‘Gora aur Kaala’ Colour Discrimination – I

I had gone to see ‘Kaala’ only for the popcorn and to spend time with my family, not because I am a great fan of Rajini. Of course, a part of my mind watched the movie, while the larger part was intent on dipping into the jumbo tub of popcorn and stuffing my face. But the brain has a mind of its own, and even the small part that was watching kept filing away tidbits from the film unfolding on the big screen.

One of the first things that my brain told me was that this man has a massive colour complex.

His earlier film ‘Sivaji, the Boss’ saw him getting himself a digital skin grafting to make him look fair. I remember watching snippets of comedy scenes where he tries all kinds of treatments to lighten his skin tone. (Un)fortunately I didn’t watch the movie to know why he wanted a light skin or how he did get it. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.

But what I did care about was his presentation of the colour black in ‘Kaala’ (sic).

Generally, whenever there is some injustice or anomaly, the tendency of the society is to go to the other extreme to right the wrong. This not only does not solve the problem, but has the double danger of creating another monster, and ending up as an agenda – political, commercial or whatever.


Rama slaying Raavan (Source: Exotic Art India)

If the perception is that white is good and pure and black is bad and dirty, it must be proved that the converse is true, right? So, let’s go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and paint Rama (supposedly a representative of ‘white’) as a villain and Ravana (the personification of black) as a hero – never mind if it was Rama who was black and not Ravana and Ramayana had nothing to do with ‘evil’ and ‘good’ but was a war between dharma and adharma, no matter what the colour or ‘caste’ of the adharmi. Incidentally Ravana was a Brahmin and Rama was a Kshatriya. But who wants to know the facts? Poetic licence, see?

There is a counter movement, where this photographer from Chennai is portraying all gods and goddesses as being dark so that we ordinary mortals may identify with them. I have never heard anything more preposterous. They are Deities, not heroes or divas for us to identify with them, for heaven’s sake!

Before I am accused of being a racist and advocate of colour discriminations, let me clarify that I am totally against discrimination of any kind and would like to see a society where we are all just people, citizens. The point I am trying to make is that we are too gullible a people and swallow any narrative that is peddled against our heritage and legacy and reacting to them in a very unproductive way.

It would have been something if Rajini had taken on those who had introduced the concept of black and white to us in the first place. Instead he carries forward the divide-and-rule agenda forward and tell us that black is good and white is bad. And to think that we, the naïve, stupid, uncivilized Indians, were happy worshipping black gods and goddesses and never thought twice about colours, except to extol them in the shlokas, songs and mantras – till the Europeans came along with their white skins and colour prejudices.

Why have we forgotten that the very terms ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’, or at least the practice of branding white as noble and black as dirty originated in the west? The number of movies made in the backdrop of the African jungles reiterated the belief (that the westerners had of themselves) that the native Africans considered them Gods because of their white skin and because they ‘had come from the sky’.

Well, so they might have, because when one sees something that is alien to one’s  lifestyle or meets someone who is totally different from them, one might consider the latter superior, especially when it involves technological marvels like a plane that seem to work by magic.


(Source: ENGL388)

But what prevented the ‘whites’ from disabusing them of the misconception? Didn’t they use it to their advantage and perpetuate the myth, didn’t they enjoy the superior status their colour gave them and treat the natives like inferior beings, meant to serve them because they were ‘dirty black’? Didn’t they capture them like wild animals and cart them under inhuman conditions to the US to work as slaves? Didn’t they unhesitatingly apply the yardstick of western learning to measure the intelligence and wisdom of an ancient people? All because they were black? Because they were different from the whites and followed customs that were ‘pagan’ in the eyes of the ‘civilized’ West?

The story of Ham in the Bible is supposed to hold the key to the belief that black is bad and white is noble. Though there is dispute about whether the Bible indeed mentions that the African races, believed to be Ham’s descendants would become slaves to pay for the sins of their ancestor, there is evidence of this belief being perpetuated at least 1500 years ago.


A Publication popular in pre-Abolition America – Still Available (Source: BadNewsAboutChristianity)

A churchman of about 1,500 years ago, Ambrosiaster, applied it thus, saying: “Due to folly Ham, who foolishly ridiculed the nakedness of his father, was declared a slave.” And John F. Maxwell observes in his recent book Slavery and the Catholic Church:

“This disastrous example of fundamentalist exegesis [explanation] continued to be used for 1,400 years and led to the widely held view that African Negroes were cursed by God.”

Black skin became synonymous with sin and badness and the belief has survived, even thrived till date in different parts of the world, in different forms.

Coming back to India, all those worthies who keep harping on the skin tone obsession of Indians ‘for centuries’ make it sound as if it is an aberration of the Indian civilization! They try to quote the Vedas, merrily confusing colour discrimination with varñāshrama dharma – itself (mis)interpreted by Western Indologists – and trying hard to connect both. They have no reference to prove their supposition, so they take refuge in the abhorrent ‘caste’ theories.

(Source: Velivada)

They allege that the goddesses and women in our Purāñas are all depicted as being white and except for Krishna and Rama, even male gods are white. Are we talking here about artists of the past few centuries, who were influenced by the black and white demarcation of the colonizers, or are we talking of those of the ancient past?

They argue that the Brahmins and upper caste people didn’t do any manual work and stayed indoors, so were fairer in comparison to the other castes which was outdoors and therefore dark! This is so similar to one of the answers I saw on Quora that explains how the pre-Industrial Revolution British aristocracy had set the colour agenda.

Before the industrial revolution, Europeans (like most cultures) associated darker skin tones with poverty, and hence idolized pale skin. So much so, that their nobility was willing to undergo the risk of applying dangerous stuff like white lead on their skin in a bid to become as pale as possible (and thereby differentiate themselves from the poor peasant class).

However, with the advent of the industrial revolution, the obsession with paleness suddenly ended, since now the poor Europeans started working in dark and dingy factories, and thereby became paler in comparison to the relatively more affluent Europeans, who could also take vacations to tropical places with lots of sunshine. Hence, tanning became fashionable in post-industrial Europe.

Since the British had come to India much before the Industrial Revolution, I guess it can be safely assumed that they had brought their colour prejudices along with them and branded the brown-skinned Indians as being inferior and therefore subservient to them.

(source: indigenes-republique.fr)

That colour discrimination exists the world over is a fact. In fact, the current terminology for it is colorism and even ‘shadeism’, as there are any number of shades of coloured skin.

This link explains how even the tones of colour matter. A lighter or darker skin tone among the browns and wheatish can push one higher or lower rung on the ladder of social acceptance.

The Wiki link here gives you the whole picture of racial and colour discrimination worldwide.

And yet, Google only turns up links about the colour complex of the Indians! Little wonder, what with internationally famous stars like Rajini affirming their complexes in their films!


Read the next section of this series here

Cover Picture: (Source: MatadorNetwork)



Author: Zephyraka Cybernag, is an award-winning blogger and writer, who blogs on social issues, culture, spirituality and family.

Published: Aug 08, 2018


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. Jagrit Bharat is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Jagrit Bharat and Jagrit Bharat does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.