We are conditioned to value fair over dark and dusky skin tones: Akshay
Indian society’s obsession with fair skin is a disturbing yet prevalent phenomenon. It’s this obsession that prompted actor – writer Akshay Singh to base his directorial debut around it. Set in the holy town of Benaras, Pinky Beauty Parlour traces the journey of two sisters, Pinky and Bulbul, who run a beauty parlour.
The film has been selected for the India Story Section of the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star. Ahead of the festival, Singh talks about the interesting learnings during his research, the significance of setting the story in Banaras and what it means to be part of MAMI.
What is your film all about? Is there a story behind the title?
The story revolves around the lives of two sisters, Pinky and Bulbul. Bulbul is the elder sister who sets up and runs the parlor. Pinky being the younger of the two is adored by everyone including Bulbul, which is why the latter decides to name the parlour after her laadli (beloved) younger sister.
The film talks about a stigma which is extremely prevalent in our society. What encouraged you to address it through a film? Have there been any personal encounters that you talk about in the film?
Every form of performing arts is an artiste’s expression. Films stem from personal experiences. Since childhood, I had noticed how people with darker skin tones were made fun of and not considered beautiful. This has pressurized a number of dark-skinned young women, and men too, to use fairness creams and other ingredients to try and lighten their skin tone. But that obviously yields no results. And that pressure takes a toll on them, which ultimately results in low self-esteem.
It could somewhere be the colonial hangover on our mindset, which has conditioned us to value fair over dark and dusky skin tones. All these observations left a deep impact on me. We are discriminating on the basis of color. And this mindset has to change! As a filmmaker I chose to highlight this issue by making a film because cinema is one of the most influential mediums to address any issue.
Why did you choose to set the story in Banaras? Does the location also double up as a character in the film?
While researching for the script, I realized that small towns like Banaras are flooded with beauty parlors. People there are very conscious about their looks and particularly, the complexion of their skin. There are parlous in almost every lane and street of that city. And since my native place Ghazipur is near Banaras, I felt that I could do justice to imbibing the characteristics of the city in my film.
You’ve donned several hats for the film, having written, directed, produced and acted in it. Was this a creative requirement to be more involved with the film or a demand of the resources?
I am passionate about the whole process of filmmaking. I started my career as an actor in theatre and graduated to television and films. Then I went on to write for television and feature films like Baat Bann Gayi starring Ali Fazal and Gulshan Grover, where I also played one of the central roles. But I always wanted to direct, so instead of searching for an opportunity, I created one and decided to direct Pinky Beauty Parlour.
The process of finding a producer was taking a long time and I was running out of time since the story of my film is based in and around the festivals of Dussehra and Diwali. So I had to shoot the film during that period in 2015. So my wife, Bahnishikha Das, and I decided to produce the film ourselves. We formed our production house called Akshikha Entertainment. So everything went smoothly and I loved all the roles that I played. In fact, a few of my crew members jokingly say that I have a split personality, as I could easily shift from one role to the other. I took it as a compliment though. (smiles)
Every form of performing arts is an artiste’s expression
How important was it to find the perfect cast for the film?
I had to use all my resources to hunt for the right actresses for the two protagonists. Especially for the role of Pinky, which was finally played by Sulagna Panigrahi who started her career in films with a powerful performance in Murder 2. Before meeting Sulagna, I’d met many actresses for the role but when I met her and had a long chat with her, I immediately realized that this is my Pinky. For the role of Bulbul, I always had Khushboo Gupta in mind because I had worked with her and knew her acting abilities.
Both Sulagna and Khushboo are excellent performers. In fact all the actors in the film are brilliant. Being an actor myself, I knew how to make the actors comfortable during the auditions, which were mainly improvisations where I would brief them about their characters and then give them a situation to improvise. Even I would become a part (of the auditions) and perform with them in front of the camera. This would give me an insight about the actor’s presence of mind. We also had parlour training sessions for the actresses with an expert beautician to get the nuances right and make them look like professional beauticians. The beautician was present on the sets throughout the shoot.
What stage is the film currently at? What is the amount you’ll aim to raise via crowdfunding and what aspects will it be used for?
We have invested all our savings in making the film and now it is complete and ready for release. We are crowd funding on Wishberry soon to raise Rs.40 Lakhs to get the movie to the theatres. We are looking at releasing the film in the first quarter of 2017.
Cinema is one of the most influential mediums to address any issue
What does it mean to have your film at MAMI and what are your expected takeaways from the fest?
MAMI is one of the most prestigious international film festivals in Asia and one of the biggest platforms in India for the screening of my film. Being at MAMI is an opportunity for my film to come in the knowledge of renowned filmmakers of our country.
As a filmmaker, what is it that you’re looking forward to at MAMI?
Pinky Beauty Parlour is my first film as a producer & director. As a filmmaker, it is a huge honor to premiere my film at MAMI where I will get a chance to interact with other filmmakers and the audience who will come to see the film.