#EmbraceYourColor: Harnessing the wind

Why one film studio decided to embrace the power of modern media to take on the skin care industry.

Imagine you are sleeping peacefully at home, and you wake up to find yourself caught in the eye of a hurricane. The air blows gently where you stand, yet a few metres away, trees are being uprooted and the wind roars with indiscriminate fury. You squint and try in vain to catch a glimpse into the distance. You can only imagine the full extent of change and upheaval that is underway.

Now take the power and the mystery of that hurricane — the ruthless force with which it upends the old establishment, the momentum with which it builds, and the difficulty of predicting the path it will take — and imagine that power in the palm of your hands.

The Backstory
#EmbraceYourColor is one small group’s effort to counter a tired old narrative about skin color and beauty by presenting viewers with a new story.

What inspired this project?
Two of the producers were chatting one day and the question arose: if we could make a video to challenge the narrative of consumerism that seems to envelop our society, what would be our angle? Certainly, the road to happiness isn’t paved with sugary beverages and skin cream. And thus the idea of making a commercial was born. Not for a product, but for the simple idea of loving yourself and embracing your skin colour.

How come the girls in the video are so confident?
The four young actors in the film are students at the NGO Kranti. Kranti empowers girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas to become agents of social change by giving them the education and exposure to transform them into innovative, compassionate and resilient leaders. These four girls and their classmates have travelled the world, given numerous talks, and written and performed a play, Lal Batti Express, for audiences across India and the U.S.
They were able to bring a fearless charisma to this video because of their education, unique background and audacious personalities.

Are you concerned that the corporations you mention in this video will be upset that you identified them by name?
While we felt it was important to go all the way and identify the cosmetic companies that benefit from and intensify India’s unhealthy skin colour neuroses, this video is not aimed at a corporate audience. It is aimed at consumers, and the producers’ intent is to contribute to a shift in consumer behaviour.
We harbour no fantasies of a cosmetic industry bigwig watching this video and calling for a change in their product line-up. Rather, we hope the individuals who watch this video will feel empowered to stand up to the corrosive legacy of skin colour preference, with both their voices and their wallets.

Now you see what I see. For the last two decades, since the dawn of the modern internet, humanity has been building itself a new nervous system. The change it will deliver to the structures of our society will be, just like a hurricane’s impact on a Kansas prairie, drastic and difficult to anticipate.

No longer do we live our lives in isolated clans, passively receiving information from established media entities. Technology has fired the gatekeepers. Now everybody has a microphone and a global audience, and all you need in order to change the world is an authentic idea and the ability to express it in a manner that grabs attention.

So if you had a camera, and got your friends together to express an idea to the world, what topic would you pick? Would you talk about protecting the environment, or recite a poem about gender equality, or share your thoughts on music, pastries, or politics? What ideas are important to you? Think about it. Yours may be the voice that takes our society in spectacular new directions.

Earlier this year, my friend Indraneel and I decided to embrace the power of the hurricane. We asked ourselves, if we ruled the airwaves, what message would get beamed into people’s ears and eyes across the globe?

The answer came fast: self-respect, love, happiness, and all that is truly worth having in life can never be bought. They have to be discovered, by looking within, and embracing the innate goodness that we were all born with.

It’s a challenging message. How were we to present the idea of loving yourself without coming across as pseudo-bohemian whackos? And even if we managed to seem credible, what difference would our modest efforts make when large FMCG corporations work day and night to convince us that there is a void in our lives which only their products can fill?

To maximize the modest leverage we had as young filmmakers, we decided to focus on a particularly troubling area of modern consumerism: skin colour creams and the history of discrimination that they depend upon.

Awareness campaigns such as Dark Is Beautiful had already paved the way for us, and we had a feeling we could add a strong, fresh voice to the chorus.

The script

I love my skin.
It’s brown, dark brown, orange-ish.
My mom gave me this skin.
And I’m proud of it.
It works really hard.
It’s strong, stretchy, and it’s thick.
Which is why I’m not fooled by the message
That any one skin colour is better than another.
I know what true beauty is, and it looks like this.
Unilever, Godrej, Emami, Nivea, L’Oreal,
Proctor and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson
You have built entire brands by playing on people’s fear.
Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.
In the meantime, you can hold on to your discolouring creams.
And I will hold on to my colour.

We wrote a script, and roped in our friend Robin Chaurasiya, founder of the NGO Kranti, to produce the video with us. Kranti is a residential school for talented girls, most of whom have faced serious hardships in their past.

Robin provided the filming location, the girls at Kranti signed up to be our actors, Indraneel brought his camera, we rented lights, and voila — our homegrown film set was ready to go.

We finished #EmbraceYourColor, distributed it as widely as we could, and even got coverage in some popular magazines and websites. It was an empowering experience for all of us. Large companies still dominate traditional broadcasting with their crafty depictions of sugar-induced happiness and lotion-induced beauty. But look closely and you’ll see the hurricane of modern communication gradually levelling the playing field. Everyday the storm breaks new ground, creating more opportunities for motivated youngsters to express themselves and shape global values. It’s only a matter of time before you and I learn to fully harness the power of the changing wind.

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Sidhant Mehra

Sidhant Mehra is the creative director of JNTA Studio, a new film production house based in Belapur, Maharashtra.