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Behind the Uproar Over Khaali Peeli’s Beyoncé Lyric

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By Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images.

The upcoming Bollywood rom-com Khaali Peeli, starring actors Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday, isn’t set to be released until Oct. 2, but one of the musical’s songs is already famous—for all the wrong reasons.

After an outcry on social media over a song lyric perceived to rely on colorism—prejudice or discrimination against people with darker skin tones—the filmmakers announced that they will be changing the song slightly. The lyric in question, which roughly translated to “by merely looking at you, oh fair lady, Beyoncé will feel shy,” will be replaced with “the world will be shy after seeing you” dropping the “fair lady” and Beyoncé mentions.

“We have made the film to entertain audiences and not to offend or hurt anyone,” Maqbool Khan, the director, said. “Since our lyrical arrangement did not go well with few people, we thought why not keeping the essence the same while changing the song a little bit.”

Additionally, the song’s title has been changed from “Beyoncé Sharma Jayegi” to “Duniya Sharma Jaayegi” (meaning “the world will feel shy,” instead of “Beyoncé will feel shy”). Earlier, the song title was simply tweaked to “Beyonse Sharma Jayegi,” changing the spelling of Beyoncé’s name for legal reasons. But though the original lyric used the Hindi word goriya, which translates to “fair or light-skinned lady,” the filmmakers and lyricist have said that it was not meant to be taken literally. “The term ‘goriya’ has been so often and traditionally used in Indian songs to address a girl,” said Khan, “that it didn’t occur to any of us to interpret it in the literal manner.”

Though his stated intention did not match the lyrics’ reception, Khan’s statement does get at a deeper truth: the idea of a “fair lady” being a stand-in for a beautiful woman dates back centuries in South Asian culture, as it does in many others. But just in the last year, colorism in South Asian culture has come under fire in a number of ways. In recent months, instances such as Bollywood stars promoting skin-whitening creams while championing Black Lives Matter and the casual colorist statements in the reality dating show Indian Matchmaking have resulted in a heated discourse surrounding the topic, which, at times, has spurred change. Radhika Parameswaran, a professor in the Media School at Indiana University, Bloomington, spoke to TIME about that context.

TIME: What are some different ways in which colorism manifests itself in Bollywood?

Parameswaran: One of the biggest visual reminders and symbols of colorism is who is cast. In Bollywood, the prevalence of the star system is huge—movie stars make the movie. They become national idols, and people are their fans. Not that you don’t have those types of visual cultures and fans in the U.S., but in India, there is a large population who cannot read or write; films transcend those barriers of literacy, and in a country that’s in the Global South, the role that films can play is huge. The movie stars that have been idealized in Bollywood, particularly in terms of women, have been very, very light-skinned, and that continues today. The settings they’re in are usually very lavish, so light-skinned beauty gets tied to issues of class and upward mobility.

What is the underlying message you get from the lyric “by merely looking at you, oh fair lady, Beyoncé will feel shy”?

It’s the hero addressing the heroine, saying, not only are you white and beautiful, but you would put a transnationally beautiful star to shame, arguing that the Indian light-skinned beauty is even more powerful than a celebrity force coming from America. On a more complicated note, it’s nationalist as well as colorist. It suggests a sort of resistance to American supremacy, but on the other hand, it doesn’t get rid of the problem of local hierarchies of skin color.

If colorism has such a deep history in Bollywood, why do you think this particular moment has caused such an outcry?

There are various reasons. One is that there has been an activist movement against colorism that’s been building momentum over the last ten years I would say, getting more and more amplified. Barkha Dutt, the famous Indian journalist, used to host a show called We the People. She had two episodes, years ago, that talked about colorism and racism, and this discussion made the national stage. Nandita Das, a celebrity example, has been speaking up against colorism. Women of Worth is an on-the-ground charity that has been trying to go into schools and ordinary people’s lives, just engaging the public in this pedagogy of how to get rid of colorism. There are also ordinary people making fun of skin-lightening ads by creating spoofs of them. So there has been a societal contestation of colorism coming from various points of view and various agents.

Then you have Black Lives Matter, which went to India in a way it might not have 20 years ago thanks to social media and the Indian diaspora. All of this combined, it is even surprising that this song was composed, performed and made public. It is quite shocking that these movie-makers didn’t realize this.

