With all the hoopla surrounding FDI in multi-brand retail, the Indian public seems to have overlooked or rather welcomed ‘foreign investments’ in something much more central to Indian social life than shopping – movies. Confused? Try recalling the last movie you saw which had ‘brown’ female backup dancers. Can’t remember, right! Since the early 2000, Bollywood’s backup dancers have consistently become fairer. Surely, it’s not because of fairness creams. So what is at play here? The answer – Caucasian, mostly eastern European and Russian models.
There could be two reasons for the increasing number of white female backup dancers in Bollywood – skin and, well, skin. The former is all about titillation. From Helen’s exotic numbers (who I should point out is half-British & half-Burmese) to Sheila’s jawani, item songs are and have been an integral part of Bollywood movies. IPL season 1 and the controversies that it created will remind you that white dancers are less averse to ‘skin-show’ than their Indian counterparts. As simple as it may seem, it is the primary reason. The latter is about India’s age old fairness fetish. With the obsession over skin color reaching astronomical heights, it was only a matter of time before Bollywood did this.
Some people argue that with more and more films being shot abroad it is easier and cheaper to hire white dancers than flying Indian ones there. It’s just basic economics, they say. My answer to that – Isn’t it curious that the producers somehow find the money to fly male Indian dancers but not the female ones. It is quite strange that Indian media finds time to broadcast menial stuff like husband-wife quarrels but not this. Raj Thackrey did raise this issue way back in 2009 addressing the plight of Indian female ‘junior artists’ – as Bollywood calls them. But apparently, influx from North India was far worthier of news headlines.
But there’s more, Bollywood’s dalliance with this concept developed into a romance starting with Canadian model Lisa Ray followed by Czech model Jana Synkova (Yana Gupta to you) in the early 2000’s. This apparent trickle has become a waterfall in recent years with models/actors like Jiah Khan, Jaqueline Fernandez, Nargis Fakhri, Nathalia Kaur and even Sunny Leone joining the bandwagon. But only Katrina Turquotte (yep, that’s Katrina Kaif’s real name) has had lasting commercial success. And just when you thought that things couldn’t get any ‘brighter’ enters Kalki Koechlin from the other end of the spectrum. Born to French parents living in India, Koechlin though, belongs to a completely different breed having established herself as an actor rather than eye candy.
So, what are the implications? Is this the end of the colloquial desi girl! Unlike FDI in retail this issue might seem quite trivial. After all movies especially Bollywood ones are just pure entertainment. With Bollywood becoming ever more popular outside India, people from all over the world are going to throng at its doorsteps. But it is, invariably, our reaction to this and our decisions that will shape the Indian entertainment industry.