D Ramakrishna
Guest Article

When Fairness becomes Glowness in Indian adland...

Ramki, your friendly neighbourgood adman, pens his thoughts on that dusky damsel from Dombivali.

"10 minute break!" yelled the Assistant Director at the production house, as a pretty young woman stepped away from the lights. The auditions for the new GAL film were on. "Damn, who wrote the casting brief? Why are there no fair girls at all in the audition?” he fumed at his AAD.

"I did,” she said, "The script says 'Anita, a pretty but dusky complexioned girl is getting ready for a zoom interview for a high profile job' .... I didn’t add the but, it is in the script.”

"Babe, babe... how can I make you understand? After the product window, she's going to be fair, right? There’ll be rousing music, and our glowing heroine will emerge in slow motion. Right? Now, get this straight. We are casting for the after, not the before. Got it? We can make a fair girl dark with skin colouring, but not the other way around. Got it?”

The AAD wasn't going to go down without a fight. She was an appropriately awakened girl, plus she hated being called babe. Most importantly, she was new to the business. "But, boss” she said with startling naiveté, “that's cheating."

"Yeh libtard documentary film makers yahaan kyun aa jaate hain?" the AD mutttered under his breath. He was too hardened by the cumulative exaggerations of truth he had participated in to be derailed by a visitor from Wokeland. "Listen, just peek into the waiting room. If nobody there is glowing like an LED lamp, might as well cancel the rest of the auditions.... actually, on second thoughts, just shoot them and keep. We need to cast for the comeback shot as well, where 'another dusky girl watches in awe, as a glowing Anita wafts by... as William Wordsworth here writes."

The AAD clenched her fists, tossed her angry curls, and reminded herself, "I could have been assisting the assistant who assists Nandita Dusky, but I need this easy ad film money to enroll for that online course on cinema verite. So, I'll just lump it and help find the next Yummy Gautam."

Meanwhile, the auditions for the part of interviewer had started. Just one line. This should be easy, the AAD thought, reading the line aloud, "Do you think the world is glow to women?" “Wtf,” she thought, “what kind of dialogue is that?” She then read through the whole script and laughed uncontrollably. The writer had auto-replaced 'fair' with 'glow' throughout the document. Obviously, this script was written before the decision. The document also said 'we can consider a celebrity if the price is glow.'

The director of the ad film, who owed more than his Range Rover to being a master of the four-face-four-week-transition, was trying to design a new freight section. The shade card, bless its soul, was now history. It had played its glorious part. It had helped sell several kilometres of cream as customers aspired to climb up its alluring gradient, one shade at a time. But now, glow was the new fair.

Glow scale… glow graph…. glow meter… he knew he’d find something. He had seen this glow thing coming. His assistants had already compiled a Glow Reel. And his canny producer had already shared it with all the merry merchants of glowth. If you want to glow, come to us. Nobody can make you glow like we can. He knew cinematographers who could make Vantablack glow, colourists who could extract the last vestige of white from a frame, and post production wizards who could smoke out wisps of whiteness from any face.

The AAD meanwhile, was still not at peace. She was chatting up one of the girls who had come to audition. “Do you think FAL becoming GAL is a good thing?”. The dusky damsel from Dombivali said, “No difference is falling, madam,” she said, “glow bolo ya nikhaar bolo, everyone knows what you mean. Bollywood people are still going to sing songs like gori, gori, gori, gori, gori, gori. And mothers are still going to scrub their daughters with every known gorapan cream, lotion, mask, powder there is. The problem is in our head, madam, not in our skin.”

“Whoa!” The AAD was not ready for this barrage of wisdom from the dusky damsel. “Don’t you feel bad modelling for a fairness, er, glowness, er glowering, er whatever cream?” “How it matters, madam? It is what it is. If people want to use it, they’ll use it. If they don’t, they won’t.”

The AAD went home that night and took a long look at her face in the mirror. What was she? Dark, fair, wheatish, corn-ish? Did she glow? If yes, what was the wattage? Did she absorb or reflect light? And did it matter if she did? The Dombivali Damsel was right. The problem is in our head, not in our skin. And how dare that creepy AD call her babe. That bothered her more.

(The author is CEO, Cartwheel Creative Consultancy.)