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Challenging Bollywood stereotypes: ‘My beautiful white skin’ film

Challenging Bollywood stereotypes: ‘My beautiful white skin’ film

December 17 2014

Filmmaker seeks to tackle notion of dark skin colour and put critical spotlight on estimated $10 billion global cosmetic industry aimed at people who want to lighten their complexion…

by Chayya Syal

MANY of us think that using skin lightening products and bleaching one’s skin are a thing of the past, or at least confined to the shadows of modern society.

We feel disgusted by these products but do we really know why people feel compelled to use them?

A short film which is to be extensively presented on the global festival circuit in 2015, “My Beautiful White Skin” (‘MBWS‘) explores the psychological pressures and the reasons as to why people resort to using such products.

MBWS‘ is testimony that the issue is still very alive in many ethnic communities and is probably happening on a much larger scale than we think.

Made by Stuart Gatt, who is of mixed Italian and Indian heritage, ‘MBWS’ follows a young British Asian girl, Parita (played by Ritu Arya), as she desperately tries to lighten her skin in time for a Bollywood dance audition.

With a penchant and an undeniable talent for dance, it is Parita’s dream to become a Bollywood dancer. There’s just one problem: she is not the idyllic fair-skinned beauty that Bollywood demands.

The issues that Parita deals with hinge on the personal and familial pressures she faces for being dark-skinned, the burden of competing against fair-skinned dancers and wanting a better life for herself. She is prepared to do anything to make her dreams a reality, even with heart breaking consequences.

“When you’ve finished using it, no one will know you’re Indian” is a line from the film, and exhibits how powerful the advertising can be.

Gatt’s inspiration for the film came from his dark skinned grandmother and the discrimination she faced from fairer skinned members of her own family.

He said: “I’ve always grown up with the issues in my family; I had a dark skinned (Indian) grandmother and a fair skinned (Indian) grandfather.”

Gatt added: “It was always there with my family, but then I started seeing a massive $10bn a year industry. When I saw how big it was, I found it so disgusting! Seeing the pain of my grandmother, darker skinned members of my family and similar individuals in the diaspora and India, I realised that it affected Indians around the world and not just Indians in India.”

Gatt said the film has a crusading heart.

ACV
Parita (Ritu Ayra) in 'My Beautiful White Skin'

He argued: “Films like this are so important. It makes people question skin bleaching, Indian skin tones and heritages to bring us back into balance.”

The film raises important questions about aesthetic ideals of beauty both within the South Asian community and adds a critical voice to the generally unrealistic images that the Bollywood film industry generally seeks to portray.

It is an industry where all of its fair skinned, Eurocentric looking actors represent less than five per cent of the overall Indian population. How many of us can name five dark skinned Bollywood actors and actresses on the spot?

Gatt, a one-time professional model, who later abandoned his finance studies to purse filmmaking after landing a commission for a Channel 4 comedy pilot, added: “We need to really question what we’re doing: who stands to win and who stands to lose with Indians lightening their skin. Many people, of all communities, were very touched by the film and that’s what is important for me.”

The act of wanting to lighten one’s skin is damaging and often irreversible – with terrible consequences.

Some creams and cosmetics have been shown to cause damage to the skin – but many in the trade would argue they conform to regulatory standards and only bring tried and tested products which are safe to use to market.

The skin lightening debate is so sensitive that various beauty campaigns around the world – ‘Dark is Beautiful’ – and darker skinned actors such as Nandita Das, Lupita Ngongo’o are beginning to change who and what is considered to be beautiful.

MBWS‘ is a 35mm short film produced in London by Gatt and produced in association with Lola Pictures from the US. He wrote the script as well directing it.

The film was first shown at a private screening in London last month and will now tour the world short film festival circuit.

Gatt’s previous short film – “Oh, Simone” – won Best Short at three film festivals. He also received a nomination for Best Screenplay at the Beverly Hills Film Festival.

For the “My Beautiful White Skin” trailer here

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture

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