Hair India presents what can arguably be called the uglier side of the beauty industry. Directed by Raffaele Brunetti and Marco Leopardi, the film shows the extreme differences between India’s richest and poorest, and the roles both play in the obtaining and selling of one of the most popular recent accessories: hair extensions.
The film follows a young girl named Gita and her family living in West Bengal. Having no other material possessions to donate to their temple, they plan on collectively shaving their heads and sacrificing their hair, a common ritual where they live. In a culture where a woman’s beauty is so highly regarded, the act of giving up one’s hair is not a simple decision. Meanwhile in Bombay we meet Sangeeta (pictured above), the editor of a gossip magazine who busies herself with such tasks like finding a professional palm reader to dish on the personal lives of major Indian celebrities. While looking for a new hairstyle before a huge party, Sangeeta turns to hair extensions.
Between following the lives of these two women, the documentary observes how the temple sells the hair to a company in Italy called Great Lengths, who then bleaches, colours, and sorts the hair and turns them into extensions, sold around the world. They are a hot commodity coveted by the rich, from celebrities in Hollywood to Sangeeta and her peers.
The film does suggest that there is an injustice being committed, but it is hard to pinpoint who exactly the culprit is. There are the temples who sell the hair without the consent of the donating parties, but if all the money goes back to charitable events, can it really be inferred that the temples have dishonourable intentions? It seemed clear that Sangeeta, the glamorous magazine editor with an obsession for celebrity culture and makeup, was seen as silly and shallow – after all, the audience at the screening I went to laughed when she said she hoped her new extensions would make her look like Shakira. Shots of Gita and her family living in near poverty accompanied by melancholic music are interspersed with scenes of Sangeeta at high profile events wearing designer dresses, yet I still find it hard to vilify her as a bad guy of Disney proportions – after all, she is a woman trying to find success in a society that, although different from our own, still places great significance on a woman’s physical beauty (as emphasized by the great pains it took for Gita to eventually donate her hair). Could it be possible that Sangeeta herself is just a different sort of victim, falling prey to a sexist and shallow culture and merely ignorant to the conditions under which the hair extensions were made?
In a post-screening interview with the filmmakers, they explained that their job in creating this documentary was not to give all the answers, but rather to ask the relevant questions. In that respect, their film was successful. Hair India does a good job of displaying the relevant information so that, even if the film doesn’t solve any problems itself, it certainly raises awareness of the issue.
- Anna Fitz