By Paromita VohraIn the early 1980 s, my father was posted to Baghdad as an air-force trainer and I met Pakistanis for the first time — as their air force officers were also deputed as coaches there. I became fast friends with three sisters in one of the Pakistani families — but once we returned there was no way to keep in touch — until 1999, when I, magically, traversed their own borders to Lahore in connection with a film I had written. I attempted out their own families, detected them addicted to Balaji soaps. One of the sisters was just telling me how Uncle( we are joined by name other people’s dads Uncle) had gone to India last year and couldn’t locate us. “But he brought back all the Indian cosmetics we’ve seen in the Indian ads! ” That cosmetic was Fair and Lovely. I was incredulous , not least because my friends is actually extremely gori-chitti( fair and unblemished) as we say in Punjabi. Apparently, you can never be fair enough, when the shared twin histories of colonial racism and caste undergird our divided present.Fair and Lovely may say it is unfair to blame it for colour bias, with its long and complicated history. But they would be disingenuous. Fair and Lovely was developed by Unilever’s Indian subsidiary Hindustan Lever for the Indian market in 1975, though it’s popular in many countries now.Where Fair and Lovely produced, many have followed, but it has always remained the leader, penetrating ever deeper and poorer marketplaces with its sachets and its mindset. Colourism in India is complicated because multiple shades of chocolate-brown from pale tan to rich chocolate become available across caste and communities and even within families.Therefore, skin colour get used with great flexibility to denote inferiority at multiple levels. It is used by North Indians to stigmatise South Indians, by upper castes to promote distaste and discrimination against lower castes, and within the same caste to create hierarchies between ladies, much more than men, hinging their marriageability and employability on it. Fair and Lovely, conflating fairness with glamour in its very identify, subsumes the many social discriminations that affect individual progress, emphasising appearing, while distracting us from its political signifies. It is one of chemical warfare on the soul of people in a campaign of social hierarchy, offering a distraction from the root causes of inequality — while adding to them. Fair and Lovely circulars is constantly reflected this by linking fairness with adoption — matrimonial, professional, social.The presence of a Fair and Handsome cream for men, considered downmarket, divulges the diverse nature of inequality. But that the fairness debate remains linked to women in popular consciousness actually cleverly serves to deflect from these intersectional worlds at the heart of most discrimination. Acknowledging skin colour issues can sometimes be a way to signal one’s progressiveness without seriously addressing other fundamental inequalities.This history of skin colour in Hindi cinema is a case in point. Mainstream Hindi cinema has had hardly any dusky stars — Rekha and Deepika Padukone are notable exceptions, and the former has worked to progressively present as lighter scalped. But similarity cinema, Bollywood’s liberal other, accommodates “unconventional” females — dark skinned charms among them. In doing this it supports the convention, for the darker skinned lady comes bundled with other reformist principles, all of who the hell is cordoned off in the hatke segment. We read a similar narrative corsage in ad also. For instance, Titan got some social cred for featuring the dusky Priyanka Bose in one advertisement.But it came along with some more exceptionalism — progressive principles of remarriage and a benevolent “cool” man who was alright with accepting such a non-ideal woman. It may promote some new thinking, but it does not really mix it up with the old thinking.Subsequent skin colour campaigns which likewise restrict themselves to women, like the Dark and Beautiful campaign, while well-intentioned, maintain this status quo of liberal appeal for elite girls. Their successors, like the video India’s Got Colour, do feature different genders — though not transgender musicians — but don’t quite transcend generalised diversity politics. By inducing everyone the same — all garmented identically in black with a bhadralok aesthetic — they likewise don’t support an exuberant and visceral imagery of transformation, joyful affirmation and affective diversity.If you don’t envision colour — what do you determine? If you recognize colour only as colour, what have you really realized? Unilever has apparently responded to the way in which the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the fore the culture hierarchies that sustain social discrimination and violence. Their move feels simply pre-emptive. Here’s why.Fair and Lovely has had lots of chances to change, after all. Yet, with each criticism all they have done is shuffle in cosmetic degrees, like those overlapping profiles of fairer tints in their ads, to words like brightening, glowing and multivitamin. These are all dog-whistle terms for fairness now, and other labels use these as well. The reports of caste carnages, dowry demises and so on have never propelled any soul-searching — does the product contribute to and promote dangerous cultures of discrimination in the country of birth certificates? So, what will their new epithet be? Bright and Lovely? Smart and Lovely? Plump and Lovely? Professional and Lovely? Inner Glow and Lovely? Good Personality and Lovely? Just, Oh So Lovely? What the hell is lovely mean? There will be a model to show us that, of course. I wonder what she will look like. No Marks, for guessing.After all, what will change besides the call? Let’s not blame Fair and Lovely alone for colourism — that’s on the whole of corporate ad and other image-producing cultures tied to consumerism especially. In a relentless creek of visual messaging, fair skinned, straight-haired, thin, upper class people epitomise success, desirability, sweetness and aspirationality whether we are talking sanitary napkins or cars.Maybe Unilever will change the name and even the advertising of this one product. Will it vary the advertising and representation for its many other products? Anyone in advertise will tell you, that in committee rooms they are told that a little social good campaigning is fine, but for labels, aka “real life” you have to be racist/ casteist/ sexist/ classist, sorry, I intended, practical about “prime-time faces”. If that’s how it bides, then changing names is just white lies for brownie points.
Read more: economictimes.indiatimes.com