Thursday, July 27, 2006

A revealing chewing gum ad...

The other day, I had the opportunity to catch this ad on TV that left me stunned beyond words. I looked around to see if anyone saw what I saw but all I could see where faces which were blank or with a hint of a smile. All I could do was nod my head and reiterate to myself that racism is alive, kicking and vibrant in our land.

The ad was about this chewing gum that apparently whitens your teeth. It is set in a land where there are no lighting devices but men propped up on poles and on cars armed with the chewing gum. Whenever light is required, they pop one and open their mouth, and lo, there is light! What was wrong about this ad was the representation of the people who were the light-props. They were uniformly brown-skinned, suggesting a definite race/caste equation at work. Why did the director of the ad ensure that only brown-skinned people would do the part of the props? Is it because if they had used light-skinned people, it would have been incongrous? And this way, it looked "natural", ie, people would not notice anything wrong with it? (of course, some, like me, do see it as wrong)

And then, Rimi Sen says in an interview that "he can make even a black African look pretty"! Wow! Now that is just fucking amazing how she got away with that! Of course, there are some in the blogosphere who have commented on the racist nature of this comment but there has hardly been a hur and cry over it. While when Suhasini makes a statement regarding pre-marital sex, she gets slapped with a lawsuit for "sullying the name of tamil women"! Rimi Sen would probably never learn about how racist her statement was and even if she does, she wont feel pressured to issue an apology, let alone purge her racist thoughts.

One of things that I notice about the South Indian film industry is that even though the male actors are not required to be light-skinned (which is the case in Bollywood) to be considered to be heroes, the females are always expected to be goris. They would import female actresses from the north just to ensure that they be considered beautiful.

Another thing I notice is that north indians look at the heroes of the south indian films and react with disgust. Why? because they are dark-skinned, have a moustache and overact? Because they dont bare their bodies at the drop of the hat or go kkkiiiran. For a dark skinned man to make it big in Bollywood, he needs to be exceptionally talented and even so, he would not be considered for the traditional hero-roles!

When will we face the fact that racism is extremely common in India? Can things be more obvious than these two incidents? As long as representation of people is as it is in our popular media, it is going to stay. As long as there are people who deny the existence a multiple levels and layers of discrimination, it is not going to go away.

One may argue that it is not really racism that is common in India but a discrimination against dark skinned people. That there are a lot of dark brahmins. Interestingly, light-skinned dalits do not exist! I would argue that this is a discrimination based on skin colour and that it is derived from racism and manifests itself as racist behaviour when confronted with people who are undeniably of other races.

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1 comment:

mandar talvekar said...

Hi,
Sorry to put this here, but i couldn't find your email id.
I have put a "Mild spoilers ahead" alert now on my "The Other Wind" Post.
I guess i have given a sketch of the novel -- but i would like to point out that i have left the ending out -- and it is amazing. One reason I put in an overall sketch is that I didn't beleive there would be many Le Guin readers around, esp. in India where her books are notoriously hard to come by.
And am sure that the novel can still be enjoyed after reading the post.
Thanks for pointing out the need for a spoiler alert. . .should have done it myself.

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