The NewsFuror

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Beyond the pale?

One of Bollywood's biggest film stars is being criticised by Asian campaigners for promoting a skin-lightening cream - a product that is now on the shelves of British shops.

The 40-second advertisement from India starts like so many others promoting razors or hair dye - but it's an ad with a very big difference.

There's a man who has no luck with the girls. He has markedly darker skin than his friends and the girl he is after. In a real song-and-dance Bollywood extravaganza, one of the biggest heart throbs of Indian cinema, Shahrukh Khan, hands over a cream to the hapless chap, along with some mild admonishment.

Within a few weeks, the young man has turned much lighter-skinned and confident. As he strides down the road like a modern-day answer to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the girls start flocking to him and chanting: "Hi handsome, hi handsome." Khan comes back into view with the product, Fair and Handsome.

The skin-lightening cream for men, along with its more feminine counterparts, has found its way into Asian supermarkets and stores in the UK.

While Khan's advert has not been shown yet in the UK, it too has made its way to British consumers via YouTube. And the product's success or failure in the British market place may say something about the nature of beauty and the politics of race.

Kiran Kaur - a Sikh human rights activist in west London, one of the epicentres of Asian cultural life in the UK - says the arrival of Fair and Handsome, with a Bollywood name in tow, is a step back in time.

'Age-old prejudices'

"The ad simply reinforces the idea that you've got to be fair to be anything in life," says Kiran. "It says that if you're fair and good looking, you'll be a wonderful daughter-in-law or husband, your skin colour determines how successful you'll be in life. The ad reinforces age-old prejudices."

The skin-lightening industry is worth at least £100m in India and the Fair-and-Handsome-for-Men range is the latest product from one of the market's big players.

Manufacturers say they are responding to a demand, but in recent years protests in India have seen at least one advert taken off air. Other lightening products targeted at black women have been on sale for years, some of them containing chemicals banned for years from British goods.

Actress Rani Moorthy knows first hand about the prejudice suffered by Asians with darker skin.
She is currently touring the UK with her play that focuses on skin colour, Shades of Brown.

"When I was a child my grandmother took me to one side and said make sure you're good at something, no man will ever marry you for your looks," she says.

"I knew this was because I was dark skinned. It was treated as a disease and every Friday I had to have oil baths in an attempt to lighten my skin".

'A huge star'

She feels a major Bollywood star backing a skin-lightening cream will intensify the prejudice that already exists within the South Asian community, in which the darker skinned can find themselves looked down upon - just as it still happens in parts of India today.

"Deep within this 5,000-year-old culture is the thought that high ideals, nobility and high caste are associated with fair skin," she says. "Dark skin is regarded as low status and low caste."

But what chance do voices like Rani's stand against the screen presence of Shahrukh Khan?
Perhaps the best measure of Khan's influence on British Asians is to look at the success of his films.

Dil Se, released in 1998, was the first Bollywood movie to make it into the British box office Top 10.

The film's key clips, including an exhilarating dance upon a moving train, have totted up more than one million hits on YouTube. Khan, a big enough brand to be known just as SRK, is the equivalent of Tom Cruise - and then some.

His Fair-and-Handsome advert won't be missed by British Asians as they follow every Bollywood move, says Sunny Hundal, the editor of Asians in Media, a website that charts the rise of British Asian culture.


"Shahrukh Khan is a huge star in India and his endorsement will no doubt raise the profile of this product," he says. "Impressionable young men will get the idea that if they want to be attractive like him, they should also use it."

"The cult of media personality, especially cricket or Bollywood stars, is a much bigger phenomena in India and so brands are much more partial to celebrity endorsements.

"But what SRK is essentially doing is confirming and promoting the condescending attitude that many Indians have towards dark-coloured skin. His endorsement is completely immoral."

Neither the manufacturers nor a spokesman for Khan would comment on his involvement in the campaign.

