In an upcoming Bollywood film called “Khaali Peeli,” there’s dancing, music and a song with a controversial chorus: “When you dance, watching you, oh fair-skinned girl, Beyoncé will be ashamed.”
The lyrics have sparked outrage on social media over colorism, which is discrimination based on the color of someone’s skin, and forced filmmakers to change the lyrics for a second time.
Because the film had not sought permission from the singer to use her trademarked name, the song first changed its spelling from “Beyoncé” to “Beyonse.” However, after criticism that the lyrics are racist, the song’s refrain will change to say, “Watching you, oh fair-skinned girl, the world will be ashamed.”
“(The) lyric in question was never intended racially,” the film’s director Maqbool Khan said in a statement on Monday, adding that the film’s makers were huge fans of Beyoncé and had not meant any disrespect.
Does that solve the problem?
Bollywood may spare Beyoncé, her skin and her dance moves from its scrutiny, however, the Hindi film industry’s obsession with light skin has been long-standing and critics say it promotes color prejudice. It’s rooted in India’s ancient preference for fairness.
Several songs over decades glorify light skin, which is considered an attractive feature in movies where a hero falls for a heroine.
In a song called “Chittiyan Kalaiyaan,” or “Light-Skinned Wrists,” the woman’s character dances to a song asking the man to take her shopping and to the movies because she’s light-skinned.
Another song called “Dil Dance Maare Re” blatantly starts with, “Seeing a white face, my heart beats faster.”
In the 1990s, the hit song “Kala Chashma,” or “Black Shades,” was about the singer’s admiration for a woman and how great black shades looked on her fair skin. It was recently remixed and found widespread popularity.
A song from the ’60s has a man swooning over a fair-skinned woman, asking her to not discount him for his dark skin because he loves her.
Why the outrage now?
The word “goriya” means “light-skinned woman,” but it’s used in pop culture generally to address women. It’s akin to using the word “baby” or “girl” in English-language songs, but with clear tones of colorism that are so deeply entrenched, they don’t raise any eyebrows.
Khan alluded to this explanation in his apology.
“The term ‘goriya’ (fair woman in Hindi) has been so often and traditionally used in Indian songs to address a girl, that it didn’t occur to any of us to interpret it in a literal manner,” he said.
Several movies and songs over the past few years have had lyrics changed following backlash. Some songs were criticized by religious groups, some by caste communities.
But with the Black Lives Matter movement now making a global impact, public outrage has been loud enough that filmmakers have listened.