SRK is Fair & Handsome

Via the News Tab, mutineer Dari points us at FT coverage of Shah Rukh Khan’s ad for Fair and Handsome skin cream -

Strong enough for a wheatish woman but made for a man…

Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s biggest star and corporate India’s most ubiquitous brand ambassador, is coming under pressure to abandon his controversial endorsement of a men’s skin-lightening cream.

Television commercials for Fair and Handsome, airing in August, show Mr Khan (or “SRK”) lauding a product that many see as entrenching discrimination based on skin colour by encouraging people to bleach themselves a lighter hue.

…Mr Khan urges a dark-complexioned and depressed-looking young man, struggling to attract female attention, to stop using skin-lightening products designed for women.

“Why are you secretly using a cream for girls?” Mr Khan asks. “Their skin is soft. Yours is rough and tough.” Several shades whiter and visibly more self-confident by the end of the 40-second commercial, the young man duly snares the girl of his dreams.

The commercial, of course, is up for all to see on YouTube –

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Now is it me or does the pseudo-blackfaced dude in the commercial remind anyone of the lead in that paragon of awful 80s movies, Soul Man?

A few weeks of Fair & Handsome away from… Alex P Keaton?

As with the rapidly-becoming-infamous 1000+ comments “Is Dating White Right?” post a few weeks ago, a topic like this is a veritable lightning rod… So, perhaps I should just step out of the way and let the bullets fly.

I will however, point mutineer’s at Manish’s nearly-as-infamous original post on Fair & Handsome from a few years ago. At 200+ comments, it was one of the most trafficked posts of its time. However, many of us remember it more for its, dare I say, eyebrow-raising concluding note.

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289 thoughts on “SRK is Fair & Handsome

  1. “this is lazy SM addicted puli, signing off.”

    don’t feel bad about it. I stumbled upon this blog probably a month ago and I spend way too much time here. When I think about it, its actually quite absurd that my firm pays me to read this blog all day.

    btw trading is overrated as a busy profession. Algorithms do most of the work and in a few years all of us traders will be replaced by them

  2. btw trading is overrated as a busy profession. Algorithms do most of the work and in a few years all of us traders will be replaced by them

    im in sales. later.

  3. i think people look different when they have been out in the sun a bit. i dont mean just getting darker. changes something else with the skin. cant put my finger on it.

    It’s the sun damage that gives you the glow/burn, then the body produces melanin to give you the tan. The key to the glow is strong sun exposure before you gradually build up the tan. I always get burned…I mean glow..after spring break sun exposure since I have no built-up tan. Love it, since it eliminates the need for make up but only do it once a year since its pretty bad for your skin. The rest of the time, blush does the trick.

  4. Not to worry. His can of worms is also OFF-TOPIC and further comments encouraging such lunacy will be nuked with prejudice.

    Mind if I throw in just one particularly compelling quote as a sort of palate-cleanser?

    We find that the Muslim populations in general are genetically closer to their non-Muslim geographical neighbors than to other Muslims in India, and that there is a highly significant correlation between genetics and geography (but not religion). Our findings indicate that, despite the documented practice of marriage between Muslim men and Hindu women, Islamization in India did not involve large-scale replacement of Hindu Y chromosomes. The Muslim expansion in India was predominantly a cultural change and was not accompanied by significant gene flow, as seen in other places, such as China and Central Asia.

    From “A shared Y-chromosomal heritage between Muslims and Hindus in India” (emphasis mine).

  5. I always though these types of “whitening” creams had something in them (hydroquinone I think) that actually does whiten the skin, but with long term use it is a dangerous carcinogen. Can anyone confirm this? If that is the case then I think the levity of the discourse evaporates and it becomes a very serious matter of public health within our community.

    yes, the cream is not good at all. it contains very strong bleaching agents and do more harm than good. i have even heard that if u use the orignal F&L for a long period of time your skin will develop black spots.

    one more thing, whenever i tell ppl i have studied cosmetics the first thing they ask me is to recommend a cream that’ll make them ‘gora’. even guys. i’ve noticed that for many desis beauty is fair skin. have even met very attractive girls thinking they are ugly just because they have dark skin.

