Our country has an obsession with fair skin and adhering to eurocentric beauty standards. This obsession has made its way into Bollywood and countless songs have been made praising fairness and touting it as the most desirable quality in, especially, a woman. This has reflected in the portrayals on screen. Only once in a blue moon do we get to see an actor who is not conventionally “fair” in a lead role.
This means that actors who are not fair-skinned have their share of struggles in the film industry, simply because of the colour of their skin. These 10 actors have spoken up about how they were typecasted or lost roles because of their skin tone.
I was out for a movie, and somebody called one of my agents and said, ‘She’s the wrong ‘physicality’…And then my agent broke it down for me. Like, ‘I think, Priy, they meant that they wanted someone who’s not brown.’ It affected me.
In those days, I used to work on a daily basis for television shows as a junior artist. Because of my brown complexion, people used to say, ‘We can’t take you … we have to put extra light to make you visible, you are dark and we don’t have time.’
If there was a kaam wali bai role in the urban setup, then I’ll be okay for that because I was dark-skinned and I looked a certain way.
I could not crack a project because I didn’t look Kashmiri enough. I am Kashmiri and I can fluently speak the language but I didn’t get cast because my complexion is dusky and I am not extremely fair. That’s what the team and character demanded. I really felt bad.
I did lose out on modelling assignments. In fact, when I lost out on one ad in the initial days of my career, I was specifically told the reason as it had come down to selecting between two people for the part.
If I talk about Indian television, then commercials, I did get rejected quite a bit. ‘Not fair enough, not Indian looking enough’… those were the kind of rejections. But they were not rejections that broke me. It just made me realise that there’s something else for me and I just have to wait it out.
I remember there were producers, who without any reason, threw me out of their films. The universe wasn’t in my favour, but I had to keep trying no matter what.
I did an audition for a director who was making his debut film. He really liked my test but told me, ‘Acting is fine, but I can’t give you a lead part because leading heroes are supposed to be fair and muscular. But do you want to play a small character in my film?’
I was told I was too dark, too tall, too broad. I didn’t fit into that girl next door look. I had to constantly try and fit in it and it really exhausted and tired me. I don’t regret it because that was my learning to learn to come to this point of loving myself unconditionally.
When there is a role of a rural woman, or a Dalit woman, or the role of a slum-dweller, then my skin colour is fine. But the minute I have to play an educated, upper-middle-class character, invariably someone comes up to me and says ‘I know you don’t like to lighten your skin, but you know this role is of an upper-middle-class educated person.’
Despite having actors this talented, Bollywood still goes on to cast actors who are culturally incompatible or do a brown face. Time to change this.