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It’s not fair, but fair is lovely for Indian ad-makers

Mumbai, Aug. 19: They are all lovely, but is it fair'

Their dark skin has come in the way of their work, feel many top models in the country, especially when it comes to endorsing beauty products.

“A fair model is the first choice when it comes to beauty products,” says the sultry Sheetal Malhar, whose appearance sets the ramp on fire.

Yet, she admits, she faced rejection several times early in her career because of the colour of her skin. “It works with face creams, shampoos — any skin and hair care product,” she says.

Sheetal had to wait to make it big. “It’s understandable. Most of the people in our country are dark, and you are obsessed with something you are not,” she says.

Despite her stature, Sheetal has only one cosmetic endorsement to her credit. “I have done only one international brand, Maybelline. I am too dark for Lakme,” she says.

Her colleague Diandra Soares, another top dusky model, seconds that the dark ones are overlooked when it comes to beauty products. But she adds hastily that losing out on work is not the issue. “When the majority of the people in our country are dark, it’s degrading to portray Indian ideals of beauty as fair.”

Carol Gracias, another leading model, says things are changing, but the colour divide is very much there. Gracias has shot for only one brand — Camay Soap. “They had four models with different kinds of complexions. I was the darkest one,” she says.

Model-turned-actress Tejaswini Kolhapure has the same story. “I was rejected once or twice, but I don’t remember what brands,” she says, adding that in the film world, many dark actresses are still given make-up a shade lighter than their real skin tone.

Complexion, Sheetal suggests, divides the Indian modelling world into two hemispheres — that of ramp shows, fashion and photo shoots on the one hand and big cosmetic endorsements on the other. The lucky ones like herself, Nina Manuel and Jesse Randhawa, and previously Noyonika Chatterjee, have gone on to do very well on the runway, she says, though their success there has not been matched in commercials. But others are not that lucky.

The fairness trend of recent years has been set by cosmetic campaigns using non-Indian or semi-Indian faces and by the ever-growing market for fairness products. “Except for a brief while when Bipasha Basu did such ads, no dark-complexioned woman has featured in a major cosmetic ad,” says Diandra. “It has been Yana Gupta, Lisa Ray and Aishwarya Rai all the way.”

Lakme has been using Lisa, of Indian and Polish origin, and then Yana, a Czech, as their faces. A more recent entrant is Katrina Kaif, of Indian and British origin, who is already a supermodel. The whitewash is evident in the ad ideas, too. In a Lakme ad, it is not only Yana’s skin that looks foreign but the climate, too, looks imported. In another Lakme ad, the punch line has actress Riya Sen revealing she is not French but Indian.

But things are not so bleak for the dark beauties, feel others. Many think that a model who only does ramps and shoots also creates her own niche.

“Sheetal and Diandra used to come to me and tell me of the several rejections they faced. But look at them now,” says model-co-ordinator and theatre personality Dolly Thakore.

Says fashion photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha: “Certain products demand fair skin. If the market for the product is north-oriented, then they need a fair model with whom the consumers would identify. Cosmetic products like lipstick would look brighter on lighter skin.”

But otherwise, he says, since the time he began work in 1972, he has seen no such discrimination. “There were so many dark models I worked with. I worked with Anu Ahuja for a Lakme campaign, and she could not be called fair,” he says. “And what about Malaika Arora'” he asks, referring to a cosmetic campaign featuring the actress.

But why does the dusky siren look a little fairer in the ad than she normally does'

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