Need a Sui Dhaaga…

Need a Sui Dhaaga…

…to sew the gap between fashion and unfashion. Why the central theme of Sui Dhaaga: Made in India needs darning

An important film with some touching moments and a bunch of excellent performances ironically does narrative injustice to two extremes sides of the same coin—fashion and unfashion.

Released this week, the YRF Film Sui Dhaaga: Made in India directed by Sharat Katariya takes the long awaited flashlight to a skilled, small town tailor. One who literally alters his destiny on a sewing machine.

In terms of storytelling tools for anyone interested in what’s happening inside and outside Indian fashion, this film has a lot. Usha Silai machines to begin with, that in some of our middle class memories would stand out as sturdily as Bajaj scooters in the story of Made in Bharat. Add to it the synthetic Surat polyester-printed saris worn by Mamta (Anushka Sharma), that define the daily wear of Indian masses, even those who stitch fashion garments. Or, the employment struggles of a deft karigar who can sew magic on a machine. Then there is the Raymond Fashion Fund and the rightly chosen Shanker Market, the middle class consumer’s best bid on the periphery of Delhi’s Connaught Place where Mauji’s days of struggle are chronicled.

Markers aside, there are two hero aspects in the film’s theme.

One of these is an innovative hospital gown stitched with emotion and overused household fabrics by married couple Mauji (Varun Dhawan) and Mamta to make a utility piece. It should be held up as an example of functional clothing. It is a make do and mend patchwork of used fabrics showing how “sustainable” Indian household materials are. Additionally, its makers use a hand-block to create nice, block printed patterns (in Indigo blue); it has pockets, touch buttons and cut outs to accommodate tubes that run in and out of a patient’s body. Fabulously, it is called a “maxi”, that in Indian villages is often referred to as the “nightie” and is notorious as the savior of many a hardworking housewife hassled by the folds of a sari as it is used to accuse its wearers of being “forward”.

In Sui Dhaaga, the fond maxi is modelled with brimming pride and loveable innocence by Mauji’s heart patient mother whose sari makes her life as a hospital patient cumbersome. Soon, everyone in the ward wants a maxi and it becomes the site of fight between the fashion types and its poor innovators. Maxi versus the sari. Tailored garment versus a drape. Them versus us. Fashion versus unfashion. How I loved it.



Actors Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma play Mauji and Mamta in Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

The other fact that stays taut and unrelenting, held up with cribbing stubbornness by Raghubir Yadav’s character—he plays the father of the eager tailor Mauji—is the lack of confidence the family shows in a “fashion and garment” business. That lack of hope, let’s accept as a grim reminder is what meets many a debut designer, emerging artist, tailor, conceptual fabric maker or weaver in this day and age. Despite the obvious success and thundering presence of the fashion industry as a promising career option, and the significant outreach by parts of the fashion industry to involve karigars for mutually beneficial and credit sharing work, families still don’t want their children to be “tailors”. So it is revelatory to be reminded that even tailor families don’t want their children to be “designers”.

The fashion industry in Sui Dhaaga is shown hungover with power and poor ideas but is redeemed by the unconventional decisions of forward thinking juries. The designs of an urban, “America-returned” designer fail to make a mark. Whereas the karigar-tailors whose lives have ostensibly been changed by a sewing machine are shown as people with brilliant work commitment. Both sides walk the fashion fund ramp.

Incidentally both make really bad, desperately overdesigned clothes and it is cringing to think this is what “fashion” means for the optics. So the competition in the film is not about clothes you see, it’s about justice and fairness. That’s where the film becomes unfair to its protagonist—the life of a tailor aspiring for a clothing business. It suggests that you can make bad clothes and get away if you have a bleeding heart story.

But fashion doesn’t work that way. It sells and swells as a business as a function of relevant and impactful design. Persistence, grit and funding matter of course, but the fundamentals of fashion design are not synonymous with moral goodness.

Fashioning Cinema is a series that studies intersections between fashion and film

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