A look at the Tamil screen shows that the heroines are fair- skinned. The cinema in Tamil Nadu is almost like a staple diet for the people and no wonder a plethora of stars have made a successful entry into politics as well. Jayalalitha was one such politician- star. I have to make a point here and that is in a galaxy of heroines on the silver screen, I have yet to see a dark-skinned heroine. Even Jayalalitha the star turned politician (sadly she is no more) is milky-white in complexion. These fair complexioned stars contribute to a beauty culture in South India where skin-whitening creams outsell soft drinks. Yet the fact is that most Tamil and south Indian girls are dark- complexioned. I wonder why a dark complexioned girl cannot strike out in the Tamil film industry.
One aspect that is overlooked is that the ancient scriptures, epics, or folk tales in Tamil or for that matter in any Indian language, the good character is always portrayed as being fair in complexion. A beautiful princess is always without fail described as being fair and white as snow. This is a dangerous portrayal as it is suggesting that the fair are fair dealing and the dark complexioned has evil intentions. This view has been expressed by Shyamala Bhatia, an associate professor in history at the Bharati College, University of Delhi.
If you add that the white race ruled India and their women were white than it becomes clear why the concept of fairness being superior is embedded deep within the Indian psyche.
But even after the white rulers went away, India’s concepts of beauty has not changed. Thus milky-complexioned Tamil stars have led to a massive market for skin- lightening creams, the notion that white means beautiful is all pervading in South India. The word for fairness in Hindi is “GORI” and in Tamil it is NÄrmai. I am afraid it will not go from the South Indian psyche.
I will close with a small anecdote. I had been called to give a guest lecture to students on the Law in Madras University. After the lecture I expected to be asked questions about the legal aspects of the lecture. Unfortunately all the girls surrounded me asked me what I did to keep my skin fair. I was nonplussed, as I don’t do anything and am a Punjabi, albeit fair skinned.