When Indian Actors Aren’t Indian

Bollywood Stars Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, Looking Like No Indian You’ve Ever Met

Bollywood promotes racial hierarchies in their films, often featuring actors who do not resemble the great majority of Indians. This is not news, and really, is not even the fault of Bollywood, which is simply reflecting the (unfortunate) South Asian preference for fair skin and sharp features.

While general wisdom holds that their are many Khans and Punjabis in Bollywood, I have yet to come across any hard figures on the topic. Therefore, I decided to take a closer look at the ethnic makeup of Bollywood’s elite. Ancestral components for each actor were broken into four possible categories, three of which represent ethnic groups which are genetically and culturally distinct from the “General Indian” category, the latter of which comprises over 90% of Indians. See below for details:

  • Indus Ancestry: Representing the Punjabi, Sindhi, and Kashmiri ethnic groups of the Indus Valley.
  • Ashraf Ancestry: Representing those Indian Muslims descended from Middle Eastern and Central Asian conquerors of the past.
  • Foreign Ancestry: Includes those whose ancestry is primarily non-South Asian, such as Europeans, Parsis, and West Asians.
  • General Indian Ancestry: Includes Indian ethnicities which do not fall into the above three groups, representing over 90% of modern Indians.

Actors from the Indus Valley, particularly Punjabis, dominate the Bollywood elite. This is not surprising, given Khatri families like the Kapoors are prevalent in the industry. There are also a sizeable number of Ashrafs, or as they are popularly known, the Khans. Surprisingly (or maybe not), the general Indian category, representing over 90% of all Indians, only accounts for 13.8% of the male Bollywood elite.

While still dramatically lower than may be expected, the share of elite Bollywood actresses who hail from general Indian ancestry is nearly equal to the Indus grouping. There is a lot less Ashraf ancestry among the women compared to the men, but significantly more from Foreign ethnic groups. But wait, there’s more!

While Bollywood Actresses tend to have more general Indian ancestry than their male counterparts, this ancestry is extremely skewed towards Brahmins. Brahmins are the traditional elite of India, often known for being relatively fair skinned in comparison to their neighbors, due to their elevated levels of Eurasian Steppe ancestry from the ancient Aryan Invasion. They comprise between 5–10% of the Indian population on average.

In Closing

Indian actors, with respect to the Bollywood elite, are often not very Indian. They are primarily drawn from ethnic groups that are genetically and culturally distinct from the vast majority of Indians, in a bid to maximize the west Eurasian looks on cinema screens. As these groups constitute less than 10% of India’s population, Bollywood often resorts to casting random white tourists as background extras in their films.

It doesn’t have to be this way obviously, but with beauty standards being what they are across South Asia, this dynamic is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Bollywood Actor Sample Below:

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