  6. Pravin, Puli, I’m dark and I’ve gotten burned – definitely happens.

    I’ve gotten burned about 5 times in my life and I’m “wheatish”. I seems to get burned on my nose and neck mostly, but there was this one time when I got my back burned while boogie boarding. That absolutely sucked. It hurt and I was peeling skin for days. Whenever I spend time in the sun, my skin stays dark for quite a long time.

    Mom is lighter skinned and she’s gotten burned more times. She’s now got some really freckly skin on her nose which her dermatologist told her was because of sun damage.

  7. just remembered a much discussed and frowned upon incident in my family. one of my cousin is quite obsessed about beauty. even now she feels quite awkward because of her dark(brown) skin; add to that that she stays in south bombay and is studying in a marathi medium school. anyways when she was four she tried to shave with her dad’s razor, just to be fair. apparently, all the relatives and friends were focusing on her fair-skinned elder sister and she felt neglected. even now she doesn’t feel confident though she doesnt say it openly she craves for a fair skin. no one in the family wants her to be fair. its the society thats so extremely biased, we try to speak about it, giving examples – “look at sushmita and bipasha”, but she only has to step out of the house to feel miserable all over again.

  8. this idea of equating lighter skin with prosperity simply stems from years of rule under light skinned conquerors. it is not unique to india. before creams, i suspect that there were other ways the lightening affect was perceived. so, the idea is old; F&H and creams like it are its contemporary form.

  9. this idea of equating lighter skin with prosperity simply stems from years of rule under light skinned conquerors. it is not unique to india.

    One could certainly do a lot worse than consulting Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks on this and related issues.

  10. well, as disappointing i think this ad is, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. last time i visited mumbai, i was in some make-up store with my mom, and i saw an ad for ‘fair and lovely’ cream with a picture of aishwarya rai in it. while it may not have been advertised so widely, (i haven’t seen the ads with her in it around anywhere else so far), it was still a visible ad campaign. so, srk isn’t the only bollywood actor who has endorsed such a thing.

  11. Is there anyone here, though, who always tells off/educates their parents/relatives/aunties & uncles about not being colorist?

    i call them sand niggers.

    I think testosterone naturally darkens skin, so you would expect women to want a man to be darker relative to the average of the population?

    testosterone has the effect of darkening skin. functionally there is some not totally elucidated relationship between testosterone levels/ratio and the melanocortin receptor pathway re: regulation. women tend to get darker as they age and with pregnancies. men will get darker as they age as well. unreflected skin color difference between sexes within the same population is on the order of 5% of the units of measurement.

    I don’t want to get into the discussion regarding how many desis are afflicted with colorism (nice word, nala)…there’s a more serious problem here that brings out the libertarian in me.

    What does bother me is that all and sundry are attacking ShahRukh because he does not conform to others’ notion of what constitutes egalitarian when it comes to physical attributes of people. Sure, maybe you don’t think that in the sixtieth year of Indian independance it is not correct to continue to extend preference of fair skin over dark one. Noble idea indeed, and more power to you. But by asking/demanding that others accept your moral code for personal preferences, you are taking the first step towards fascism. What next, a lawsuit against Khan? A ban on these products?

    most libertarians have no problem with moral suasion and ostracism. the problem is when the government mandates behavior or attitude via force. don’t debase language.

    What’s tough is being the one brown guy in an all white work, school, or living environment.

    rare male advantage anyone? it isn’t tough for me. perhaps for you. perhaps for most brown guys, i don’t know (the regular complaint that pink pussy is unattainable is something i hear even from professional brown guys, though the sex ratio balance in outmarriage makes me skeptical).

