A song titled “Beyoncé Sharma Jayegi” from an upcoming Bollywood movie has sparked online outrage for its racist and sexist lyrics.
The song, featuring Indian actors Ananya Panday and Ishaan Khatter, has lyrics that say, “Oh tujhe dekh ke goriya, Beyonce sharma jayegi.” This translates to “Beyonce will feel insecure after seeing you, fair-skinned lady.”
The song has triggered controversy on social media, with Beyoncé fans apologizing to the American singer for the song.
The YouTube video, which got more than 2 million views, also has more than 300,000 dislikes.
Beyoncé is a global symbol of Black pride and body positivity. She has featured South Asian women in her music videos, and promotes inclusive representation.
The song also has sexist lines that talk about “gaudy women” with “lots of tantrums”, and moving their “waists.”
The song is from an upcoming Bollywood film Khali Peeli.
“It’s unthinkable to make a song like this in 2020, when the world’s biggest brands are removing the word ‘fair’ from their products,” Nandita Shah, co-director of Akshara Centre, an NGO that launched the campaign to rewrite problematic Bollywood songs, told VICE News.
“Bollywood has worked out this formula for what sells at the box office. The justification for these [controversial] songs is that the ‘audience wants it’,” she said. Shah acknowledged that the main issue was a lack of awareness to recognize why such song lyrics were wrong. “With songs like this, we’re negating body positivity and inner beauty, and saying that a woman’s body and skin color are the only things that can attract a man’s attention,” she said.
“It [song] also features young actors, which means fans who watch this video will mostly be teenagers,” she added, pointing out how this could potentially propagate racist ideas on impressionable minds.
Shreemi Verma, a film critic who co-hosts a YouTube show on contentious portrayals in Hindi films, also slammed the movie. “Bollywood has always made problematic films, but when you watch a movie from the 90s, you see it through a different lens and context,” she told VICE News. “For 2020, this song is just too tone deaf,” she said.
“When you make a song like this, you’re normalizing ideas that don’t deserve to be normalized,” Sucharita Tyagi, a film critic, who often views films from a gender equality lens, told VICE News.
Tyagi points out how songs with problematic lyrics are packaged using catchy tunes, colorful visuals, and enthralling dance moves, which then reach a wider audience at weddings and nightclubs. “Songs like these are essentially great tunes with a subliminal message that white skin is better.”
Indian musical duo Vishal-Shekhar composed the controversial song. Ironically, Vishal Dadlani, the singer, came out in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in June this year.
Following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in the U.S. on May 25 this year, many Indian celebrities who came out in support of the BLM movement were criticized for their silence on discrimination based on religion, race and caste in India.
Social media users accused Indian actors like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Disha Patani, who supported the BLM movement even as they continued to endorse fairness creams, of being “hypocrites”.
“As India’s biggest cultural influence, Bollywood does have the responsibility to combat these issues rather than spread them,” said Verma.
Valued at over INR 180 billion (about USD 2.4 billion), the Hindi film industry has a massive impact on Indian culture and thought patterns. Sexist attitudes and objectification of women portrayed in films have caused multiple incidents of eve-teasing and sexual harassment.
“A lot of Bollywood filmmakers and writers pander to the larger audience, instead of using cinema as a craft to challenge thoughts and encourage positive conversations,” said Tyagi. “No one’s saying we should ban Bollywood. All we’re saying is do better.”
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