by Sarah Nissa Khan
Growing up in an Indo-guyanese family, I was raised with a mix of the Caribbean and Indian culture. My ancestors who came to the land of Guyana in the 1800s were allowed to keep aspects of their culture and religions. However, generations after that did not have a chance to learn our own language since many books were destroyed.
Indo-caribbeans celebrating indian culture in the 19th century through dance and music
Credit: The Food of the Gods by Brandon Head
A way for me to connect with my culture growing up was watching Bollywood movies and listening to film songs. Music is practiced on my moms side of the family so we had parties where I learned how to play the tabla and we’d sing different songs. This was one way to stay connected.
I have always wanted to show off my work and the potential and skills that I have. So one night, I decided I wanted to get myself out of my comfort zone by making my own photo series, as well as using what I had around the house. I really wanted to challenge myself and channel my creativity. I do have some aspirations to be a creative director, so I self-directed my own shoots. I had one of my very good friends take the photos for me. This took time and effort to plan out, but I was so worried because I didn’t know how people would react to my photos.
I wanted to show the beauty of each era through the actresses and movies that I grew up watching on the screen from the 1960s to the early 2000s. These actresses are who I considered badass in the industry. I decided to call this series “Timeless Bollywood Queens.”
Here’s some of the actresses I featured and why:
Zeenat Aman was a model-actress and a fashion icon at the time of the 70s and 80s and started many trends. (left: Zeenat Aman in Qurbani, 1980)
Vyjayanthimala the first South Indian actress to break through into Bollywood in the 60s and is best known as the first female superstar of Bollywood. She broke barriers and made an opportunity for other South Indian women. Plus, she was a fantastic dancer.
I have chosen Rani Mukherjee because she is underrated and in my opinion, is smart at choosing her roles. She has played a variety of characters such as a lawyer in Veer-Zaara, a prostitute in Saawariya, and now this year she has portrayed a teacher who has Tourette’s syndrome. To me, she is a women who takes risks and wants to step outside of the box and not just play the typical role of females portrayed in Bollywood movies. And her voice is just so sexy!! (Rani in Bichoo, 2000)
Finally, the original baddie Miss Rekha. Another South Indian actress who broke out into Bollywood. To me, there is something about her that seems genuine. warm and quiet but she speaks through her acting and the characters she portrays. She engages with her audience as she performs in films and I have looked up to her ever since I was a child.
This isn’t just about my love for Bollywood, this is about colorism. Bollywood has always shown the actresses to be fair-skinned and most of them were darker before they got into the industry. I have been taunted with many comments about my skin color from family members, I have realized they have no right to tell me to change my skin and I have learned to love it. In Bollywood, many actors and actresses promote the use of skin-lightening cream. I wanted to show that girls who are considered darker should get just as many opportunities as the ones who are white-passing.
So this is my message to all the women who have been called “too dark” or the ones who want to be in the creative industry but their parents tell them not to pursue a career there. You can pursue anything through hard work and perseverance. You do not have to fit the role that your parents want you to be. You do not have to be light-skinned to be considered beautiful, there are different types of beauty. Not just one. This project for me was a way to show myself that I do have potential and the creativity and to inspire people to go on and start a project if they want to discover their creative flair in any field.
There will be more projects coming soon, so stay tuned!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sarah Nissa Khan is a bi Indo-Guyanese woman who advocates for self-love. She has pursued something in almost every creative area and cannot wait to share her stories with the community.
If you would like to learn more about her, follow her instagram: @sunlight.jadoo for vintage aesthetics and advice.