    Every avalanche starts out as a small snowball…

    don’t be dumb about slippery slopes. every hardcore drug user has probably used weed, and every rapist has masturbated. so what?

    My experience tells me that complexion plays a bigger role in picking brides than it does in picking grooms, where education/employment seems to take precedence.

    cross-cultural data suggests greater premium on female light skin color.

    That being the case, talk of fascism and banning is perfectly valid in this context, more so than “my auntie/uncle used this Telugu phrase…”. The word “abandon” has its roots in the word “ban”.

    talk of fascism isn’t valid. should we invent moornam’s rule? bring up fascism at the slightest pretext? actually, i’m feeling pressured by your strident opinion here. stop being fascist will you?

    The clincher for me was this 2006 paper (“A prehistory of Indian Y chromosomes: Evaluating demic diffusion scenarios”, which I believe was discussed on SM before) and one or two others like it.

    don’t let your idea be clinched by one paper, these papers regularly disagree. the consensus is probably a minor contribution by aryans genetically from an exogenous source. but not culturally obviously (3/4 of browns speak an indo-aryan language).

    archaeogenetics suggests a relatively homogeneous genetic picture going back to the original peopling of the subcontinent.

    probably about 90% of the ancestors of south asians alive today were extant within south asia about 10,000 years ago. is the other 10% significant or not? depends. a large number of north indians are lactose tolerant. this genetic functionally arose around 7,000 years ago in central eurasia and swept through areas where dairy culture thrived. it almost certainly arrived with newcomers, perhaps the indo-aryans themselves. ancestry itself is not all, genes have lives of their own.

    Nothing wrong with people who prefer a fairer complexion. But in India, it seems overbearing.

    can i get an amen?

    it seems just rude to constantly talk about someone being ugly, and that’s basically what a lot of indian families do because they think dark skin is ugly. this is just common courtesy. go ahead and think x is ugly, but don’t constantly torment people about it and delude yourself that that’s not what you are doing. the comments about about fat americans and similarities to cellulite cream illustrate the issue, many brown skinned people think that brown skin is just ugly.

    now, as i have said in the USA the whole thing is even more annoying because the typical brown person, gold to black, is very dark in the grand scheme of things. perpetuating the old stereotypes and habits is really stupid when there are few marginal returns; there is probably some preference for “dusky” light skinned brownz over the darker skinned brownz by white people, but it is nothing like the lionization of golden skin tones in brownland.

    love as you wish, but treat others as you would be treated. it isn’t rocket science.

  12. someone asked what would a white chick become if she used Fair&Lovely–a whiter shade of pale of course.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Whiter_Shade_of_Pale

  13. btw, Shah Rukh Khan to get near ultimate results with that controversial product, he’d end up looking a bit like Paul Wolfowitz, blog.kir.com and he wouldn’t want that, would he? I mean Shah being muslim and all…

  14. 262 “but it is nothing like the lionization of golden skin tones in brownland.”

    Aren’t African Americans afflicted by the same colorism as desis? What’s wrong with us browns and blacks? I remember SM had a sizzling debate a year ago on this racial issue.

    Colorism in the desi context has been perpetuated by the practice of arranged marriage. How else can one explain the fair-skin fixation in a society that is homogenously dark and, fortunately, has had no white masters to emulate for 60 years. Since in arranged marriages, brides and grooms can be ordered with all the desired options, as one would a new Toyota, then why not thrown in one more option – fair? As urban Indians start dating and marrying for love, you will see the fair skin feature getting reprioritized to the same level as general good looks are in any culture. I have many nephews and nieces In Delhi and Mumbai whose spouses are too dark, too tall, too short, too educated, too uneducated, and in general too different for them. Obviously, they were not ordered from central casting. It was LOVE!

  15. Obviously, they were not ordered from central casting.

    what does a central casting bride look like?

