White is the synergy of all colours; it is both sensual and sublime. While ancient Indian theatre used white as the colour of fame, laughter and glory, during festivals such as Holi, white becomes the base to absorb other hues. We talk to artists and designers on how they have interpreted white in their creations.
“It’s the image of Rekha, wearing a pristine white churidaar kurta, which comes to my mind when I think of Holi,” says designer Aneeth Arora of the label Pero. Pero has made a name for itself for its organic design sensibility and also for primarily working with white as the base colour.
“Even though Holi is known for colours, white is the core of it. We need the white to accentuate and bring out the other colours. It’s a perfect enhancer, when you play with red, yellow or green. The neutrality of white helps in this,” adds Arora, whose upcoming collection also has a lot of white in it. Speaking on the romance of white on Holi in Bollywood, Arora says, “Films are inspired by our daily lives.
This idea of wearing white in every Holi song in Hindi films is a reflection of our streets. In Varanasi and in parts of Bihar, you wear white in the evening to play dry holi, just with gulal.” She adds, “Holi is also the time when we unpack our clothes and in our hot climate, white is a dominant colour.”
“Seven colours come together to make white light, so white is actually one shade that perhaps represents all these colours,” says veteran artist Madhvi Parekh. “In Gujarat, we wear black when someone dies, but in northern India, it’s white. There was a time in the late ’80s and in the early ’90s that I did a lot of work in black, leaving the background blank; black looks best against white,” she adds. Parekh says her own trajectory was influenced by some of the works of artists such as Joan Miro and Henri Matisse, where they had used black against white. “It’s also a colour that Bhupen (Khakhar) taught me to use when we had difficulty while painting. He taught me how to paint a layer of white on top and do it again. The colours would be brighter against a white background,” she says.
Rta Kapur Chishti
Author and Design Developer
“White was the colour of India. Given the warm to hot climes through the year, white was the base colour for fabric until chemical dyes became easily available,” says Rta Kapur Chishti, author and design developer, adding, “There were shades of vermillion and brown when one burned raw haldi, so clothes usually had a palate of white, black, turmeric yellow and red in its various shades.” She says, “Wedding saris were white, dipped or sprinkled in kumkum or turmeric for auspicious reasons, thereafter washed and worn as everyday saris.” She adds that in the exhibition “A Search In Five Directions” (at Crafts Museum in Delhi), one of Martand Singh’s favourite quotes from the Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottra Purana has been put up at the entrance hall: “There are infinite number of whites… white of the jasmine flower, white of the sea foam, white of the august moon, white of the conch shell, white of the clouds emptied of rain.”
“White is a colour of purity, but there are also elements of sensuality in it. