In the Hindi movie Bala (2019), the protagonist is a young man in his twenties, working as a salesman whose job is to promote the use of fairness cream among youngsters. However, all is not hunky-dory in his personal life. The young man is suffering from early-onset baldness and tries different remedies to cure his hair loss, but to no avail. He temporises, agonises and curses his fate. A network of nerves, he decides to wear a wig as a last resort, to cover his balding head, so that he doesn’t become a laughing stock in social circles.
All hell breaks loose when his pretty wife, who is obsessed with outward appearance and looks, gets wind of this on the second day of their marriage. The incredulous wife screams inconsolably; cries betrayal and storms out of her husband’s house in a rage. The marriage ends in divorce. The young man wises up and absorbs with equanimity what life brings his way. He throws away the wig and decides to lead a life unbesmirched by the calculus of appearance and physical perfection.
Keeping up appearances
Perhaps, it goes without saying that physical looks immensely affect the exteriority of our lives: how we look and how we dress. Appearance is all that matters, but few know that appearances can be deceptive as well. We seem to be perpetually suffering from the Dorian Gray syndrome. Taking pride in one’s personal appearance in our consumerist society has taken precedence over the interiority of one’s self. Lilliputian minds are in the habit of judging others by their appearance.
When a newly married bride entered her husband’s home, neighbours would gather around her, curious to know if she were really beautiful and appealing. If she were fair and good-looking, aunties would effusively congratulate her in-laws, “Aapki bahu sundar hai, bhagwan lambi umar de… .”
Glance through the matrimonial columns in a newspaper and one will come across instances of both boys’ and girls’ parents inviting marriage alliances by adding a line on the physical characteristics of their children. The girl is described as ‘slim and beautiful’, while the boy would be described as ‘fair, tall and handsome’. We worry about our looks more than anything else. No wonder when it comes to marriages in relatively well-off middle-class families, looks become the marker of one’s social identity.
In the 70s and 80s, Bollywood was teeming with handsome heroes like Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Shashi Kapoor among others. The very concept of hero meant that he had to have drop-dead good looks, with macho appeal. Looks then mattered more than talent. But we could barely relate to them. However, a lot has changed since then. Average-looking actors with oodles of talent have won the hearts of moviegoers. They have become the rule rather than the exception. Actors like Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi and Vicky Kaushal, to name a few, are immensely talented and are calling the shots in Bollywood. We can relate to them because of their boy-next-door looks and aura.
In 2017, Bollywood heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor refused to endorse a fairness cream brand deal worth several crores. Actor Abhay Deol had also spoken up on how the endorsement of fairness creams were perpetuating false standards of beauty. Indian cricket captain and youth icon Virat Kohli too refused to endorse a fairness cream. He wanted to drive home the message that looks are not everything in life.
We tend to put a premium on things that are evanescent. Author Umberto Eco rightly said, “Nothing is more fleeting than external form, which withers and alters like the flowers of the field at the appearance of autumn.” The mindset now needs to change.
Parents, as a rule, must teach their children not to judge people by their looks. They should be told that how we look is unimportant. Parents too, on their part, should refrain from passing insensitive remarks on somebody’s physical appearance or body features in front of their children. It is high time we stopped judging people through the prism of looks and physical appearance.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.