All posts by Sindhuri Nandhakumar

I was born in Sri Lanka, studied in Philadelphia, and now I live in Toronto. I am a scientist (a political scientist) who is constantly awed by the power of theatre and storytelling. I am currently in the process of developing my full length play, "The Creases in My Sari," which will be receiving a Staged Reading at the New Ideas Festival in Toronto in March. You can find some of work at

Tanishq Paves New Path in Socially Relevant Advertising

Anyone who has watched Indian TV knows that the advertising world is truly, a whole new world, often offering a “new fantastic point of view,” with deeply imaginative, colourful, and even wild expressions. Beauty products, motorbikes, jewelry, spice mixes – all of these become more than just products: they become inhabitants of a fantastic and almost magical realm. And sometimes, these thirty seconds of moving images manage to include a social commentary in their persuasive portrayal. In 2013, Tanishq, the big brand Indian jeweler, did just that.

Directed by Gauri Shinde, the advertisement tells the story of a woman remarrying. As the woman and her soon-to-be husband walk around the pyre in the traditional Hindu custom, the woman’s daughter indicates that she also wants to walk with the couple. The groom then carries the daughter and the three of them walk around the pyre. The advertisement garnered a lot of attention for boldly and unabashedly taking on the topic of remarriage. While remarriage is not uncommon in India, it is not yet widely depicted in popular media in a non-judgmental way as Tanishq did in its advertisement.

In addition to dealing with the topic of remarriage rather boldly, the advertisement also drew attention because the leading actress, Priyanka Bose, is darker than the average Indian woman who is depicted on advertisements. In a society where there is still some premium placed on light skin, this new advertisement by Tanishq was seen as defying accepted stereotypes surrounding the depiction of beauty in the mainstream media.

In an interview with India Today, director Gauri Shinde (who went on to win many awards for her debut feature film English Vinglish), stated that the use of a “dusky” model was not deliberate. “I don’t see these differences between dusky and fair and frankly I personally don’t even want to be part of that debate because I feel there is a complex at play; against the dusky, against the fair. It’s unnecessary. Everyone’s beautiful,” said Shinde.

Shinde raises a very important point here, which is that sometimes, in our haste to uphold the beauty of dark skinned people, we (often unintentionally) end up undermining the beauty of the lighter skinned. We also tiptoe around descriptions of people, using “dusky” instead of saying “dark,” thereby still adhering to the mentality that calling someone “dark” would be an insult.  What’s wrong with calling people what they are? Dark or fair, fat or thin? These words by themselves are not insults, but we have created a framework whereby they have developed negative connotations.

Kudos to Tanishq for not defying the unspoken standards in the world of Indian advertisement, and for taking on socially relevant issues that reflect the reality of many Indians.


Dark is Also Lovely

Reflections by Toronto based playwright Sindhuri Nandhakumar

Sindhoori-NandakumarI won’t lie. I’ve used Fair and Lovely. I don’t want to make excuses, but it was curiosity that drove me to squeeze that supposedly magical potion out of the tube and rub it on my face. I wanted to see if the claims were true : would I really become so many shades lighter within six weeks?

This was about 15 years ago. Looking back at my childhood, I realize that I was raised not just by my parents, but also by Indian, particularly Tamil, cinema. I was the child who would happily stay home, faking some kind of stomach ache, so that I could stay home with my eyes pasted on the television screen.

During commercial breaks, my favourite female actors would come on screen, revealing to me how their lives had somehow been miraculously transformed after they started using Fair and Lovely. Click here if you would like to see the advertisement that influenced my childhood. Single ladies now had husbands; previously unemployed women now had dazzling jobs – it just seemed like a ticket to a world that was so much more amazing. Whatever shade of brown you were, you could be three shades lighter!

So, during a family trip to India, I purchased a small tube of Fair & Lovely and dutifully rubbed it on my face for about two days, until I lost interest and patience and forgot about it.

I haven’t really thought about it much since, but somewhere along the way, I slowly came to understand how many dangerous connotations and how many prejudices lie beneath the flourishing of products such as these. Millions of rupees are being poured into this “fairness” industry, and nobody is complaining. The underlying notion is quite simple: dark is bad, light is better.

Well intentioned grandmothers and aunties will advise you to stay out of the sun, or to carry an umbrella. When I went to visit my grandmother after a trip to Rwanda (a country that is really close to the equator), her face dropped in dismay. “How could you get so dark?” she wanted to know, implying that I had the choice to stay away from the sun, and that I was foolish not to do so.

But why is this the case? Why are so many young South Asian women and other women of colour around the world made to feel like they’re not good enough? Why are we letting companies sell skin lightening products that cause terrible and irreversible reactions in our skin? Why did society let an eight year old girl think that it was okay to buy Fair & Lovely so that she could see if her skin would lighten? Why are we okay with the idea that black and brown are not as beautiful as white?

The thing is, dark is beautiful. And so are all the other shades between dark and light. Yes, we all have our “types” and personal preferences, just like we would pick our favourite colours, but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It’s just a preference, and that’s it. If we’re fixated on the colour of everybody’s skin, then we’re missing out on all the other beauty around us. What we should be helping create is a world where people can exhibit their beauty in whatever form, whatever shade.