Nandita Das shares her thoughts on her latest campaign, India’s Got Colour, that talks about inclusivity.
You’re too dark to be wearing that shade. Why don’t you try a skin lightening cream? Try that Instagram filter na, you will look fair… And just so many more ridiculous, unnecessary and distasteful comments, suggestions and ‘helpful tips’ are given to people with dark skin. The colour of our skin, which should have no standing when it comes to one’s merit or opportunities or basic life choices is often used a basis for discrimination. The bias remains deep-rooted in our history and exists even today. From commercials for fairness products to only lighter skin being considered appropriate to represent beauty to people being stripped of opportunities, the discrimination rears its ugly head in many ways and forms. Actress and social activist, Nandita Das who has been associated with dismembering societal injustice like these for a long time recently launched a campaign called, India’s Got Colour that talks about discarding this discrimination once and for all. The campaign was launched with an engaging video and a catchy soundtrack.
Take a look at the video launched for India’s Got Colour here:
We spoke to Nandia Das about India’s Got Colour, the extent of the discrimination and more. Here’s how the conversation went…
It’s been 10 years since you joined Women Of Worth to fight against the discrimination based on skin colour. What kind of change have you seen over the years?
“See, no dramatic change is going to happen because of one campaign or one film but change happens very slowly and gradually. So, we must have that faith that we have to do, even take baby steps to move towards that change. Nowadays, many people are talking about it. It is validating many people’s choices. So many young women come up to me and share the trauma they have gone through because of this kind of colour discrimination and so many of them feel empowered, validated because at least there’s one campaign that talks about them. Small changes are happening and the Advertising Council have made the laws for whitening products stricter. So, even at that level, I think the change has happened and it’s not owing to me or the campaign or just one NGO. It’s everyone having those conversations, telling each other, telling their own selves that it is not doomsday just because you are darker. Hopefully, this campaign will also trigger and further that conversation. And I was always uncomfortable with ‘Dark is Beautiful’ as a title because I feel it puts too much onus on the woman to look beautiful. It also sort of labels you that, “Oh you’re dark but dark is also beautiful because we often assume that light skin is the beautiful one”. So, instead, we decided to call it ‘India’s Got Colour’ which means we want to celebrate diversity. As many people, that many skin tones and the idea is for just each one of us to think, “I am comfortable as I am”!”
Talking about her campaign, she further added…
It’s also far more inclusive, it celebrates the diversity, it’s more relevant and more positive. Instead of feeling apologetic about it and saying, “Dark is also beautiful, please look at us as well.” It doesn’t come from the point of view of a victim. It comes from a place where we’re all equal partners and all of us are on the same platform. Also, people who are with lighter skin can also support it, you know? It’s how we as women say, why shouldn’t men be supporting the cause of women because it’s societal, it’s a human rights cause. It’s not just us women who have to keep flying the flag for it. Similarly, dark people have to champion the cause but anyone who feels discrimination cannot be practised in today’s day and age, any age for that matter but definitely not today. I would ask everyone to embrace India’s Got Colour as their own. It’s not my campaign or the people who worked on it. It’s everyones.
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Yesterday we launched India's Got Colour. #indiasgotcolour. And the overwhelming responses to the campaign continue to pour in. Thank you all who supported it by being in front of the camera and behind and also to those who have been sharing it widely. Working on the English subtitles by popular demand! Hope it will be dubbed in all the languages by those who can do it. It belongs to everyone and needs to reach everyone. @radhikaofficial @divyadutta25 @reallyswara @tillotamashome @tannishtha_c @vikrantmassey87 @alifazal9 @suchipillai @battatawada @sayanigupta @priyanshupainyuli @iamroysanyal @zyhssn @takeshsingh @darkisbeautifulcampaign
India as a country has been obsessed with skin colour for the longest time. How much of it according to you is the entertainment industry and media’s doing in terms of setting beauty standards?
“Media and films are a reflection of society also. We always say, which came first, does the media’s reinforce it? Media definitely reinforces it but finally, it’s a reflection of the prejudice that exists in society. You know, for a very long time, class and caste had also overlapped. Often times it is assumed that ‘people who work in the field, people who are of a lower caste, they are the darker ones’. There are these stereotypes also that we tend to create. Luckily, our constitution is fantastic, it gives every person, irrespective of their class, caste, gender, religion, sexual preference or the colour of their skin, the same opportunities, the same rights. So, we as citizens of the country also need to think about it. Firstly, I think it’s a human moral issue, what are your values. How do you view the world? How do you view other people? But if you do not have it as an instinct, please at least do it to uphold our constitution.”
A famous Indian fashion designer has recently been featuring a plus-size model with a darker skin tone than what we’re usually bombarded with across all advertising and fashion platforms. Same can be seen happening through brand campaigns far and in between. Is it a welcome change or would you say it’s too little too late?
“I am an optimist, not a cynic. So I will say that whatever time and whenever something good happens, let’s embrace it. Of course, everything is too late. Why should so many people even suffer any of this? Why as women too? It’s such a coup, we’re 50% of the population and yet we have such a short end of the stick. It’s been a historical wrong but does that mean we should not talk about it? You know, we have so much of casteism and so many people have suffered for decades and centuries. They’ve been labelled, underprivileged and have not got their dues. But does that mean we should not talk about it? So, I think it’s very good when especially industries like fashion, films and media when they start. Because they create those images that people see as role models. So, if they start changing their own perception and including people of different sizes, shapes and colours and say just embrace yourself and that all of it is us, then, definitely it will make a difference.”
Such a large group of talented people from the industry along with upcoming rappers have joined you for India’s Got Colour. Do you think using a music genre the youth connects with and famous faces that the audience recognises will help spread the message even more?
“Whether we like it or not, we’re a very celebrity-driven country. But the people who have come in, we haven’t paid them huge amounts just to get some celebrities. They have come in because they feel passionately about it. Each one of them was literally a call away. Whether it was Radhika Apte, Swara Bhasker, Divya Dutta, Gul Panag, Tillotama Shome, Tanishta Chatterjee, Vikrant Massey, Kamaljit and Ali Fazal. I mean, the list is very long and I am sure I’ve left out a few names but everyone cared about it. No one even asked me, “What role I am playing? How big is my part?” They just wanted to be part of this initiative and I am really grateful. And I think they will create a parallel narrative because I think we have one narrative where a lot of the actors are promoting those fairness products. And are sort of bombarding in our face that you’ll be seven shades lighter if you use this, you will be liked by your husband or partner, you’ll get a job, you will gain more confidence. You know, all of those associations are very harmful, I think but it’s no one’s place to tell each other. Because if you want your freedom, you need to respect other people’s freedom as well. So, they have to do what their conscience tells them and we have to do what our conscience wants us to do. I am really happy that so many actors have come together to give the message.”
Joining hands with filmmaker Mahesh Mathai, music composer Ankur Tewari, and Sangita Jindal, Chairperson – JSW Foundation, Film Actor-Director Nandita Das, believes that words like ‘dark’ and ‘beautiful’ do not need further reinforcement and hence the shift from ‘Dark is Beautiful’ to ‘India’s Got Colour’ which she believes better embodies the rich diversity of India.
India’s Got Colour talks about an issue that has existed for a long time and it’s high time that India gets over its obsession with fair skin.