Racism in Kollywood & the 'Kumar Vishwas' uproar

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 24, 2014 06:09 hrs

In picture: The 'Angavai Sangavai' sisters from Sivaji 

Kumar Vishwas, one of AAP’s prominent leaders, is currently in the public’s disfavor after an old video of his stand-up comedy routine went viral. In the video, Vishwas is seen making sexist and racist remarks against nurses from Kerala, calling them dark and ugly. While the anger is certainly justified, Vishwas is, by no means, alone in harbouring such prejudiced notions. As South Indians, we’re outraged that an ‘outsider’ has dared to insult our community. However, it is equally true that such racist, misogynistic views are pan-Indian and are not limited to any one State. Take our movies, for instance. We may sing Karupputhaan enaku pidicha colouru about the hero but when it comes to the heroine, it is mandatory that she is a white skinnu girlu girlu.

Many are the comedy tracks that revolve around the hero going for a girl-seeing ceremony and discovering that the to-be bride is oh so dark and ugly. The humour is supposed to come from the revulsion that we are meant to share with the hero on seeing such a person aspiring to marry someone as awesome our man here! The 'Angavai-Sangavai' comedy scene from Sivaji is one such example. Even more blatantly racist is the Oru Kudai Sunlight song from the same movie in which Rajini is re-imagined as a white man – the song ends with the ‘white’ Rajini and his girl pushing away the ‘black’ Rajini.

Even though Rajini attempts to become ‘white’ because of the heroine’s wish, it is later revealed that it was only a ploy she used. She confesses that she finds him attractive and the real reasons are something else. Same way Meena answers Rajini’s query in the 'Thillana Thillana' (Muthu) song, saying she chose him despite there being so many fair men around because the sea and the sky are dark like him. While one wonders why there is any need, in the first place, to justify this attraction at all, it must be noted that such ‘generous’ readings are hardly ever made of the dark complexion of female characters!

Even if the script demands a dark-skinned girl for the role, typically, a fair-skinned woman with ‘kari’ make-up is chosen to play it – like Vedhika in Paradesi or Pooja in Naan Kadavul. And who can forget the infamous Arukaani (played by Suhasini) from Gopurangal Saaivadhillai who is ‘cured’ of her dark skin and ugliness by a magical visit to the beauty parlour?

While dark-skinned heroes have been popular in Kollywood, it’s not as if the treatment of other male characters has been free of racist overtones. Remember Suriya in Singam 2 angrily abusing the Nigerian villain as an ‘African animal’? Shockingly racist, to say the very least. And yet, the scene is meant to instill national pride in the viewers! Comedians like Vadivelu routinely use their dark complexion as a way of producing humour. It is true that he’s making fun of his own appearance but what does it say about us as an audience that we find such humour funny?

The Kumar Vishwas video irks our sentiments as it should. But perhaps it is also time for us to turn the mirror inwards and take a good look. Is it all fair play that we see?

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Sowmya Rajendran is a children's writer who occasionally offers her words of wisdom to adults. She lives in Pune.