But Manish Shah, a distributor for Fair and Handsome says skin lightening creams are very important because "everybody wants to look really good".

"They're not bad for the skin," he says. "If people have an inferiority complex because of their skin colour, then this product will really help. It does what it says. It makes you fair and handsome. There's a lot of interest in this product and quite simply it makes people look really good."

Apple warning on unlocked iPhones

Apple has warned that anyone attempting to unlock their iPhone to use with an unauthorised mobile network could find their phones irreparably damaged.

The company said that modified mobiles would become "permanently inoperable" once Apple updates were installed.

It follows a flurry of hacks claiming to unlock the phone, which is tied into the US AT&T network and O2 in the UK.

Apple has denied that it is "doing anything proactively to disable iPhones that have been hacked or unlocked".

Cat and mouse

The warning will be seen as a pre-emptive strike by Apple in the ongoing battle with hackers who are increasingly making unlocking software available to iPhone users.

Unlocking the phone allows iPhone owners to use the phone with the network operator of their choice rather than the authorised ones chosen by Apple.

iPhone RingToneMaker
- one of several unauthorised programs allowing users to customise their own ringtones
Blackjack - first unauthorised casino game for the iPhone
Voicemail button - allows users to reinstall voicemail functionality for unlocked phones
Global Positioning System - not a feature on authorised phones but a hack exists to add Navizon Virtual GPS
Auto Sync - a program from StandAlone that allows users to automatically update addresses, calendar and bookmarks

"Apple is saying that if you buy the iPhone and unlock it, you could preclude yourself from getting new features. Apple updates might not install properly and you could find that you own a £270 brick," said Ben Wood, director of research firm CCS Insight.
At the launch of the iPhone in the UK, Apple boss Steve Jobs admitted that the firm was engaged in a "game of cat and mouse" with the hackers. He added jokingly: "We're not sure if we are the cat or the mouse."

Unlocking the phone has also created a growing market for unauthorised applications, including wallpaper and ringtones.

Mr Wood said he thought the way Apple was marketing the iPhone had made hacks inevitable.
"It set the challenge that the iPhone was unbreakable and the temptation was too much. A small army of hackers started work on this project as soon as it was launched," he said.

The fact that the iPhone can be bought off the shelf without signing up to a mobile contract, coupled with the decision to launch it with a single operator in the US and the UK, have added to the reasons why hackers are keen to open the platform up, said Mr Wood.

Apple is planning to release its next software update - which will allow users to purchase music from the iTunes store via a button on the iPhone - next week.

It has said it wants to "continuously delight" users with new iPhone features.

Soggy summer boosts UK box office

The dismal weather has contributed to the season's best UK box office numbers in 40 years, according to new figures.

More than 50m cinema visits were made in June to August - a 27% increase on the same period in 2006.

The wettest summer since records began in 1914 and the coldest August boosted indoor entertainment, said the Film Distributors' Association (FDA).

The biggest attractions over the summer were the latest outings from Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean.

'Broad population'

The Simpsons big screen outing took third place, with Shrek The Third and Spider-Man 3 in fourth and fifth.

Transformers, The Bourne Ultimatum, Die Hard 4.0, Ocean's Thirteen and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer made up the bottom half of the top 10.

Foreign language films also performed well at the UK box office over the summer, with Germany's The Lives of Others, France's Tell No One and La Vie En Rose and Hindi language film Partner attracting more than one million admissions each.

A "very broad population" made visits to the cinema in the last three months, according to the FDA.

The organisation's Chief Executive Mark Batey called the summer's box office figures "sensational" and "unprecedented".

"It's thrilling that so many people have enjoyed the uniquely immersive, high quality experience of the cinema this summer," he added.

Phil Spector jury fails to decide

The jury in the murder trial of music producer Phil Spector has been sent home after failing to reach a verdict.

The judge in Los Angeles has declared a mistrial. Prosecutors have said they will seek a new trial.

Mr Spector faces between 15 years and life imprisonment if found guilty of murdering actress Lana Clarkson at his home in 2003.

