Cannes The Sari


Cannes the Sari

With Western haute couture as choice for Bollywood celebrities at Cannes this year,it is clear that though Indians are in vogue,Indian fashion isn’t

If a typical What’s-In,What’s-Out Excel sheet must be made for Bollywood fashion at Cannes,it would say: bare shoulders,nude-gold make-up,haute couture global designer gowns,fussed up hair worn high,black nail polish and statement jewellery are in. Whereas the modern-Indian sari (like the one designed by Rohit Bal and worn by Deepika Padukone last year) and ethnic Indian accessories are out. “Shrink the words,” says my editor. “Sonam’s in,Aishwarya is out,” I venture. “Come on,” he argues,“that’s obvious,try something else”. “Sir,the sari is actually out,” I blabber.

Transparency is in. Take Mallika Sherawat’s see-through Eric Tibusch couture gown. Diplomacy is out. Sonam Kapoor’s,“I will wear what I find comfortable,” stance was folded up to make space for the edgy,sharply structured Jean Paul Gaultier gown. A few extra kilos are in if you go by Aishwarya Rai,who was in a “two-sizes-too-small” blue-and-white Armani Prive. Poor PR is out — take our ignored Iago,Saif Ali Khan,in a comic-bookish Tom Ford tuxedo,and blink-and-miss Minissha Lamba,despite looking rather nice in a flesh-toned gown.

The India statement at Cannes was clear. We have arrived on the global red carpet but there are bigger statements being made beyond Aishwarya’s plump posturing and Mallika Sherawat’s see-through couture. Mallika wants to bare it all,say it all,have it all. Aishwarya,who has never been able to make up her mind about her global-Indian personality,has gone from a parrot-green Neeta Lulla sari she wore 10 years ago to an Armani Prive gown this year. Whether it suits her or not,she seems to be saying she’d rather be like her global counterparts at Cannes,than be herself— a mature woman who should now dress differently.

On the other hand,Sonam’s diaphanous Gaultier creation,and Minissha Lamba’s Gauri-Nainika gown,stand for allusion in fashion. In couture,net and mesh fabrics,and flesh tones are used to divide the body into different optic fields. Such garments hide some parts of the body and reveal some. Unlike clothes that bare the body,gossamer clothes only hint. For first-timers,Kapoor and Lamba,both the fabrics and colours were fabulous choices.

When you add this all up,India seems to be responding to the global interest in it by cloning the Western look and serving it back. We aren’t talking “India” at Cannes,we are announcing sponsorship success and collaborations with international hair and make-up brands. It may be about us; but it is really about them,willingly spurred by a media overdrive. As if in a conspiracy,everyone is celebrating the fact that the India statement at Cannes this year is largely about appearances,so what if it is not about cinema. By the same argument,it seems Indian fashion isn’t about Rohit Bal,Tarun Tahiliani or Anamika Khanna,it is about a luxury youth-quake,where the young Sonam,the older Aishwarya and the 40-plus Saif want to look like photocopies of global celebrities.

Last year,when Padukone wore a Rohit Bal at Cannes,we went into a sari-versus-gown frenzy saying that the sari’s versatility overtook that of the gown. But this time,when the largest contingent of Indian stars is at Cannes,taken there by liquor and make-up sponsors,the inside agreements on the “look” have quelled the sari’s resurgence. Chivas,Seagram and L’Oreal want to promote India,but on their own terms,not in veils,nose pins and lehengas. Our celebs are only too happy to acquire style power by toeing the line. They are the converted; they don’t need much preaching.

In 2009,when Freida Pinto walked the Oscar red carpet in a blue John Galliano gown,after Slumdog Millionaire’s success,one of India’s top designers called me to say why didn’t the fashion critics pan her? “If our own stars won’t wear Indian designers,who will?” she lamented. Nobody listened to her. Even fashion magazines don’t put the “Indian- looking- Indian- garment” on their covers. It is too ethnic for their global advertisers. The same fashion politics is being played out at Cannes.

While I completely agree that a Kanjeevaram sari,with a gold nose pin and fresh flowers is a boring way to look Indian on a global red carpet,I do want to ask,what’s wrong with Indian haute couture garments in Western silhouettes that are made in India? Why don’t they make the cut for Bollywood divas? Is there a quality quotient they are squeamish about discussing? Aren’t they designed well enough or do they lack the finish of an Armani or a Lanvin? Maybe all of these. Or is it that no Bollywood diva has enough cinematic success in India or at Cannes to walk away with a personalised fashion statement?

By the time we went to press,designer Sabyasachi had still to walk the Cannes red carpet with model Kanishtha. “Fashion is about an individual voice,” he said over the phone,“If clothes can’t help us announce who we are and where we come from,what’s the point?”