In general, what is the role of the diaspora in the colorism debate?

I think the diaspora have been quite active. In India, colorism, even 10 years ago, was easily brushed off as “of course light skin is beautiful.” There was an unquestioned solidity to that claim. It was simply not challenged. And there’s the connection to caste too, so these were all just sort of taken at face value.

The diaspora grew up in a different environment where discrimination is being spoken about, it’s not going away—but it has been spoken about through the language of race. I also think the diaspora, who may have gone to schools and participated in other kinds of experiences in institutions, where perhaps they were a minority and faced racism, are very quick to see this and understand it in a way that perhaps in India, it has taken some time for people to grapple with and understand.

How does colorism move from the screen into the everyday lives of people?

Media messages are not like a hypodermic needle, where you inject it into people’s bodies, and it just becomes part of them. I think it’s a more subtle process and depends on class, education, all of those factors. It’s not to suggest that lower classes and less educated people are more susceptible and practice more colorism, it’s not that simple. I do think in some ways upper classes may be doing it more. But still, it does shape the norms of society. Women in particular keep getting measured against these norms. Can there be cracks in the norms? Sure, but those will be unusual.

The filmmakers decided to change the lyric entirely. Is it rare for backlash to cause such a change?

In some films, there’s nothing to be done. The film is out, it’s released, like Bala, which was a story that featured a dark-skinned heroine, but the actor cast was light-skinned and wore brownface. But I do this is going to be more of the trend, especially with issues surrounding skin color. This type of colorism, it’s going to get challenged.

Do you think this continued challenging of colorism will result in deeper change?

Here is the thing. It’s one thing to lose the language of “goriya” and the reference to Beyoncé. But does this mean the heroines are going to start being dark-skinned? No. In terms of casting and representation, it’s going to take a long, long time for that to change. Changing a word is fairly easy to do, and cosmetic, and makes the film producers look socially responsible, but changing how the heroines look, that will not be immediate.

This incident comes not long after the skin-whitening cream Fair & Lovely changed its name to Glow & Lovely, though it kept its product the same, again following a social media fallout tied to Bollywood. Do you think companies will begin to make changes even before a controversy comes up?

I think they will tend to wait until an outcry happens first. Bollywood is a mass, popular industry, so they’re going to count on catering to what they think are mass, popular tastes, and I’m sure they’re going to consider whether protests from what they view as a small, elite population that may not even go to their movies are worth it. If a movie is going to be broadcast in the Hindi heartland and all sorts of rural areas and small towns, how much is this type of issue going to be contested in those spaces? We have to ask, who has access to the English language internet, given India’s vast class divisions and rural-urban divisions? Is this a small minority speaking to themselves? In [that] case, Bollywood is going to make cosmetic changes, and I don’t think they’re really going to take this into account in a careful way.

With reporting by Arpita Aneja

Write to Anna Purna Kambhampaty at [email protected].

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ENTERTAINMENT

Here’s How To Block Problematic Artists in Your Music App

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If you’re a fan of streaming music, personalized playlists, and mixes made “just for you,” you’ve no doubt run into some boring, bad and even downright offensive songs you’d rather not hear again. And if you’re familiar with the news surrounding today’s most popular artists, you probably have a running list of artists who you’d rather never hear again—no matter how good their newest single may be—because of their misogyny, or racism, or other problematic behavior.

While you can’t hit fast-forward on your car radio, you can alter how your streaming service recommends songs to you and force it to never again play the tracks or artists you want out of your life—the extent of that control depends, though, on which streaming service you choose. Here’s how each major streaming service handles blocking and filtering artists from reaching your ears.

Amazon Music

Amazon Music, the default music service on its Echo devices, offers you both customized playlists and radio stations based on an artist or song you pick. It doesn’t let you filter or block artists from said playlists or stations, but you can upvote or downvote songs in radio stations to better personalize your listening experience.

You can, however, block songs with explicit language in them by hitting the three-dot menu icon in the “My Music” tab and enabling the “Block Explicit Songs” option. Amazon did not respond to TIME’s inquiry about blocking or filtering artists any further.

Tidal

Tidal, known for its catalog of high-bitrate music (for better audio quality) and Beyoncé’s visual albums, makes it relatively easy to block artists or even particular songs, and gives you an easy way to manage your list of expunged musicians once you’ve made one.

