A still from short film 'Khaali Peeli’
A still from short film 'Kaali Peeli. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai-based writer Ayesha Banerjee and director Neeraj Mehta take a nick at those judged by their outer appearances and confront casual racism in their latest short film ‘Kaali Peeli’, releasing on YouTube on December 14.

The compelling three-minute film trains the spotlight on a young girl, Maya (Lyla Beg), who wakes up in the middle of the night and stands in front of the mirror with her mother’s phone torchlight examining her face.

Dubai-based writer Ayesha Banerjee
Dubai-based writer Ayesha Banerjee.

The reason? Her classmate Kishen had mocked her about her dark skin colour and told her that she would be invisible in the dark even if a torchlight shone on her. But she gamely observes: “But I am not invisible … What a silly boy!”

“There’s a lot of drama behind the topic of ideal beauty standards and constantly being judged based on your colour. But I wanted ‘Kaali Peeli’ to exude a light note. I didn’t want the child to cry and be sad about being judged. There’s no drama and she’s refreshingly confident in her own skin. The film is from the young child’s perspective. She isn’t traumatised,” said Banerjee in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

Banerjee, 42, believes that countries with mixed cultures often experience casual racism and colourism. She remembers a time when she walked into a pharmacy hoping to get an effective moisturiser, but the salesman was determined to peddle a moisturiser with a skin-lightening effect.

“But I didn’t want my skin lighter, all I wanted was a moisturiser ... When you are younger, it gets constantly ingrained in your head about what makes a person beautiful and if a person is on the darker side they are immediately slotted as not desirable or pretty … ‘Kaali Peeli’ hopes to address those prejudices,” she said.

Banerjee wrote and shot the film post-lockdown two months ago and the shoot was completed in two days.

“Everybody working on this short was from Dubai including the director,” said Banerjee, who has published a collection of poems in the past. The actors are also UAE-based and the child is played by her friend’s six-year-old daughter. The mother is played by Pakistani model Waisa Khan and both make their acting debuts with this short film.

The mother of three’s motive behind rolling out ‘Kaali Peeli’ is simple. Banerjee wants her viewers to go beyond skin-deep beauty.

“I want to start a conversation about how women and men should be comfortable in their own skin. We live in largely mixed cultures, so a dialogue on these lines is a must … We need to tell our young children that they are beautiful, but constantly remind them that outer beauty isn’t the be all and end all of life. The pendulum should swing both ways. We need to remind our young minds that they can be intelligent, beautiful without the trappings of how you look.”

She remembers how her accomplished mother-in-law, darker in skin tone, was reminded by her mother that looks may not get her far in life, so she needs to excel in academics.

“She had tears in her eyes when she saw my film … This conversation is not easy, but it needs to be had ... Many of us are conditioned to believe in certain ideal beauty standards and that needs to stop.”

The film, made on a shoestring budget of Dh10,000 and showcased by Pocket Films, is out now on YouTube.