In the land of ‘Fair and Lovely’ and rampant discrimination of girls based on skin colour, Chhattisgarh’s Renee Kujur is using the popularity of Rihanna to break stereotypes about darker skin tones.
The 23-year-old doppelganger of the American singer Rihanna who recently went viral on social media said that it was other people who made her realize the resemblance.
“It started while I was working as a sales staff inside a Tommy Hilfiger store in Chattisgarh. People started noticing that with some make up, I look like Rihanna, especially foreigners. I decided to use it to my advantage,” Renee said.
The model who hails from Chattisgarh's Bagicha said that she faced discrimination for being dark skinned right from the time she was child and participated in her first stage show.
“I had to do something but I did not want to change my face. I wanted to show that my colour is beautiful,” the model told News18.
She started putting up photos of herself as Rihanna’s doppelganger on Instagram under the handle ‘badgalrenee’, a play on Rihanna own stage name.
She has been modeling professionally for three years now. But according to Renee, not all was smooth sailing from the start and it was only after she started doing ‘Rihanna shoots’ that her career took off.
“It is hard for dark skinned models to get work as compared to lighter skinned women. Now that I am known as Rihanna’s doppelganger, I get decent offers. But before, I had a really tough time getting assignments due to my colour. Even now the offers and pay fairer girls get is disproportionate.”
Renee’s tale may have a happier ending but for most dark skinned girls in India, the colour of their skin is a matter of shame and a source of discrimination.
“Nowadays most agencies hire white girls, and I don’t mean fair girls but white girls from abroad. Even if they hire dark skin, they want Africans or African Americans as they are more ‘exotic’. There is no room for the Indian dark skinned girl,” the model rued, agreeing that she only started getting work due to her resemblance to an international pop star.
Even top supermodels have spoken out against the colourism in the Indian modelling industry, claiming that they were losing out on work because of the colour of their skin.
Carol Gracias, in an interview to Hindustan Times once said that she paid $1,000 per runway show, which was a meagre nothing compared to her international counterparts like Kate Moss and Adriana Lima, who charged anywhere between $20,000 and $150,000.
In a 2011 interview with Telegraph, model and actress Dipannita Sharma claimed that India was ‘obsessed’ with lighter skin and that it would take a hundred years more for these deep seated attitudes to change. She had also alleged that Indian advertisers did not like to cast dark skinned models.
In fact, even lighter skinned model face discrimination. In 2010, the editors of Elle magazine stoked controversy after it was alleged that they digitally lightened the skin tone of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who was appearing on their December cover.
In 2009, an NGO called Women of Worth started a literacy and advocacy campaign against colourism and prejudice against dark skin in India. It received prominence after notable film personalities such a Nandita Das endorsed the movement.
But the story of Renee once again is proof that in India dark skin continues to be a problem and is only palatable if disguised under the cover of the glamour of a celebrity.