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1 Feb

4 leading actors talk about the industry’s obsession with fair skin

In the next five minutes, several top stars, models, celebrities and public figures will appear in an ad directly or indirectly telling you how being fair (or fairer) is directly proportionate to being more successful, happier, richer, etc. You get the drift. This is not fantasy TV, it’s the reality of television as we see it today, especially in Pakistan.

Keeping gluttony and capitalism aside, the next five minutes will advise you to change how you look just so you can be successful. Is that how it all works? Well, if the TV is a mirror to the reality of life, then truly it is how life functions. After all, what do we see in our dramas? The story may be featuring a certain ethnicity where different skin tones do exist, but hey, here you go, here’s a fair actor/actress for you to sign the project despite having no likeness to what one would imagine! Don’t get us wrong, duskier artists get featured but it’s a rarity. One look over the list of top actresses will make you a believer: Mahira Khan, Mehwish Hayat, Maya Ali, Mawra and Urwa Hocane, Sohai Aly Abro. What do they have in common? Fair skin! It’s even passing on to male artistes now. Case in point being Osman Khalid Butt.

An artiste should be judged on skill and talent, not skin tone, and yet skin tone plays a huge role in defining careers these days. Something Haute reached out to four leading actors to ask their opinion on whether the audience and drama makers alike are obsessed with fairer artistes.

Adnan Malik 

Adnan Malik’s in-depth analysis of the influence of colonial ideals onto the mass consumer psyche perfectly explains the situation.

“The idea of feminine (and to a degree masculine) beauty in Pakistan is still connected to be being fair. I think fairness is something that has been mythologized as an ideal of beauty; at first, through oral storytelling traditions, then photos and of course cinema and television. I think class and caste also played an impact, as even in the subcontinent, fair people were from the upper castes and upper classes. Upward mobility during the British times was also connected to color, where being fair and speaking English (like the colonial rulers) meant you had greater access to power. That tradition and bias still exists today. Though this viewpoint is being challenged around the world today and you can see minor changes in our popular culture as well,” Malik said.

Talking about how such propagations need to be challenged, the actor added,

“Media (tv and film in this case) is both a reflection of society’s values as well as a medium that can influence them. People believe that fairer skinned people are more beautiful because of mass media, and hence mass media propagates this way of thinking. What we need to do is disrupt this myth building by casting darker skinned people in “aspirational” roles and slowly we will see a change in people’s values. But it’s going to take a long time.”

Faysal Qureshi

Despite proving his mettle in the industry in his decades-long career, the actor still feels that his skin-tone has been questioned more than his acting skills and the same is the case for many of his contemporaries.

“I have had people come up to me and say that ‘oh you look fairer on the small screen than in reality.’ That is basically how the audience is. They need to judge talent not looks,” the actor told Something Haute.

Humayun Saeed

 The actor, who has not only given countless hit dramas but also back-to-back blockbuster films, feels that what matters most at the end of the day are the character profiles.

“Unfortunately this problem isn’t peculiar to our entertainment industry and there’s certainly no justification for it. What matters most — and should always matter most — in determining character profiling are the facial features of the actors, not their skin-tones. Personally, I find women with darker skin tones more attractive,” Saeed said.

Adnan Siddiqui

For the actor who has given the industry decades of creative craftsmanship, Adnan Siddiqui feels that the problem lies within the advertisement industry, which creates the disparities seen today, and not the drama industry. 

“I wouldn’t use the word obsession at all. To understand and become opinionated on this topic, one has to understand the industry’s dynamics. The drama industry relies on the topics of the social miseries and triumphs. Portraying an inspiration on the screen we have to try to cast the individuals as real to the story as possible to create a picture that is easily understood,” the actor explained.

Adding that the typecasts seen in ads are increasingly dangerous and needs to be questioned the actor said,

“Secondly, the disparity here is not caused by our industry but is in fact caused by the advertisement world where they clearly see darker skin tones as half of the women’s problems in today’s society; from her getting a marriage proposal to limiting career growth is all advertisements doing and that is an alarming model, one that needs to be addressed immediately!”

 

Shahjehan Saleem

The author is Deputy Editor at Something Haute as well as a professor in the Media Sciences department at SZABIST, Karachi. Socio-cultural theories and geography fill up the rest of his time.