The cover-up at Cannes


The cover-up at Cannes

Battle of the saris, shall we call it?

Whether we like some or not, the sari is obviously the busiest Indian hero at the ongoing 66th Cannes Film Festival. That too, mostly directed by Sabyasachi Mukherjee. And it’s exerting considerable peer pressure. Even five years back, the game was largely about one upmanship in Elie Saab or Armani gowns. But today, the sari’s tidal wave has flooded every personality type from fashionista Sonam Kapoor to Lunchbox actor Nimrit Kaur, even the otherwise Bohemian looking director Zoya Akhtar who turned up in a Manish Malhotra sari for the screening of Bombay Talkies, looking like a curious misfit.

Dubbed the Behenji Garment of the post liberalization years, the sari has returned like a woman scorned. Good fun. It’s the only clear if loud instance of ethnic dressing in an otherwise homogenous world of gowns and dresses.

When we interviewed Sabyasachi and Vidya Balan before the latter set out for Cannes with her 30 odd sets, the designer had told us that he had been impressed by Nandita Das’s saris when she was on the Cannes jury in 2005. “I kept that look in mind while planning for Vidya,” he had said. But when you watch them both, Das seems to have scored an original point over Balan by wearing her own saris instead of designer creations. “Nandita’s simplicity and realism are her strengths and had to be maintained. If she felt like wearing her personal Patola saris and vintage heirloom jewellery, we went with that,” agrees Nisha Kundnani, her stylist for Cannes.

The sari is the fat headline alright but not the full story because there is a post script asking for attention. I would call it “Thank you but no thank you to sexy dressing, we are Indians”. Whether it is the cloistered floor length Anarkalis (Balan in Sabyasachi and Aishwarya Rai in Abu-Sandeep), or full-sleeved blouses (Balan and Aishwarya both Sabyasachi and Kapoor in Anamika Khanna), most Indian ladies out there seem happy covering up. Matronly instead of diva-like.

Many of Aishwarya’s choices—barring the arms she bared in an Elie Saab gown–could be attributed to her still far-from-slim figure and Balan’s to Sabyasachi’s notions of retro India but whatever happened to sexy Indian wear? Are sari blouses and Anarkalis inherently ordained to be stuffy garments that totally zip up women’s bodies? If Kapoor, Freida Pinto and Mallika Sherawat (the latter is unlikely to enter any style chart anywhere in the world), are allowing their skin to breathe a bit, it’s primarily in non-Indian silhouettes. What a black and white world!

Or, is “covered the new sexy” from India?