Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"It's All Right If It's All White"

Beyond the pale?
By Naresh Puri BBC News

One of Bollywood's biggest film stars is being criticised by Asian campaigners for promoting a skin-lightening cream - a product that is now on the shelves of British shops.

The 40-second advertisement from India starts like so many others promoting razors or hair dye - but it's an ad with a very big difference.

There's a man who has no luck with the girls. He has markedly darker skin than his friends and the girl he is after. In a real song-and-dance Bollywood extravaganza, one of the biggest heart throbs of Indian cinema, Shahrukh Khan, hands over a cream to the hapless chap, along with some mild admonishment.

Within a few weeks, the young man has turned much lighter-skinned and confident. As he strides down the road like a modern-day answer to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the girls start flocking to him and chanting: "Hi handsome, hi handsome." Khan comes back into view with the product, Fair and Handsome.

The skin-lightening cream for men, along with its more feminine counterparts, has found its way into Asian supermarkets and stores in the UK.

While Khan's advert has not been shown yet in the UK, it too has made its way to British consumers via YouTube. And the product's success or failure in the British market place may say something about the nature of beauty and the politics of race.

Kiran Kaur - a Sikh human rights activist in west London, one of the epicentres of Asian cultural life in the UK - says the arrival of Fair and Handsome, with a Bollywood name in tow, is a step back in time.

'Age-old prejudices'

"The ad simply reinforces the idea that you've got to be fair to be anything in life," says Kiran.

"It says that if you're fair and good looking, you'll be a wonderful daughter-in-law or husband, your skin colour determines how successful you'll be in life. The ad reinforces age-old prejudices."

The skin-lightening industry is worth at least £100m in India and the Fair-and-Handsome-for-Men range is the latest product from one of the market's big players.

Manufacturers say they are responding to a demand, but in recent years protests in India have seen at least one advert taken off air. Other lightening products targeted at black women have been on sale for years, some of them containing chemicals banned for years from British goods.

Actress Rani Moorthy knows first hand about the prejudice suffered by Asians with darker skin.

She is currently touring the UK with her play that focuses on skin colour, Shades of Brown.

"When I was a child my grandmother took me to one side and said make sure you're good at something, no man will ever marry you for your looks," she says.

"I knew this was because I was dark skinned. It was treated as a disease and every Friday I had to have oil baths in an attempt to lighten my skin".

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rimi said...

Really it’s interesting news because Shahrukh Khan, the Tom Cruise of Bollywood with men’s fairness cream is the hot topic in the ad world. Actually I found this discussion 2 days ago as well, I’ve found a video link on BBC news related to Shahrukh and Fairness cream. There is a blog http://fairandhandsome.blogspot.com/ where I’ve found a video link of BBC News site. You can also go through that link and see what they’re telling on Shahrukh Khan and fairness cream.

solgenic said...

Wow. I can't even remember to apply lotion everyday, and that's just to fight the ash. I can't imagine marrying someone attracted to the lighter version of me and having to do this skin-lightening mess for the rest of my non-arthritic days.

Very interesting that men are being targeted for this product. Aside from Michael Jackson and Koffi Olomide, I always thought this was a woman thing. It seems to me that in black cultures it's more desirable to be a light-skinned or "mixed" woman than a light-skinned man. For men it seems like having lighter skin is a negative... gotta wait to be "back in fashion."