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23 Apr

Are Pakistani dramas biased against dark skin?

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The idea of beauty being synonymous with fairness is something that the subcontinent has long tried to fight. There is a debate about whether or not the origins of this preferential treatment to fair skin complexion has its root in the colonization by the British. Either way, the South Asian community is left with a subconscious preference to associate beauty with fair skin. While people (especially celebrities) have started to rise up against the norm and the brands that promote it, the fairness bias seems to still remain an integral part of the Pakistani entertainment industry and the dramas these days.

Considering the top 5 TV dramas in Pakistan these days, a dusky-skinned lead is someone we’re still dying to see. For instance, take current dramas like Dil Ruba, Sabaat, Yeh Dil Mera, Pyar Ke Sadqay and Muqaddar. All of them do not feature a dark-skinned female in the lead or in any supporting character.


(Left to right) Hania Aamir in Dil Ruba, Ramsha Khan in Ishqiya, Yumna Zaidi in Pyar Ke Sadqay and Mawra Hocane in Sabaat


There is barely any presence of dark-skinned male characters either. Apart from the supporting character given to Haris Waheed in Muqaddar, it seems that such parts are reserved only for the house help shown in these dramas. Mohib Mirza is a well-known actor with a dusky complexion. However, his presence in Dil Ruba emphasizes the bias with his character being considered unattractive. To add to it, they show his character, Sabi, trying out fairness creams to make himself more attractive on the recommendation of the female lead played by Hania Aamir.


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Sabi (Mohib Mirza), applying fairness cream to impress Sanam (Hania Amir) in Dil Ruba


It can’t be a mere coincidence that ALL the top 5 dramas these days have female leads with bright and shiny complexion. It’s not like talent comes with fairness either. We have seen beautiful and dusky female leads take on strong and challenging roles and do justice to it. Sanam Saeed and Aamina Sheikh to name a few are women who have established names in the industry. To add to it, they both starred in one of the most intelligent films made in Pakistan called Cake. So, why the sudden lack of diversity?


Sanam Saeed and Aamina Shaikh on the poster of Cake


If we go further back and take a look at other famous dramas in the last year, Ehd-e-Wafa, Alif, Meray Paas Tum Ho, Ruswai and Khaas, all featured mostly fair-skinned actors as both male and female leads as well. Isn’t this the equivalent of an all-white cast in the West?



Ahmed Ali Akbar, Wahaj Ali, Ahad Raza Mir and Osman Khalid Butt as the four leads in Ehd-e-Wafa


Did we not get the memo here? We’re not questioning the impeccable performances that the cast of these shows have brought to the screen. We’re questioning whether it’s a conscious or subconscious decision that all of them had light skin tones. Only time will tell if it’s a coincidence or not, but before this gets worse, here’s hoping that casting directors take notice of this rising trend and do something about it. It would be a shame to witness that talent is not being recognized due to the colour of their skin even in the 21st Century.


Eman Lakhany