This surprised me a bit because I hadn't thought of Priyanka being, you know, like dark. But I was instantly interested because we all know how dark women get the shaft. Whether you prioritize marriage or your career, the amount of wheat in your complexion might well determine the pace of your progress.
I recall watching those hugely amusing Fair & Lovely advertisements on TV. Why, Maxdavinci even ranted about one a while ago. Remember when Fair & Lovely launched its line for men? I chuckled through one where a man is trying to save his fairness by applying the cream. Another man shows up and makes fun of him for using a girlie cream.
I could see the brainstorming session at the ad firm prior to nailing down the concept for that one. "Its not enough that we're racist" someone must have said. "We need to amp it up with cloaked misogyny wrapped around emasculating men!" Heads must have nodded.
To be fair, ads need to deliver a message clearly and quickly. So the more poorly constructed ones try to latch on to the basest of stereotypes. Still, those stereotypes exist within us.
I'm not just picking on desi commercials: you'll often find similar messages coded in commercials universally. For example, you'll hear the word "silky" a lot when it comes to hair although no one will come out and say "straight". Ditto for the use of the word "glowing" when it comes to skin.
Its often hard to categorically state if the lightness of someone's complexion is playing a role in their progress because there are so many variables at play. But most of us understand it. How else does one explain the prolonged career of gora chitta Zayed Khan? But I digress.
Back to the matter at hand: did Prachi Desai get the lead in Rock On over a more rounded performer like Shahana Goswami because she was fair or because she had a connection with Ekta Kapoor (cousin to Rock On director Abhishek Kapoor)? Did Prachi feature in the promos more than Shahana because she was fair or because she was the lead actor's chick?
You see what I mean? Arguments in the film industry are rife with all kinds of details you have to consider. Its hard to get absolute data points. And getting mired in the subtleties is one of the reasons why this system of discimination is in place, no?
With that in mind, I thought the time was ripe to do a Frivolous and Silly analysis of how the lightness of skin complexion plays a role in the making of a Bollywood superstar. I looked at as many Bollywood actresses as I could and divided them up into three categories.
The A-list: these actresses have enough hits under their belt that they have built a power base. They bow only to the biggest directors. Smaller directors refer to them as Madam and brag to their friends about how they have saved Madam's number in their cell phone. If you are A-lister, your chamchaas can fill a small stadium. Some have the box office clout to open a film on their own. All have a crowded appointment book.
The A-list is dominated by Fairwatis: Aishwarya, Katrina, Kareena, Preity, Rani are among others like Priyanka, Kajol and Bipasha.
Since I'm indulging in this rather crass exercise I gave them a fairness rating from 1 (Palewati) to 5 (Darkwati). In the Darkwati graphics in this post, 1 is the top of the scale, 5 is at the bottom.
The A-list has an average rating of 2.13. The median was 2, which is just short of really fair.
The B-list: one or two hits can lift an actress into the B-list. Here, you start showing up fairly regularly on Page 3. You still can't open a movie, your salary sucks but you don't have to audition as much and the parties are good. If one of your movie flops, you can always sign up for a Reality show on TV to feel better. Your chamchaas at this level can fit into in a medium sized school bus.
The B-list didn't fair as well on the Darkometer as the A-list did. I picked 12 actresses in this list: Vidya, Deepika, Amisha, Genelia, Esha, Shilpa Shetty, Tabu, Lara, Kangana, Amrita Rao, Gracy Singh and Diya Mirza. Average: 2.50, median: 3, which is bang in the middle of the Darkometer.
The C-list: these actresses are the ones who have made a lot of movies but are still trying to get cast. Often they have to audition. Most still carefully collect all press mentions in a scrapbook. A number of them wonder if they should just chuck it all and get married to a decent looking moneybags producer. At this level your entourage might fill up the gondola on a roller coaster. But barely.
The C-list fared a little worse, but not that much. This list has Malaika, Celina, Konkana, Soha Khan, Raima Sen, Mallika Sherwat, Minissha, Shahana, Koena, Sameera, Amrita Arora and Jiah. Average: 2.67, median: 3.
