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A Duskier Bhumi Pednekar In Bala Isn’t Just Lots Of Bronzer. It Unwittingly Brings Out Our Inner Racist

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The Indian entertainment industry is well-versed with courting controversies. From sexual harassment cases to the wage gap, Bollywood has its fair share of unethical practices. One of which is the recent spike in instances of ‘brownface’ in our major films. The movie industry is opting to tell more stories based in rural settings since they are doing good with audiences across the country. This shift has seen a change in the way our actors are portrayed on screen as well. Stripped off of their usual glamorous layers, actors are portrayed in a more raw light, leading some movie makers to push the boundaries, in the most questionable way. Thus, the dark-skinned makeup of light-skinned actresses, because apparently, we don’t have enough dusky actresses to work with. I mean, I could roll off a few names off my tongue instantly, but the makers can’t think of any.

For the uninitiated, here’s the lowdown. Racial ‘brownface’ is a version of ‘blackface’ in which a person is painted darker than their original complexion. It is very offensive when people of other cultures do it, but more so, when we ourselves do it unnecessarily.

The recent ‘brownface’ controversy is in line with silly and unnecessary pigment darkening an actor is put through. Bhumi Pednekar is starring alongside Ayushmann Khurana in Bala, in a full-faced dark makeup. The move has been called out by netizens for being racist. With users commenting, “One-day Bollywood will realize dark-skinned people exist and they don’t have to put 2 kilos of dark foundation on a fair-skinned actress. One day”. And, “Wish industry had dark-skinned actresses to properly portray the struggle. But it’ll be way too long before that happens. Until then this is what we get. Painted faces.”. People have taken offense to the hypocrisy of the film and the fact that they did not hire a duskier actress to play the role without having to put on dark makeup.

This is not the first time, and won’t be the last when Bollywood has gotten it so wrong when it comes to authentic representation. We have come leaps and bounds when it comes to the kind of stories we tell, but the ones telling it are still bound by star power. From Alia Bhatt’s altered skin complexion in Udta Punjab to Ranveer Singh’s Gully Boy look, actors are put in darker makeup to make them look “more rural”or indicate a certain social stature. We understand movie makers trying to stay true to the source material, but surely casting a darker actor should be easier than loading a fair-skinned person with tonnes of makeup?

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The problem of ‘brownface’ in Bollywood has gone unchecked for the longest time. It is one thing to add a tinge of makeup to alter an actor’s appearance, a whole another to make them look rougher, especially when portraying a real person. Hrithik Roshan’s part in Super 30 could have been easily played by someone duskier. Young actresses Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan were given darker makeup for their role in Pataakha, totally unnecessary!

Time might be running out for Bollywood to get on with the times and carry out inclusive casting. Let’s hope they catch up soon enough!

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