  16. Razib, You’re a smart dude. I think every one of your criticisms (including of my post) was spot on. I agree rare male advantage can work in the favor of a lone desi male in an all-white environment, but we’re not all made of stuff that strong. I’ve learned over time that I prefer environments where about 25% of the males or more are brown like me, and there’s at least 3 of us. I just don’t do well as the lone brown guy for extended periods of time. But I hope to be like you one day -being so good socially that one can master any environment is kind of a superpower, and some people do seem to have it.

  17. MN, no need to get nasty (not saying you did, just saying I’m not trying to escalate things), I just think that the assumption that this is equal to “sliding towards fascism” is an excellent example of hyperbole.

    I think it’s absolutely fair to target SRK. This is the same as African American leaders asking Ray Charles not to play segregated venues in the South. If someone is a public figure making public appearances as a public spokesperson, they should also understand that part of a democratic dialogue is to face popular dissent. I’m glad that people in India are finally seeing colorism as a larger issue. I just wish they felt this way about Fair & Lovely creams for women, as well.

    Where the colonial era Europeans were wrong is placing the homeland in Western Europe instead of Iran/Caspian sea region.

    That’s ok, the Nazis got it right. [P.S. I am not invoking Godwin's law! Just speaking to the shift in assigning the "home of the Aryan race" from W. Europe to further east over time, a la Himmler.]

    I think fairness creams are like the hair straightening chemicals in the African American world. I do not find it appealing when African American women straighten their hair unless someone can do an excellent job with it. It looks lifeless.

    Actually, I think fairness creams are like the fairness creams used in African American beauty lines. But, just to be clear, I’m totally agreeing with you on the overall colorism argument :)

    I think more than 90% of ppl (mostly women) there use it for this reason. I always thought Sun Screens are used to block UV rays and prevent harmful damage to your skin and not for preventing you from getting a tan (complexion) to your skin. So whats up with the Desi Girls going for a “tan” at the beach ? I just dont get it. You are already brown honey…Why risk your skin to UV exposure just because the white chicks do it? They want to get brown.. and you ?

    I agree that there’s a popular misconception that sun screen will make you lighter. It is true that it can keep you from getting as tan as quickly, though. (You’ll still get tan, just maybe not as tan). Sunscreen is effectively just a layer of sun blocker. That said, I love the sun and am happy to have my legs and upper arms approach the same skin color as my face. I also just like the sun. What’s wrong with that?

    With respect to “oily” sunscreens, from a health standpoint I actually think sunscreen is really important. Shiseido makes a great non-greasy SPF-55 sunscreen for face and body, Clarins makes a 20-SPF facial moisturizer, Neutrogena has a few less greasy sunscreen options, and I like god old fashioned Banana Boat sunscreen for legs/arms/body. Sunscreen also keeps your skin from getting as sun-damaged, so there’s a 2-in-1 benefit in that respect. I have burned thrice in my life: once snowboarding in Tahoe — wearing a tank top to snowboard on a sunny winter day with insufficient sunscreen is apparently a very stupid idea; once when I was at the beach; and once I burned my nose, forehead, eyelids, and lips at my first college football game.

    Lastly, BIG, it’s my pleasure. We’ll go to Homestead and get a Guinness or Stella next time I’m in SF. ;)

  18. Sorry for the repost, I just butchered the formatting on the last bit:

    I think more than 90% of ppl (mostly women) there use it for this reason. I always thought Sun Screens are used to block UV rays and prevent harmful damage to your skin and not for preventing you from getting a tan (complexion) to your skin. So whats up with the Desi Girls going for a “tan” at the beach ? I just dont get it. You are already brown honey…Why risk your skin to UV exposure just because the white chicks do it? They want to get brown.. and you ?

    I agree that there’s a popular misconception that sun screen will make you lighter. It is true that it can keep you from getting as tan as quickly, though. (You’ll still get tan, just maybe not as tan). Sunscreen is effectively just a layer of sun blocker. That said, I love the sun and am happy to have my legs and upper arms approach the same skin color as my face. I also just like the sun. What’s wrong with that?

