Dark skin taboo even in 2020?

Dark skin taboo even in 2020?

Fair-skinned Parvathy Thiruvothu is playing one of Malayalam literature’s best-known dark-skinned characters. How is colour prejudice playing out in Indian cinema?

The Malayalam film industry is witnessing a row over skin colour after a fair-skinned actor was cast in the role of a character envisaged by its writer as someone with dark complexion.

Some activists have come out strongly against this move, alleging discrimination towards those with dark complexion in the film industry. However, many in the film industry rubbished the allegation citing many instances of dark-skinned actors being given prominent roles.

The ongoing row is over ‘Rachiyamma’, a novel by Malayalam writer P C Kuttikrishnan, popularly known by his pen name, ‘Uroob’. Published in 1969, the story, among the best-known in Malayalam literature, had, as its  title character, a woman with extremely dark complexion.

The film is being directed by well-known cinematographer Venu as part of an anthology of four films by four filmmakers.

He chose popular actress Parvathy Thiruvothu to play Rachiyamma’s character.

But it has not gone down well with a section who felt the casting move was blatantly discriminatory. Dalit activist Dhanya Madhav said in a social media post that the chances for those with dark complexions should not be stolen. She said Rachiyamma is a dark-skinned woman, and that a smart woman with dark skin should play her on the silver screen instead of one with her fair skin made to look dark. A professional artiste like Parvathy should understand the politics behind the black-complexion make over, said Dhanya.

Many others, including writer Deepa Nishanth, took a similar stand. Parvathy, who has often raised voice against social issues, maintained that she would never play the role of woman having dark complexion in real life.

“If I ever represent a woman who in real life is dark, it’s a very big question and the answer will be ‘No’. But when it comes to adaptation of a fictional character, it is a tricky space,” she reacted.

Venu told Showtime that he would comment on the issues only after the film was released. “It is a work of art and hence criticisms are expected. The work on the film is over and will be released without much delay. The ongoing criticisms are without seeing the film. Hence, I will not respond to it,” he said.

While the ongoing row over ‘Rachiyamma’ throws up questions of whether discrimination based on skin colour exists in Mollywood, many new-generation filmmakers rubbish this. ‘Anjam Pathira’, a Malayalam crime thriller released this month, is one instance of a Malayalam film taking a progressive stand on the issue. Unnimaya, who has not played many prominent roles yet, essayed the key role of a female police officer in the movie, and it is being well-received.

“My priority is always artistic skills and considering the complexions and features that suit the role, irrespective of fairness or darkness,” said ‘Anjam Pathira’s’ director Midhun Manuel Thomas.

Another young award-winning filmmaker, Vidhu Vincent, also felt that no skin colour discrimination exists in the Malayalam industry. 

“A filmmaker will be considering various factors while finalising the actors to represent each and every character. It should not be blindly considered as discrimination,” said Vidhu.

Justice K Hema, who headed a commission appointed by the Kerala government to look into issues faced by women in Malayalam film industry, said that though various kinds of discrimination and harassment being faced by female and male artistes in the film industry have come to the commission’s notice, no one complained of any skin colour-based discrimination yet.