This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a fair-skinned actor “darkened” for a drama series. Just a few months ago, we admired and applauded the hit drama series Parish, easily forgiving and forgetting the fact that lead actor Ahmed Ali Akbar had been darkened to appear “unattractive and undesirable”. History has approached the issue constructively. Parizad was a character so rich in moral values and intelligence that he quickly became an asset to a story advocating the underdog. Hashim Nadeem, the writer, took on the social stereotype and helped his hero overcome his color-related inferiority complex.
Pyar Deewangi Hai unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have such a lofty agenda when it comes to dark-skinned actors and affiliated stereotypes. Veteran actor Gul e Rana plays Phupho Naseem in the drama, and the naturally fair-skinned actor has been darkened by more than a few shades to become a character that activates every color-related feature you can think of.
Racial stereotypes are constructed beliefs that all members of the same race share certain characteristics. These attributed characteristics are generally negative (Jewell, 1993).
When presented in South Asia, the phenomenon of dark skin does not refer to African American race, of course, but it does refer to lower race, caste, or creed. Colonialism also comes into play and will have you believing that the emperors and rulers were light-skinned while the working class was dark. For years, we’ve been brainwashed into believing that dark-skinned people will have a harder time finding jobs and marriage matches; most of them belong to the lower strata of society. Moreover, they are often morally compromised characters, and in many cases even criminals. In a nutshell, the stereotype will have you believe that dark-skinned characters are rarely good characters.
Phupho Naseem fits that description like a glove. She was once rejected by heroine Rabi’s mamoon. She therefore resents the beautiful, fair-skinned Rabi (Neelum Munir), whom she expresses in so many words and refuses to accept her as a bride for her son Mateen, even though the two are engaged and madly in love.
Misbah Ali Syed, while writing the story, sadly recognized the dark-skinned character as vile and vengeful. Phupho Naseem could have been another negative character, but here she is clearly marked as a dark-skinned negative character, perpetuating the stereotype. That it is ugly, upside down, is an unfortunate crime.
I thought about all the problems one has with the character of Gul e Rana. The problem starts with the fact that a fair-skinned actor has been shadowed into what the world would call “blackface.” It’s also that it was done in a very substandard way. Her skin tone fluctuates and is inconsistent. Second, and more importantly, he’s an overall negative character. In our time when art and literature must be pushed to break down prejudices, we have Pyar Deewangi Hai reaffirming the worst.
We remember Hania Amir’s character, Sanam, in a drama series Dilruba rejecting Sabih, Mohib Mirza’s character, on the grounds that he is dark-skinned and not as successful. Mohib Mirza, as Sabih, however, was an extremely kind and compassionate character, whom we immediately liked and eventually Sanam did as well. It was good casting and responsible storytelling. One of them sympathized with Sabih when he was rejected because of his skin color. We felt the same way when Naheed (Ushna Shah) rejected Parizad because of his dark skin and general demeanor.
At Pyar Deewangi Hai Phupho Naseem, however, only fuels the stereotype that a dark-skinned person will be rejected, vengeful, and downright horrible. And it’s both offensive and uncomfortable to watch. At a time when the entertainment world is using its collective powers to change the narrative – to NOT show every Muslim character as a terrorist, every African American as violent and aggressive – Pakistani dramas need to be more aware of what they put the low. There should be no room for dangerous and damaging stereotypes to be written these days.