While you can’t block an artist directly from their artist page, you can block them (or a particular song) from their Artist or Track radio playlists, or from your “My Mix” playlist. If you know exactly who you want to cull from your listening experience, the quickest way to get it done is to visit the artist’s profile anyway, hit the radio button next to the artist name, tap one of their songs, and hit the block button at the bottom of the Now Playing screen.

Should you change your mind, you can hit the Settings icon in your “My Collection” tab, then scroll down to view and unblock all your selected artists and songs.

Tidal lets you block both tracks and artists, though you can only do it from the Now Playing screen in playlists or radio stations.

Apple Music

Apple Music, the company’s streaming-service alternative to its iTunes Store, features both Apple-curated playlists and custom radio stations that pick songs based on your listening history. But Apple Music won’t let you block an artist or filter their songs out of playlists; it does, however, enable you to adjust the app’s recommendation system based on how you rate songs.

You can vote to “love” or “dislike” songs in Apple Music, which it takes into account when building playlists based on your listening history. Apple did not respond to TIME’s inquiry about blocking or filtering artists any further.

Spotify

Of all the streaming services we looked at, Spotify has the most straightforward method of blocking artists from appearing on playlists and radio stations. While you can’t block specific songs, you can block an artist’s work by visiting their profile, hitting the three-dot menu icon, and selecting “Don’t play this artist.” After that, you won’t encounter them in any playlists or radio stations.

A Spotify artist page, where you can block an artist from appearing in playlists and radio stations.

A Spotify artist page, where you can block an artist from appearing in playlists and radio stations.

Patrick Lucas Austin

Pandora

Pandora’s personalized radio stations are perfect for discovering new artists and songs for your socially distant summer fun. But when it comes to dismissing artists you no longer want to hear, you only have one option: downvote them. That won’t entirely block the artist (or even that specific track), but it will reduce how often the artist appears in your radio stations.

In short, if you’re using Pandora, be sure to give the artist you want to avoid a thumbs down rating whenever possible to decrease the likelihood they pop up again in your stations.

YouTube Music

YouTube Music, parent company Alphabet’s replacement for its Google Play Music service (scheduled to shut down completely this December), doesn’t offer much in terms of artist control. Currently, YouTube Music does not allow users to filter or block artists.

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at [email protected].

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Emily Ratajkowski Makes an Important Point About Consent When It Comes to Your Own Image

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Emily Ratajkowski. GETTY IMAGES

Emily Ratajkowski has been an online fixture in the realms of both modeling and acting for years, ever since her image exploded into the public consciousness with her appearance in the “Blurred Lines” music video. However, the extremely fraught nature of that image is the very subject of an essay written by Ratajkowski that was published yesterday in New York magazine, and which details her struggle to financially and spiritually reclaim artwork and pictures that exploited her body and face.

In the essay, entitled “Buying Myself Back,” Ratajkowski makes the allegation that after a professional photo shoot in 2012 with the photographer Jonathan Leder, he assaulted her by digitally penetrating her without permission when she was extremely intoxicated. Ratajkowski had also only approved the images made during the shoot appear in a magazine spread, but Leder has also gone on to publish them in several books without her consent.

Since then, according to Ratajkowski, Leder has apparently been publishing unauthorized books of photography and staging exhibitions of the explicit photographs he took of her back in 2012, on the same evening during which the alleged assault took place. “For years, while I built a career, he’d kept that Emily in the drawers of his creaky old house, waiting to whore her out,” Ratajkowski writes. “It was intoxicating to see what he’d done with this part of me he’d stolen.”

Emily Ratajkowski. GETTY IMAGES

Additionally, Ratajkowski details other episodes wherein artists have used her image without her consent. One of the most pointed instances of this is her writing about the hypocrisy of the artist Richard Prince, who profited enormously off of recreating images sourced from Instagram in paintings that later sold for tens of thousands of dollars. One of the images Prince used for a painting was pulled directly from Ratajkowski’s Instagram account, and although she later purchased the painting, she also found herself embroiled in a tug-of-war with an ex boyfriend over a black-and-white study of the work after the two had broken up.

Shatteringly, this dispute was occurring in the aftermath of an online photo leak in which numerous nude photographs of Ratajkowski were leaked on 4chan. “I’d been destroyed,” Ratajkowski writes. “I’d lost ten pounds in five days and a chunk of hair fell out a week later, leaving a perfectly round circle of white skin on the back of my head.”

