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VIVAH: WHO IS THE WINNER, COLORISM OR THE PATRIARCHY?

Vivah is a 2006 release of Hindi cinema. At the time of its release, was a huge commercial success. Almost three decades later, it is a cult classic starring Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao in lead roles, with the supporting cast including Anupam Kher and Alok Nath. The film appears at first sight as a traditional early 2000s Bollywood rom-com- an attractive couple, Shaadi and all its celebration, and at the center of it all: love. However, the themes surrounding the movie are immense, to say the least; colorism is the subcontinent, and the patriarchal nature of marriage is apparent.

Colorism is shown by the younger sister of Poonam (Amrita Rao), Choti, being called Kali or dark-skinned and unmarriageable by people around her and her mother enforcing the subcontinental beauty standards of fair skin on her at a young age by putting whitening products on her. Choti is shown to be careless and crass but also joyful and young, somehow free from the constraints of society that are placed on Poonam to be proper and ladylike. Poonam is the ideal woman, demure, modest, and beautiful - the standard of beauty in the Indian subcontinent. Poonam is riddled with these responsibilities precisely because she is beautiful; she offers men around her something, her adoptive father and in-laws' status through marriage, and herself a better life and social advancement through her looks.



Choti embodies none of that; she offers men around her nothing much except herself as a person. The movie's ending tries to subvert the idea that the male lead likes her only because of her looks by staying with her and loving her after her burn incident, but in reality, she is offered all the attention through her looks, if not only because of her looks. The truth is also that if Choti did decide to act in the proper ladylike manner of her beautiful older sister, she would be ridiculed and even shamed for trying to pretend to be someone she is not because people do not expect a girl with those looks to act desirably. Poonam's advantage and downfall lie in being kind and selfless, but Choti employs all those qualities and is not seen in the same way as Poonam. She is and cannot be beautiful, which is the main point because she is dark-skinned and therefore undesirable, so society and men give her freedom because she is not providing them with anything; this is apparent as she is not even considered good at household duties. The whole movie also stands on the feet of patriarchy and its role for women as wives and daughters first rather than their independent entities. Poonam's whole character first revolves around her father figure, uncle, and later her fiance, Prem. Though these men are not malicious or unkind, they are certainly not for female independence despite being portrayed as moderately liberal.

Vivah is a product of both its time and society, where beauty is integral to the patriarchal practice of marriage and the tying down of women. Women will compete for beauty only to be tied with a brighter thread but a thread nonetheless.


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Seeing Shahid Kapoor I immediately clicked on this and I was not dissapointed to say the least, although I have not delved deep into old Bollywood films but Viva definitely stands out with the themes of colourism and patriarchy so apparently presented. Being a women with skin on the darker shade range this movie spoke to me on immense levels, whilst also allowing me to overcome the norms that put me down for my skin colour through the openness, honesty and confidence presented through Choti. Reading your blog post so well articulated on concepts of perfect marriage being promoted by the eldest daughter, Poonam who feels accepting of the patriarchy and its apparent form as acceptance from a male for…

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I love the parallel you drew, it is so accurate! I feel like sister dynamics in media leave a lot to be desired in terms of representation and nuance.

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I really like the heading of your post and how colourism and patriarchy are both embedded in society. The winner is to my extent both as one reinforces the other. While patriarchy restricts access of women and places barriers, it also highlights the concept of "breadwinner" or "head of household". Patriarchy caters only to men and even in it, it is for men made by men. This excludes women and minorities and when this exclusion is being done there are aspects of colourism as well. Both hand in hand are a disaster and that can be seen in this movie.

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Mahnoor Nasir
Mahnoor Nasir
Nov 30, 2023

I appreciate your analysis of this movie, especially the contrast you highlighted between Poonam and Choti. It's disheartening to see how the issue of colorism has persisted for so long, with films suggesting that a male lead would only fall in love based on physical appearance and how one is perceived. I believe these movies have conditioned women to be conscious of our skin color, body weight, and physical appearance. Even though recent films tend to portray a more progressive image, these powerful notions have lingered and still impact our lives in problematic ways.

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I don't think that these notions have persisted rather they have never gone away. And even in modern media the emphasis on physical attributes has never really subsided.

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Media is the number one way to promote something now, movies like these shapes societal expectation to look a certain way. They make the prettier one as the best and most successful out of all and someone less prettier gets nothing and is always the secondary character. The movie can be a perfect ad for 'fair n lovely'. Men are also made to look at the beauty of women only and not how they are as a person. A woman is also accepted only if she is pretty and ladylike. While seeing the movie, I noticed how Poonum always lowered her eyes around her husband, showing her as cultural and shy. I love the contrast that you made between the…

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Exactly. A lot of Poonam's charcteristics enable the patriarchy and her shyness is also a sign of the subcontinent's beauty standards which she abides by. and pretty privilege is definitely real.

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Your blog evokes a sense of critical reflection on how popular media reflects and shapes societal values. It made me feel a mix of appreciation for the depth of your analysis and a somber realization of the ongoing struggles against colorism and patriarchal structures in many societies. Your writing style, which combines film critique with social commentary, was particularly engaging and enlightening. Your interpretation of the characters Poonam and Choti and the contrasting ways they are treated due to societal beauty standards is insightful. It highlights a harsh reality of colorism, where the worth of a woman is often measured by her skin tone, influencing her societal acceptance and marital prospects.

The way you tied the characters' experiences to broader…

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The biggest regret of this movie is thta it does not escape patriarchal underpinning despite being a supposed kind and good alternative to the institution of marriage and Jahez and in-laws in the subcontinent. It just shows these institutions in a positive light.

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