But enough number crunching. Looking at isolated cases is far more interesting.
If you are fairer than most, you fit a wide variety of roles. If you are dark, a couple of obvious career paths are available to you.
You can position yourself as a "dusky sex siren". This is the Bipasha Basu route. A newer actress barelling down this path is Jiah Khan.
Or you can compartmentalize yourself in the "serious actress" category. This is the Konkana Sen route. This seems to be the route of choice for Shahana Goswami. Waffle in between and you'll end up like Sameera Reddy.
There are a couple of exceptions in this space. Kajol is a bit of an anomaly. Besides being dark, she also has a fondness for her unabrow that defies explanation. She has managed to buck all of that to become one of Bollywood's most luminous stars although she's had to work extra hard in the acting department. And Priyanka has commandeered her considerable political savvy to grab a lot of attention despite being a 3 on the Darkometer. A wide variety of roles are offered to and availed of by both actresses.
This new emerging career path - where you don't have to commit to being either sex siren or serious - is entirely driven by early box office success. Kajol hitched her box office star to Shahrukh Khan and never looked back. Priyanka's career got an early boost through the back to back box office successes of Mujhse Shaadi Karoge and Aitraaz.
Without a doubt box office hits matter to everyone (Fairwati Katrina's against all odds ascension to the top of the Bollywood list of actresses has been fueled by serial hits), but lighter skinned actresses do seem to get a longer ride. Just look at this list for starters!
This new Darkwati career path is available to Genelia D'souza, who clocks in at 4 on the Darkometer. She's done sweet, wholesome roles that are entirely frothy. She's delivered hits (Masti, Bommarillu, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na).She's not slick enough to be Priyanka, but she could be a Kajol in waiting.
I wish her luck! (And while we are at it, guess who's done a Fair & Lovely ad before?)
A hazaar thanks to Joules for lending me her characteristic Stylista advice in this post!
- m likens the list to lollapalooza
- meena points to some Darkwatis from yesteryear
- This isn't an elephant in the room says Bitterlemons
- Kanan loves the images
- girlie girl narrates how fairness gets equated with goodness
- j recalls the kali billi incident and prefers Priyanka's skin tone
- Most big actors seem to be on the darker side says meena
- Nikhil points out that Nandita Das is going the Konkana route
- meena has some ratings of her own
- meena (2) notices that the trend might be changing
- NatC has a story about a friend's obsession with F&L
- blewgenes links to Priyanka's fairness cream ad
- Lin adjusts the subtleties in the complexions of Aish, Deepika and Kareena
- Gracy, who? asks maxdavinci
- girlie girl recalls Rani being darker in her earlier movies
- Lin is scared Celina Jaitley may take over
- Deepa points out the complexion coding in Bollywood songs
- musical notes the lighter skin tones acquired by some actresses and the make up marketing tie-in
- Judge actresses on their acting skills says Anon
- Mind Rush talks about analysis integration
- Vinayak associates the Darkwati rating with who will end up doing a Hair Removal ad
- No Karishma or Sush asks Kanan who can't understand Zayed's career either
- kusublakki has an example how color discrimination is universal
- This issue is heartbreaking to a lot of girls says aaa
- Bitterlemons retools the Darkometer rating of previous No 1s
- Krish Srikanth has done an F&L ad? jokes Self Writeous
- This is a gender and generational thing observes Joules
- musical recalls a Sonali Bendre ad
- Plenty of guys still look for 'fair' girls points out H&R
- How about that other characteristic guys look for: homely? asks meena
- Deepa thinks women are just more vocal than men about this
- Revathi would like to see a movie with a really really dark heroine
- What if Bollywood ran our country? wonders Ramesh Srivats
- Vinayak notes one particular Smita Patil dialog
- Joules has a story about the impact of Shilpa Shetty's forehead
- meena recalls growing up with no awareness of the Darkometer
- minnie has twins and processes comments about their color
- Nida explains the correlation between make up and skin tone