The model and actress also recounts that because many of the photographs Leder took are already online, her lawyers have advised her that there’s little she can do to stop him from continuing to profit off images of her without engaging in a lengthy and draining legal battle. It’s a heartbreaking non-conclusion to a series of indignities that don’t seem to be ending anytime soon. OBSERVER

 

 

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Paris Hilton Says She ‘Feels Free’ After YouTube Documentary

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iHeartRadio Music Awards Arrivals Los Angeles, California, U.S. Paris Hilton. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

There’s a scene in a new documentary about Paris Hilton, where the so-called socialite is speaking with former classmates from a Utah boarding school. They joke about how on her reality series “The Simple Life,” Hilton pretended to be clueless over many things— including how to perform any sort of manual labor.

One bluntly described it as “some straight-up (expletive),” as they all laughed.

“I don’t think you had like a high-pitch voice back then,” was another observation.

None of this is a surprise to Hilton. What’s revealed in “This is Paris,” which debuted for free Monday on Hilton’s YouTube channel, is that the ultra glam, baby-talking young woman whose standard line was “that’s hot,” was a manufactured caricature not just for fame but self-protection, too.

Hilton says as a teen she got into the nightlife scene and would sneak out and go to clubs while her family lived at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Her exasperated parents sent her away to various programs to straighten out. There was an outdoor wilderness camp where Hilton and another girl tried to escape. Hilton claims they were caught and beaten in front of others as punishment.

When she was 17, Hilton was finally sent to what she describes as “the worst of the worst”: Provo Canyon School in Utah.

“This is the only place where it’s impossible to run away. So it’s basically like that one place that they all talk about at the other places saying, ‘If you run away or you’re bad, you’re going to be sent to Provo,’” said Hilton.

She stayed at Provo for 11 months and says while there, she was abused mentally and physically, claiming staff would beat her, force her to take unknown pills, watch her shower and send her to solitary confinement without clothes as punishment.

Paris Hilton speaks at the YouTube TCA 2020 Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif on Jan 18, 2020. Photo: Invision/AP

The 39-year-old says the treatment was so “traumatizing” that she suffered nightmares and insomnia for years.

“We are aware of a new documentary referencing Provo Canyon School (PCS). Please note that PCS was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time,” the school said in a statement on its website.

Attempts to find the previous owners for comment were unsuccessful.

Hilton says when she agreed to be the subject of “This is Paris,” it was never her intention to speak about past abuses, but she opened up as she became more comfortable with director Alexandra Dean.

Hilton said while she was at Provo, she decided she wanted complete control in her life and image. That meant she would never tell anyone about what happened to her there. She also wanted to be very, very wealthy.

“I saw success as freedom and I just imagined this glamorous life. .. I made all these plans of what I wanted to be. And all I cared about was being successful and independent.”

For someone who has been criticized for being famous for no reason, Hilton has built a multi-billion dollar company around her image. She has branded stores in the Middle East and Asia, is a successful DJ, and has released 27 fragrances, among other products.

“It turns out that whole machine, all that attention she got, the paparazzi, the insta-fame, it was all a creation of this traumatized girl trying to figure out how to climb her way out of this hole she was in,” said Dean. “She attracted it all. In some ways she created it all. What I want people to know is that they should give her credit for being immensely innovative, but they should also understand that what they watched was not the person, but the shield that she constructed to protect herself.”

Hilton says since speaking out about what happened at Provo, she feels free. She’s now sleeping through the night and no longer has nightmares. She also says she’s happy and in a healthy relationship with businessman Carter Reum.

Her life has slowed down in the past six months due to the pandemic, and she’s no longer traveling for work. Hilton says she likes it this way and plans to continue to be more choosy about leaving home. “I’m moving on to the next phase of my life,” she said.

She’s also hopeful that speaking out against programs like Provo will deter parents from sending their kids to similar situations.

“I would never recommend that to any family ever, because I think it just causes more drama and more issues than anyone would ever have.” She’s now a part of the Breaking Code Silence movement, a network dedicated to raising awareness about the “troubled teen industry.”

“The parents are manipulated and lied to and told a completely different story,” she said. “I think it’s important to do your research.”


© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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