Posted on June 16, 2021 at 10:45 pm

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Changing the Narrative: A Conversation on Colorism in India

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Actress Chandrika Ravi explains that in order for Indian stereotypes to change in Hollywood, the Indian film industry must learn to move past the prejudices of colorism, and accept naturally darker-skinned Indian actresses. 

Colorism has been plaguing the Indian film industry for decades. In recent years, Indian moviegoers have noticed that there are fewer naturally darker-skinned actresses playing lead roles in films. Additionally, actresses such as Konkana Sen Sharma and Rani Mukherjee are labeled as “dusky Bollywood beauties”, instead of Bollywood actresses. 

Konkana Sen SharmaRani Mukherjee

Australian Indian actress and model Chandrika Ravi explains that until Bollywood stops casting actors who aren’t Indian in films, it can’t expect the West to move past Indian stereotypes in Hollywood films. 

Chandrika Ravi

“When you address the Western society, racism is unfortunately, part of day to day life. In our own country [India], we can’t accept our own people, I would say it’s worse. We’re judging people based on the color of their skin even though we’re all from the same country.” 

She goes on to question why naturally darker skinned Indian actresses aren’t cast as love interests in films. Most notably, the 2019 film “Bala” cast Bhumi Pednekar to play a darker skinned character, and used makeup to artificially darken her skin. 

Bhumi Pednekar in Bala

“To have my own people say ‘you are too dark for a role, you only fit the role of a sexy, dusky actress’. Why does the word ‘dusky’ have to be part of your vocabulary?”

Ravi has been an active advocate for ending colorism in all film industries. While many models and actors have done advertisements and campaigns for skin lightening cream brand Fair and Lovely, Ravi has refused to do such work. 

For Ravi, the influence she has as an actress and model makes her more aware of which projects she chooses to be a part of. She explains that as Indian films reach millions of people, especially young girls, it’s important that they have role models to look up to. 

“At 32, I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m so proud of my looks. I’m proud of my skin color [and] I’m proud of all the things that come with being a mixed South Indian girl, and I think it’s very harmful that our girls don’t have someone to look up to.” 

The stereotype in Hollywood surrounding Indian women is that they are either doctors and scientists who are not considered beautiful or extremely rich and snobbish women. Ravi explains that the West isn’t ready to move past their stereotypes because of the bubble the Indian film industry has itself created on what Indian women look like. 

“I can meet someone randomly, and they’re like “Oh my god, you carry yourself so differently for an Indian girl’ … I used to get very upset. Then, I started realizing, it’s not their fault. They’re so used to turning on the TV and seeing an Indian girl play the role of [getting] and arranged marriage … and I can’t be mad at the West.” 

The conversation surrounding colorism has ignited over the past few years, and the younger generation of Bollywood fans are hopeful that their pleas for change will be listened to. However, while hopeful, Ravi doesn’t believe that a major change will happen anytime soon. 

“[Colorism] is unfortunately something that I don’t think is going to change overnight. I pray that it happens in our generation, but at the end of the day, there’s too many artists doing things for paychecks, and not realizing the consequences of their actions because they’ve never had to fight for something as little as their skin color.” 

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