    With respect to “oily” sunscreens, from a health standpoint I actually think sunscreen is really important. Shiseido makes a great non-greasy SPF-55 sunscreen for face and body, Clarins makes a 20-SPF facial moisturizer, Neutrogena has a few less greasy sunscreen options, and I like god old fashioned Banana Boat sunscreen for legs/arms/body. Sunscreen also keeps your skin from getting as sun-damaged, so there’s a 2-in-1 benefit in that respect. I have burned thrice in my life: once snowboarding in Tahoe — wearing a tank top to snowboard on a sunny winter day with insufficient sunscreen is apparently a very stupid idea; once when I was at the beach; and once I burned my nose, forehead, eyelids, and lips at my first college football game.

  19. Shah Rukh Khan is as typically Indian looking as you can get! That’s why people are so dumb-founded by his huge appeal. I don’t know if anybody has noticed but he used to be much darker in his earlier films . I wonder if he has been using “fair and lovely” all along. Too bad. I thought he was much more appealing when he was darker. In any case, I’ve decided to stop crushing on him – that “Fair and Handsome” ad was too much for me.

  20. I’d like to see Fair and Lovely and Sunset Tan battle it out on neutral territory … maybe Italy?

  21. So whats up with the Desi Girls going for a “tan” at the beach ? I just dont get it. You are already brown honey…Why risk your skin to UV exposure just because the white chicks do it? They want to get brown.. and you ?

    There’s an old family (or SL) joke, “There’s only two types who walk outside between the hours of 11 and 3–mad dogs and Englishmen”

    but seriously people, put some dang sunscreen on and DAMN the nano-sized ingredients! I’ve seen people die from skin cancer and was neither quick nor painless.

  22. 9 muralimannered

    I can’t imagine a Rajni-helmed, “Dark and Date-Less” cosmetics campaign would be feasible.

    –> Why would rajni dilute his brand in the first place through cosmetics campaign ? Given his marketing acumen, I doubt it.

    His recent ‘sivaji’ movie has a so-called comedy sequence(very insulting and very crass) that wouldnt be out of place in an ad for fairness cream.

  23. i didn’t read thru every comment, so if someone mentioned this already, forgive me.

    i don’t generally think much of katrina kaif (not being condescending, i just don’t think about her), but i did read that she turned down ads/commercials from several of these companies, b/c she thought it promoted unhealthy self-image in girls/women.

    right or wrong, she did go up a few notches in my books (still a terrible actress though). sorry.

    SRK – what the heck were you thinking?????

  24. The United States government wants to ban skin bleaching products. The person representing the US cosmetics industry in this matter is brown! Her name is farah ahmed. she’s at the US Cosmetics Association and was just quoted in the news on sunscreens. i hear she leads the US Sunscreen Team as well. very cool that we have a desi in such a leadership role.

  25. are you serious? you mean she’s at the Cosmetics Toiletry Fragrance Association? Those guys want to keep skin bleaching products on the market. sad that a brown girl is behind it all. i think she is the same farah ahmed from samma and nirvana woman magazine. she used to model. go figure that she doesn’t “get it”.

  26. An important question mixed with randomness: Does this desire/preference for white or lighter skin in India stem from Eurocentric discourses on the ideals of beauty especially even now with globalization? (From the days of Alexander or the British to the present etc.) Or is this from the Indo-Aryan age (which may also have Euro influences though I am unsure)? Even looking at some depictions of Goddess Saraswati, Lakshmi and Radha they are all have white skin… Like wtf? But then again in some depicions of Krishna and Kali Ma are black. The assoication of white to holiness & beauty and black/deeper tones to evil and ugliness where does it have its roots/stems? Does it stem from us Desi’s, from Europe or a mash mix of both? Can someone shed some light? Also I think in MIA’s new video “Jimmy” she is shown in some parts with very light brown skin… though I am uncertain of her natural skin tone and this video…

  27. 280 · Bhang Walla

    ‘The children born here are black enough; but the blacker they are the more they are thought of; wherefore from the day of their birth their parents do rub them every week with oil of sesame, so that they become black as devils. Moreover, they make their gods black and their devils white, and the images of their saints they do paint black all over.’

    • Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) writing about people in and around present day Mylapur in chennai.(From The Travels of Marco Polo, The complete Yule-Cordier edition, Pg. 355)

    Make of it what you will.

  28. On the one hand SRK is free to endorse any product he wishes, on the other hand it does send the message to our Janta, “Gora hona better hai.” Doesn’t really boost self-confidence in those with a darker shade does it? In this day and age there are some who are trying to get a tan, because they feel a shade darker than theirs would make them look attractive/exotic, and then there are others who fell the opposite. For what? To seek love? Would that be true love? I guess instant gratification is what some seek, even at the expense of potentially causing skin damage. If we don’t love ourselves no one else will.

  29. What’s tough is being the one brown guy in an all white work, school, or living environment. rare male advantage anyone? it isn’t tough for me. perhaps for you. perhaps for most brown guys, i don’t know (the regular complaint that pink pussy is unattainable is something i hear even from professional brown guys, though the sex ratio balance in outmarriage makes me skeptical).

    Perhaps you Desi blokes in N. America need to stay in Europe for some time? Generally, European goris are quite friendly and attainable to the brown man. Of course, one needs to dress somewhat sensible. Not like a stereotypical freshie.

  30. It’s nice to see him in Fair and Handsome ad. He is looking much better than the other young co-actors. He always looks awesome whether he does a soap ad or fairness cream ad.

  31. Crazed, get your facts right before you mouth off. The skin bleaching products on the market that the fda wants to ban are actually over the counter drugs and used for very small discolorations of the skin. for brown people with acne who get dark spots after their zit clears up, these skin bleaching products are a God sent. these products that miss ahmed is trying to save are not meant to be used all over the face. also, the fact that the girl is attractive shouldn’t count against her one bit.

    i interviewed her recently. i caught her in between meetings and heading back to her office. we grabbed sandwiches to go. she bought 2 and without saying a word, she handed 1 to a homeless man that we saw while heading into the sandwich place. trust me, she gets it.

  32. its pathetic that advertising (esp cosmetic industry) thrives on all of our insecurity-everyone trying to CHANGE what they naturally have. here i am-a pasty north indian chick paying 100′s of dollars on tanning and bronzing products (along w/my american friends) and dark skinned people trying to fade themselves!?? personally like the darker skin-all those white indian stars are straight up ugly-the southern actresses/actors are way more gorgeous- but wht do i know. i have lost total respect for SRK though-he is way too easy and will sell anything to make a buck-like he doesnt make enough monopolizing bollywood? these people should be supporting their culture,society!!! loser!

  33. it’s odd that these creams have not been banned in India and other countries that still sell them. I have been told that these products have been banned in the US for some time now due to cancer ‘inducing’ ingredients which are proven to be linked to cancer. And yes, I know that these days just about everything is supposed to cause cancer, but these skin lighteners have actually been proved to do so. taken off the US market I suppose before the law suites start! I can’t understand the obsession with white or light skin….maybe that’s because I am white. But I know when I’m with a group of dark people I look at their skin, then look at my horrible pale skin and think ‘yuk’ I wish I had their beautiful dark skin. And I then wonder if they too think ‘wow, she’s got really horrible pale skin’ lol. So I suppose it’s a case of we all tend to want what we don’t have? Blue eyed ppl want brown, visa versa. Those with curly hair want straight and visa versa. Whites buy tanning creams and blacks buy lightening creams. lol. Silly really isn’t it. Anyway….have a great day all! :-)

  34. I’ve never understood the Asian obsession with fair skin. Even the immigrants in Europe/US/Australia/etc are obsessed even when there is racism from the whites against them.