One of my favorite things to do on the rare occasion that I don’t have any work to do is to watch Indian movies. I love sitting in front of the tv with my family or friends to get ready to immerse myself in the cinematic world of romance, music, action, and drama that the Indian film industry has to offer. As an Indian-American, watching these movies is just one way to stay in touch with my culture.
When I was younger, I would be mesmerized by all the singing and dancing, the clothes that the actors wore, and my favorite part: the heroines. I couldn’t wait for the moment where the heroine finally made her appearance on screen, walking in slow motion with the light hitting her just right. However, as I grew older, I began to notice something troubling. None of the actresses in the Tamil movies I watched ever looked like me, an average Tamil girl. Most of the actresses cast in the movies I watched had extremely fair skin. This lined up with the common notion clearly apparent in Indian movies and advertisements that lighter skin equaled more beautiful. So many commercials advertising fairness creams and lightening products featuring light-skinned actors and actresses air every single day, promoting the idea that being fair is preferable. The more movies I watched, the more I realized that directors tended to cast lighter skinned Indian actresses as the heroines of their movies.
It doesn’t stop there though. I remember watching the Tamil movie Thangamagan, which was released in 2015 and starred one of my favorite Tamil actors, Dhanush. In the opening credits, I saw the name “Amy Jackson,” which puzzled me because it didn’t sound very Indian, but then again, my name isn’t Indian at all either. I was perplexed when I saw her on screen, because even though she was wearing Indian clothes and a bindi, and acting as a Tamil girl with an Indian name, something about her facial features suggested that she wasn’t one hundred percent Indian. Later, I looked her up and learned that she was completely British and originally a model. I was confused as to why someone who wasn’t Indian at all was playing an Indian woman. Amy Jackson isn’t the only white actress playing Indian roles. Elli Avram, who is Swedish and Greek played Kamayani George in the Hindi film Mickey Virus and Giselli Monteiro, a Brazilian model, played Harleen Kaur in Love Aaj Kal.
While the directors have the right to cast who they want to in their movies, I can’t help but feel insulted when they choose a white actress over many talented Indian actresses to play an Indian role. Not only do their casting choices cement the fairness standards that are rampant in the South Asian community, but it also conveys a message about what is considered beauty to the viewers of the movie. When depicting a white actress as an Indian woman, the Indian film industry is promoting the idea that white is beautiful, and it is a beauty standard, that we, as Indian women, can never attain.