taught at the Film and Television Institute of India from 2004-2010, admitted that there has been a dynamic shift in the industry. Now, the focus is no more on character actors, but rather on "actors who look the part" in more regional-based stories. This, he said, had made it easier for people from smaller cities to enter the industry.
Casting based on popularity alone becomes even more unfair when an integral part of the movie revolves around discrimination and lack of equal opportunity.
Two successful instances from the Malayalam film industry, where "actors that looked the part" were hired, show what can be done.
1. KAMMATTIPADAM: Shaun Romy a dark-skinned actor is hired to play the character of Anita, the love interest of the protagonist, Dulquer Salman. Anita belongs to a Dalit family torn apart by wars they do not yet understand. Through the story of Dalit gangster violence, the film shows how Kochi, once occupied by lush greeneries and paddy fields, has now become a concrete jungle.
2. PREMAM: Sai Pallavi broke the stereotype of women with near-perfect, airbrushed skin on the silver screen, by becoming the barefaced Malar Miss. Sai Pallavi's acne in the movie receiving praise proved pathbreaking and paved the way for actors like Nimisha Vijayan, Mathew Thomas to make bareface the norm.
As for actors who don't want to give up their opportunity to do a good movie, sure. Ms Pednekar had good intentions while doing what she did, but next time maybe she should also think of the repercussions or the impressions she would leave on young minds who could watch her in a movie like Bala and think they never stood a chance.
* We looked for more commercial movies that represented people of different colours and skin types but fell short. Maybe it is the industry demands that are to be blamed?