Yes, we Cannes…
Rock the sari and the lengha on the red carpet; as both Vidya Balan and Sonam Kapoor proved
As it happened, I was in Cannes when our media went into overdrive about how the Indian presence at the film festival had turned the red carpet even redder with sheer embarrassment. So, I missed all the stories that basically went along the lines of: “What on earth was she/he (insert name of concerned actress and the designer who dressed her) thinking?”
It was with some bemusement, therefore, that I caught up with all the shock-horror and of course, outrage, on my Twitter feed. Well, I’m sorry guys, but this time I disagree. In fact, I am going to stick my neck out here and say that – some minor reservations aside – I actually loved how Vidya Balan and Sonam Kapoor made their mark in Cannes (alas, I missed Aishwarya Rai; a late arrival this year).
See, here’s the thing about red-carpet dressing. You have about five minutes (ten, if you’re lucky) to make an impact on the international media gathered around. And given that the tapis rouge (just to go all annoyingly French on you) is awash with drop-dead gorgeous women in the most amazing costumes ever, you have to raise the bar to be more than just a blimp on the fashion radar.
So, first up, the key is to be visible. And there is no better way to stand out in a sea of couture gowns than by wearing Indian clothes. There was no missing Vidya Balan in her Sabyasachi wardrobe. She started off in a stark maroon lengha-choli, went on to dazzle in a white, beige and gold sari, and then at the opening, wore a cream lengha-choli, with her head covered with a gauzy dupatta (no, I didn’t get that either; sorry Sabya!).
Sonam Kapoor is so gorgeous that she can carry off both a Dolce and Gabbana couture gown (as she did on her second red-carpet appearance) and the Anamika Khanna white and gold sari she wore for The Great Gatsby premiere, paired with a long metallic coat which subtly referenced the jazz age re-created by the movie. The sari was accessorized with a large, diamante-studded nose-ring; again an attempt to push the fashion envelope. I am not entirely sure that it worked; in my view it would have been a far more subversive choice to pair the nose-ring – what we call a ‘nath’ in these parts – with the couture gown.
But the ‘nath’ was clearly a popular choice (the ‘maang-tikka’ is obviously far too ‘safe’ these days) with the Indian designer duo of Anamika and Sabyasachi. It was back the next day, this time in chunky gold and perched delicately on Vidya Balan’s chiselled nose, as she walked the red carpet in an uncharacteristically low-key number from Sabyasachi, so subtle that it came within a hand-weave of being downright matronly. It is entirely a tribute to Vidya’s expressive face that she managed to pull off the look without straying into headmistress-at-a-school-function territory.
So, did it all work? Well, if you ask me, on the whole it did. Our ladies managed to cut a dash and score with the paparazzi who were grateful to see something other than a floor-length gown with a train. You may quibble about the accessorizing – as many of us did – but there was no denying that our actresses looked absolutely radiant no matter what they wore. And it is a testimony to our self-confidence as a nation that they now have the chutzpah to wear Indian clothes in a Western setting, secure in the knowledge that they can hold their own in a sari.
It may, however, be useful to remember that when it comes to Indian clothes, there is a thin line that separates couture from costume, and costume from caricature. And sometimes that thin line is a nose-ring.