[Editor’s Note: Will Smith famously said, “Racism is not getting worse. It’s getting filmed.” When grotesque modes of racist or casteist attacks come out overtly, it is then that souls get stirred. However, it’s not like racism or in the South Asian context, casteism, classism, regionalism, majoritarianism, and colourism have not existed so far. Despite people talking about the colonial hangover of calling light-skinned people ‘Gora’ (a term that was used to address the British colonial masters) and treating them with privilege as such, colourism is far from being gone in South Asia. It’s amazing and disappointing to point out that this article and this issue is more relevant than ever even four years after it was originally written.]
India’s beauty industry thrives on the country’s ugly obsession with fair complexions and skin lightening products. Prejudice against darker-skinned people, especially women, is not a new phenomenon but one that has been deeply rooted in our culture — be it due to some sort of colonial hangover that has loomed over our society for hundreds of years now, or as some reports state it to be tracing back to the caste system. Young girls growing up and being told that having fair skin determines the quality of their life distorts their sense of self and ingrains what’s basically racism and colourism at a psychological level. While on one hand fairness creams continue their absurd campaigns of ideal beauty and matrimonial sites demand fair-skinned prospective brides, there is a growing counter-movement destabilising the fairness illusion that has clouded India for far too long.
Unfortunately, it’s a global phenomenon that’s been hard-pressed in Asian Nations. Initiatives like actress Nandita Das’ ‘Dark is Beautiful’ and Texas-based photographer Pax Jones’ Unfair and Lovely campaign strive to put an end to the popular notion that places dark skinned individuals as inferior in some way. Joining their ranks of caped crusader is Ms Shabash, a Clark Kent like comic heroine created by Bangladesh-based production company Mighty Punch Studios.
Fighting the good fight, by day the titular character is a hardworking journalist at a lifestyle magazine that by night transforms into an ass-kicking wonder who takes on the head of a skin-lightening cream company. Her target? Ms Porcha, who, on one hand, propagates the use of such products, but also falls prey to her own creation. Along with the eye-catching visuals and vivid colours of a seemingly regular comic book, Ms Shabash carries undercurrents of biting critique of an industry that has capitalised on multiple societies’ warped expectations of ideal female beauty. Of course, we have zombies too, because no comic book is complete without supernatural elements.
Feminist at its core with an entertaining storyline, Ms Shabash was written by Samir Asran Rahman, visualised and drawn by an incredibly talented team comprising on Fahim Anzoom Rumman and Mosharraf Hussain. Aptly launched on International Women’s Day in 2015, Ms Shabash completely captivated the Bangladeshi audience.
Over the years comics have surpassed being just purely childish entertainment. Having morphed into a tool of observation, analysis, conversation and criticism, they’ve now come to portray culture and society through a medium that offers something for everyone. In India, we’ve had some incredible comics and graphic novels come into being following difficult social circumstances and political situations - Malik Sajad’s ‘Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir’ and Appupen’s ‘Rashtraman’ for example - but it’s neighbouring Bangladesh as well that has produced gems such as ‘Dhee,’ featuring the nations first lesbian heroine, and now, Ms Shabash. We eagerly await the next step in sequential art and the hard-hitting yet fantastical work that comes with it.
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Feature image courtesy of Might Punch Studios via Book Riot