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Noir and Rouge: Getting Under The Skin Of Indian Cinema

Racism began with lighting itself, and dark complexes still run deep. But the true colours of India are finally beginning to speak

Noir and Rouge: Getting Under The Skin Of Indian Cinema
Noir and Rouge: Getting Under The Skin Of Indian Cinema
outlookindia.com
2020-08-15T13:39:59+05:30

In cinema, even before questions about racial bias and colourism in the industry and its narratives are raised, it is the racism inherent to film technology itself that alarms film historians. Scholars like Richard Dyer and Brian Winston critique the racial affinities of the film apparatus when it represents and images ‘black subjects’. They point out that the light sensitivity of film stocks were calibrated and tuned with light skin tones as the norm, rendering dark skin tones outside their ‘pur-view’. Dyer says motion picture lighting technology and approaches to illuminating human figures assume and thus impose a “special affinity between (whites) and light”. The ‘Shirley cards’ that photographers used as the standard for skin tones and light featured only Caucasian models. Obviously, non-white skins did not ‘figure’ in the colour palette of photography and cinema until recently. So, in the republic of cinema, shaped by such technological biases and ruled by racial prejudices, the only rightful subjects were the white.

ALSO READ: Our Floyds, Our Flaws: 73 Years Since Independence, India Still Not Free From Racism

Chemically and physically, film stocks thus responded only to the glow and gleam of the white body. The technology put huge limitations on lighting, composition, the mise en scene and makeup whenever, or if at all, black and white characters appeared together in a scene. That is, if you set your lights for the black skin, the white body will be bleached out, and if lighted for the white, the black body will be a dark blur. So, it was not just the societal power structures that prohibited the coming...

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