By Naresh Puri
One of Bollywood's biggest film stars is being criticized by Asian campaigners for promoting a skin-lightening cream - a product that is now on the shelves of British shops.
The 40-second advertisement from India starts like so many others promoting razors or hair dye - but it's an ad with a very big difference.
There's a man who has no luck with the girls. He has markedly darker skin than his friends and the girl he is after. In a real song-and-dance Bollywood extravaganza, one of the biggest heartthrobs of Indian cinema, Shahrukh Khan, hands over a cream to the hapless chap, along with some mild admonishment.
Within a few weeks, the young man has turned much lighter-skinned and confident. As he strides down the road like a modern-day answer to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the girls start flocking to him and chanting: "Hi handsome, hi handsome." Khan comes back into view with the product, Fair and Handsome.
Ah yes, SRK. The Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Fred Astaire and Ben Affleck of India. It’s amazing that no one is really happy with skin tone. White folks want to get darker. Indians and Japanese want to get lighter. And Michael Jackson just wants to be left alone. The stigma of dark skin (in some parts) is that people who work outside get sun darkened. And indoor dilettantes have creamy complexions. The same is sort of true of the American South. Where do you think the term ‘red neck’ came from? At any rate, even if it is the product of classism and racism, it’s nice to see dudes taking care of their skin. Wait, that’s probably not supposed to be the lesson here.