Game for Gamcha

As a drape or in a tailored form,the humble gamcha a piece of Indian textile gets a new lease of life

Written by VIDYA PRABHU | Published:June 23, 2012 3:28 am

As a drape or in a tailored form,the humble gamcha a piece of Indian textile gets a new lease of life

When Anurag Kashyap screened his ambitious saga Gangs of Wasseypur as part of the Directors’ Fortnight segment at the Cannes film festival,he chose to do it in a very desi style. Given the fact that the film,which releases today,revolves around the coal mafia in Bihar,the filmmaker decided to add to the event a rustic touch. Clad in their finest evening wear,the film’s cast and crew wore a traditional gamcha around their neck. Soon,Kashyap made sure that guests,too,had one each to sport. With this,the humble gamcha — a thin,coarse,traditional cotton towel used widely in the Hindi heartland and eastern states of India — shot into the spotlight at the swish party in Cannes.

It is not the first time that Bollywood has glorifying this piece of chequered cloth. It has been featured on the big screen time and again. Teaming up his leather jacket with a red gamcha,Amitabh Bachchan famously danced to Kajra re in Bunty Aur Babli. In the 1991 movie Hum,he wooed Kimi Katkar with gamcha adding to his roguish charm. Gamcha has been a permanent fixture for rustic characters — be it Aamir Khan in Lagaan or Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan in Karan Arjun.

In the field of fashion,too,gamcha is currently being celebrated and reinvented by many designers. For instance,Bangladeshi designer Bibi Russell has been advocating for years that it should be treated like any other fabric and be used to make napkins,tablecloths,cushion covers and even bed sheets. Closer home,Delhi-based Aneeth Arora,whose label Pero is known for its use of gamcha,points out that she loves it because it is “effortlessly stylish” and is part of our heritage and culture. “Different parts of India have their own take on gamcha. While those in the South have checks and ikat prints,the Assamese versions are white towel cloths with red flowers woven in as motifs and the ones in Rajasthan tend to have coloured edges such as black,red or green,” says Arora. She has used gamcha to make dresses,scarves and aprons for around six different collections over the past three years.

Proud of his long-standing affair with gamcha is veteran designer James Ferriera. “I made my first gamcha collection 14 years ago. From dresses and blouses to shorts,I have worked extensively with the gamcha. Whenever I go to Kolkata,I buy gamchas from the local markets. I love to lounge about in my gamcha shorts,” he says.

Apart from its simplicity,its versatility has added to gamcha’s charm. Designer Paromita Banerjee explored this in her spring summer collection at the Lakme Fashion Week in March. She had used gamcha as a head wrap for models,apart from making dresses,blouses and stoles with it. “An important part of street style in India,gamcha can be worn in different ways either around the neck,on one side of the shoulder or as a scarf. Men in villages also wear it as dhoti,” she explains.

Then there are those whose love for gamcha stems from its practical uses — a case in point being designer duo Mayank Anand and Shraddha Nigam. Anand,a former TV actor,chanced upon a gamcha cloth some years ago during a shoot. He was impressed by the fact that it’s not as thick as Western-style towels and thus,better suited to India’s tropical climate. “It is a very comfortable fabric that absorbs sweat quickly and I started making gamcha trousers for myself. When Shraddha and I got into designing,we moved on to making other silhouettes such as tunics and skirts,” he says.

Notwithstanding its popularity,gamcha still has long way to go before it becomes a fashion staple. Ferreira points out how there’s a greater demand for gamchas abroad than in India. “There’s a chunk of the boutique-browsing clientele here that doesn’t find the gamcha very appealing because it has been known as a poor man’s garment. There is need for greater awareness about the different ways in which gamcha can be worn,” he says.

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