Why Inclusion of Indian characters in Netflix’s Bridgerton Contrasts From Bollywood Norms

The critically acclaimed romantic drama “Bridgerton '' has shattered Netflix records, making it the most viewed English-language TV series in its premiere weekend. Since the release of the second season on March 25, the Emmy-nominated romantic drama has amassed 82 million views. The newest season details the eldest Bridgerton son’s quest to find a wife, while meeting Kate and Edwina Sharma from Bombay, India. Kate Sharma, played by Simone Ashley, and Edwina Sharma, played by Charithra Chandran, represent the global audience that tunes into Netflix according to producer Shonda Rhimes. In an interview with Netflix, Rhimes said “...the idea that we don't create worlds that look like the world that we live in, and that we create false societies where everybody looks a certain kind of way or is a certain kind of color or whatever, feels disingenuous to me.”


To bring more authenticity to the film industry, Rhimes cast melanated Indian women whose culture brings diversity to traditional British society. The Sharmas’ skin tones are a stark contrast to the beauty standard perpetuated by Bollywood, the traditional Indian cinema. Since Bollywood’s birth in the 1930s, actresses have been known to apply stage makeup that lightens their skin, making colorism more prominent in Indian films. Bollywood constantly upholds fair beauty standards through hit songs and dramas that shame dark-skinned women.


To sustain these standards, successful Bollywood directors such as Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar, and Farah Khan specifically cast light-skinned film stars. Thanks to Bollywood's stronghold on Indian culture, the Indian beauty industry has witnessed a boom in skin-lightening products. India’s most lucrative skin-lightening cream, Fair & Lovely (now called Glow&Lovely), is worth $317 billion thanks to advertisements starring Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor.


Those who do not conform to this idea, are bad-mouthed by the Bollywood community. Esha Gupta, an aspiring Bollywood actress, opened up about criticisms from other actresses to make her skin lighter using cosmetics and makeup artists painting her body to match her fair face to her fair physique. She also described conversations with directors who ostracize dark-skinned actresses due to their inability to accurately portray the classic “girl next door” stereotype.


The fairly recent inclusion of dark-skinned women in Hollywood and the exclusion of dark-skinned women in Bollywood prove that the issues of colorism and racism are widespread, especially in the media.