It is no secret that India is a nation obsessed with fairness – a country that constantly conveys to women that fair is beautiful. From skincare products like Fair & Lovely and White Tone, the beauty market is filled with dubious creams and powders that claim to make women more fair and “beautiful.” This message is repulsive and absurd.
The majority of Indian women have darker skin complexions ranging from tan to dark brown. To invalidate such a large part of the female population and make women feel as if they need to change themselves to be considered “beautiful” is wrong.
The biggest platform that this message is conveyed in is Indian cinema, specifically South Indian films. Let’s look at Kollywood, the Tamil film industry. While most Tamil girls have tan to dark skin tones and are beautiful, sadly the Tamil film industry does not agree. A Google search for “Tamil actresses” yields the following:
Notice a commonality? They all have similar skin tones.
Worse, with the exception of Trisha Krishnan and Shruthi Hassan, none of the actresses are even Tamil. Hansika Motwani and Tamannaah Bhatia are Sindhi from Mumbai. Sneha’s mother tongue is Telugu and Asin is from Kerala. Shriya Saran is North Indian, Simran is Punjabi, and Aishwarya Rai hails from Mangalore. Other popular Kollywood actresses include Nayanthara Kurian (Malayali), Kajal Aggarwal (Punjabi) and Anushka Shetty (from Karnataka).
Non-Tamilians playing the role of Tamil girls in Tamil movies bothers me because it conveys two messages:
- Tamil girls are not pretty or talented enough to act in Tamil movies.
- The natural skin tone of a Tamil girl is too dark to be accepted in the Tamil film industry.
An emerging popular actress in Tamil films is Amy Jackson. While all other actresses are from various parts of India and speak other Indian languages, Amy is neither. She is white British and speaks no Indian languages.
Of course, this does not mean that she cannot act in Indian films. I am perfectly OK with that. I loved her role in the film Madharasapattinam, where she plays a British girl living in India during the colonial era.
However, what bothers me are her roles as a common Tamil girl in movies like Thanga Magan and Gethu. In the film Gethu, she plays a Brahmin “girl next door” character. A British woman is cast to play a character named Nandhini Ramanujam because Kollywood apparently could not find a single Tamil woman who could play such a beautiful Nandhini. To say that was disappointing would be an understatement.
It makes me ask – are there no Tamil girls that are talented or pretty enough to play these roles that Kollywood must cast an actress from Britain? Moreover, she was praised for her acting in the movie and for her ability to perfectly lip sync Tamil dialogue that was being dubbed. Yet why do we have actresses that need to lip sync dialogue when we can get actresses who can actually speak Tamil?
We all know that media and films have a strong impact on people, especially the younger generation. By creating the image of a beautiful woman as one who is fair skinned, stick skinny and, in most cases, non-Tamil, Kollywood is increasingly dangerous to young Tamil women who are watching these films. This impossible standard of beauty is unattainable and damaging to a woman’s self-confidence.
Movie actresses are often seen as a symbol of beauty. Girls compare themselves to these actresses and think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be so pretty?” or “Wouldn’t it be nice to be so skinny?” Girls who do not fit this “ideal” feel pressure to use fake fairness products and go on ridiculous diets.
The truth, however, is that actresses are people just like everyone else. When Kollywood film actresses do not look like the majority of South Indian girls, it screams to everyone watching these films that being dark skinned is not beautiful, being South Indian is not beautiful and being Tamil is not beautiful. I am not OK with this and you shouldn’t be either.
So here is a shout out to the Tamil film industry, Tamil ads and Tamil media as a whole: please cast Tamil women of all different skin tones so that everyone can relate to them. Let’s start creating realistic standards of beauty, not just irrational ones. Let’s teach our girls that having fair skin doesn’t make you beautiful, but that embracing and accepting yourself just the way you are is the real beautiful.
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