It’s Not Just Mindy Kaling’s Diwali Lehnga

It’s Not Just Mindy Kaling’s Diwali Lehnga

Indian couture worn by international celebs, NRIs and not-so-famous foreigners is usually blingy and bizarrely overstyled. In Jalebi Baby mode all the time. What’s going on? 

Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ much Instagrammed Diwali bash at her new Los Angeles home with long marigold strings and blooming white flowers encircling a rangoli was a study in striking contrasts. In terms of personal style that is. One created by Chopra and her team of stylists and makeup artists—the dazzlingly glamorous diva effusively celebrating an Indian festival. In an embroidered white lehnga set by Falguni Shane Peacock, then a yellow Dhakai sari holding an arti thali with her husband Nick Jonas. And yet again in an Arpita Mehta floral lehnga ensemble.


Photo: Instagram/Priyankachopra

Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas.

Another portrait came to life at the same party, of her phoren friends and guests celebrating India in similar attire. If Chopra’s style spoke of a crackling relationship between culture and style, her friends, including actors Mindy Kaling (also in Falguni Shane Peacock), Richa Moorjani (of the Netflix series Never Have I Ever), lawyer and author Meena Harris and model Chrissy Teigen among others were overstyled and blingy. Kaling posted another photograph on her Instagram handle in a yellow Papa Don’t Preach outfit, perhaps unwittingly but aptly captioned “Diwali fashion week continues”. Mr Diva, Nick Jonas’ red floral kurta pyjama with a black bandi, a string of white flowers around his neck in one of the couple’s photographic diaries too was more costume-y than fashionable.

This toss between “filmi” and fashionable is peculiarly bizarre in the way Indian occasion wear is chosen and worn by most of its global customers.


Photo: Instagram/Richamoorjani

Richa Moorjani.

Cut to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Falguni Shane Peacock lehnga seen in photos released last month from And Just Like That. Some will argue that Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw could carry off the mauve and purple flowers on her salt and pepper braid with the chequered blouse and heavily embroidered lehnga, and make it “fashion”. But the big story is cut from the same cloth. If it is Indian, it must be over embellished, multi-coloured and worn with dripping maangtikas. Little-bit-of-everything-on-them-saris, dupattas with large flowers, blouses held up by golden strings, colours dipped in cassata mixes or in screaming contrasts.


Photo: Instagram/Falgunipeacock

Sarah Jessica Parker in an ensemble by designer duo Falguni Shane Peacock.

The super hit Hindi-English song Jalebi Baby produced by Canadian rapper Tesher and performed by him along with Jason Derulo, released earlier this year, gives dancing shoes to this stereotype. Men in brocade sherwanis with large motifs, decked in multiple chains around their necks and women in golden fabric as if their lives depend on the shine quotient, stand for Indian wear. Even if it is a spoof (and it is likely not), what does it really say? Who is being mocked and spoofed here?


Photo: Instagram/tesherrr

Tesher and Jason Derulo during the making of the ‘Jalebi Baby’ video.

For more instances, check out the Diwali posts of Los Angeles based Indian clothing and bridalwear studio Kynah on Instagram. Not surprisingly, Richa Moorjani’s sari for the Chopra-Jonas Diwali party came from here and was called Confetti from the Sky. Designers aiming to nail the NRI market seem to be deliberately creating clutter with the tools of Indian couture.

This “trend”—if that’s which this garish Indian fashion must be called—spills over from Canada to California and London, Punjab always in tow. It influences a majority of NRIs or India-admiring foreigners who post lavishly dressed images on social media, doused in the exotic instead of the evolving. Neither museum worthy, nor from the department of the “new”. Ironically, despite stylist interventions (at least for celebrities), most of these outings lack the seductive sepia style touches of the past, with delicate lace, net, subtly embroidered blouses, brocade facings on sari borders and kundan-meenakari jewellery. On the other hand, their newness is fragmentary—cropped blouses, bralette tops with lehngas or strappy kurtas worn with pants and palazzos. But the axis, the very fabric, the brocade colours, the drawing board is same old, same gold.

What about Bollywood Inspired Fashion?

Back in India, we are constantly reminded that Bollywood is synonymous with Indian fashion in the eye of the global consumer. That’s why, goes that reasoning, couturiers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Manish Malhotra, Anita Dongre, Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla and Tarun Tahiliani among others, who have dressed film actors for their weddings, their shaadi and occasion wear featured even by fashion glossies across the world—have “more” potential for businesses abroad. The simple deduction here is that this kind of couture has a clearly identifiable market in the West.


Anushka Sharma in a still from ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’.

Yet if Bollywood and fashion indeed have this incestuous connect, why does the global wearer of Indian couture miss the exciting sexiness of clothes in films like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Veere Di Wedding, Rockstar, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, A Suitable Boy on Netflix or some episodes from Made in Heaven to name some? Bareilly Ki Barfi, in fact, served bling quite delectably.

But backed against the same old wall, global desi couture defies evolution in the occasion wear segment. It resists “unconventional” or “new” sophistication as in the work of designers like Anamika Khanna, Amit Aggarwal and Gaurav Gupta for instance.

Dear Indian Couturiers…

Does it then make sense for India’s couturiers taking their business abroad with highly valued corporate investments to strategically create occasion wear for the global customer outside the formula of Bollywood-Punjab-Banaras-Phoolpatti moodboards? Promote clothes that stamp out existing stereotypes in silhouette, colour and fabrics with styling ideas (minus maang tikkas) that sharpen cultural differences instead of similarities. Naomi Campbell in a white Manish Malhotra sari with a Ganga-Jamuna border for a private party in Rajasthan almost 10 years back, Joe Jonas in an Abu-Sandeep kurta set in the run up functions to the Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas Jodhpur wedding in 2018 or Ivanka Trump in an off white Anita Dongre sherwani for Donald Trump’s India visit in 2019 are some outstanding instances where Indian couture looked more global than desi.

“Other” Indian Couture, shall we call it?

Banner: Mindy Kaling and her friends including Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Meena Harris and Lilly Singh at her Diwali party in Los Angeles. Photo: Instagram/Mindykaling