He has pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, and his lawyers have argued that it was a case of suicide.


The jury had been deliberating since 10 September in a trial that lasted more than four months.

The jurors said they were split 10 to two - but it was not clear which way they were leaning.

The jury had already announced once that it had failed to come to a unanimous decision, on 18 September, when the panel was split seven to five.

Second degree murder falls between first degree murder, which requires proof of pre-meditation, and manslaughter.

Ms Clarkson, 40, had been working as a hostess at the House of Blues venue in Los Angeles, where she met Spector on the night of her death.

The actress accompanied Mr Spector to his home in the early hours of the morning but was later found in his foyer after having been shot in the mouth.

A holster matching the snub-nosed Colt Cobra revolver that killed Ms Clarkson was found in a drawer in the foyer.


Ms Clarkson had been working at the nightclub after struggling to find acting roles, and the trial had heard how she was despondent about her career in the months before her death.

Mr Spector's Brazilian chauffeur Adriano De Souza said at the trial that he heard a "pow" at about 5am. His boss emerged from the house several minutes later and told him: "I think I killed somebody," the driver testified.

But less than 24 hours after the shooting, Mr De Souza was asked by police if he could recall Mr Spector's exact words. "I think so. I think, I'm not sure. It's my English," he said.

One of the crucial questions is whether the forensic evidence proves Mr Spector was close enough to the victim to have been able to shoot her in the mouth.

Mr Spector's lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden told jurors the absence of gunshot residue and blood from his sleeves showed he had not fired the fatal shot.

The judge set a hearing to decide how the case will now proceed on 3 October.

Mr Spector has worked with some of the biggest names in the music business, including the Beatles, and is famous for pioneering the "Wall of Sound" recording technique in the 1960s.

US to review Iraq security firms

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a review of the way private security firms operate in Iraq and the oversight given by the US military.

The move follows an incident earlier this month involving US security firm Blackwater, in which 11 Iraqis died.

The Iraqi government reacted by briefly suspending the firm, and drafting new laws regulating private security.

A Pentagon spokesman said Mr Gates had "real concerns" and wanted to ensure contractors worked within US rules.

About 7,000 private security contractors work for the Pentagon in Iraq.

The US state department also employs three separate security firms to protect diplomats and important sites within Iraq.

'Means and resources'

Addressing the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Mr Gates said that his concern was "whether there has been sufficient accountability and oversight" of contractors.

He said the Pentagon had sufficient legal authority to oversee private security firms but that the issue was whether commanders on the ground had sufficient "means and resources" to exercise those powers.

The defence secretary was giving testimony to Congress as he requested $190bn (£94bn) in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008.

Mr Gates on Sunday sent a five-person fact-finding team to Iraq to examine the issue of private security contractors more closely.

A US-Iraqi panel is already investigating the shooting, which provoked widespread anger in Iraq and prompted the Iraqi government to order a temporary halt to Blackwater's operations in the country.

Blackwater USA has said its guards reacted lawfully to an attack on a US diplomatic convoy.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says that while the incident involving Blackwater is at the centre of inquiries, the intervention of Mr Gates suggests that concerns may go much further.

'Clear rules'

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Mr Gates had already begun asking questions about private contractors in Iraq and the answers relating to oversight had "not been satisfactory".

"He is looking for ways to make sure we... do a better job on that front," he told reporters.

Mr Gates' deputy, Gordon England, has issued a memo to US commanders, warning them they that are responsible for overseeing contractors.

The Pentagon wants to ensure "that the means we have to enforce contracts or enforce the rules are abundantly clear to commanders", he said.

The memo is also intended to make sure the military has the resources in place "to make sure they hold people accountable for any misdeeds", he added.

The contractors are currently granted immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law by Order 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority - the now-defunct interim body set up by the US-led coalition in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The agreement was extended shortly before the CPA was disbanded in June 2004.