Same skin different attitude

Same Same But Different challenges Bollywood’s portrayal of beauty

Actress Dancer and Playwright Anita Majumdar still recalls what a schoolmate in her hometown of Port Moody British Columbia once said to her. Excited about the sun making a rare appearance the girl turned to Majumdar and uttered “I can work on my tan. Not your kind of tan a nice tan.”

Majumdar says people of colour as she identifies herself can fall victim to comments like that. “I have a strong history regarding the pursuit of light skin” she admits.

“Most of the makeup industry is geared toward white skin which is very frustrating for people of colour. Light-skinned people are afforded certain privileges that dark-skinned people are not which pushes the drive for light skin” says Majumdar a Canadian of Indian descent.

She adds that this dates back to colonial times when light-skinned colonial powers dominated darker-skinned populations.

Majumdar’s personal quest for lighter skin was also a result of her own mother’s attitudes.

“My mother made it clear to me that my best attribute was my fair skin” says Majumdar noting that she inherited her paler complexion from her father’s side of the family.

This pursuit of pale skin is central to Majumdar’s new play Same Same But Different. In Act 1 audiences meet an Indian-Canadian woman Aisha played by Majumdar who has become a Bollywood starlet to prove to her family that her skin is sufficiently light to be successful in an industry that requires you to have fair skin.

“The whitest Indians reside in Bollywood” says Majumdar suggesting it’s also to blame for presenting an unattainable picture of what all Indians should aspire to look like.

While in Canada shooting her latest film Aisha meets a Filipino back-up dancer named Ben (Nicco Lorenzo). “He has fair skin. Meeting him makes her confront her issues and come to the realization that she won’t ever be fair enough in the eyes of her family and the industry” explains Majumdar.

She says Act 1 of Same Same But Different is also a “true homage to Bollywood” with high-octane dance numbers and a sense of magic realism. “The story is told in the way a Bollywood film is told. Sometimes it’s non-linear. It challenges the transit of time. And Act 1 uses song and dance in a way that Bollywood uses it” she adds.

In Act 2 audiences go back to 1989 where they meet Aisha’s mother Kabira also played by Majumdar. On the cusp of her marriage to Aisha’s father Kabira tries her luck in Bollywood as a playback singer. (A playback singer records the songs to which the actresses lip sync.)

While there she meets a Filipino-Indian singer who also forces her to look at her issues regarding skin colour. “Act 2 speaks to the legacy of mothers telling their daughters that their dark skin is no good” says Majumdar.

She likens the quest for fair skin to body dysmorphic issues like anorexia.

“The way a woman feels in North America that she can never be skinny enough? That’s like a woman who feels she can never be light enough” she says adding that both are part of the “big-picture issue” of society telling women they’re not good enough.

Same Same But Different is part of my pursuit to make sure another generation doesn’t grow up like I did.”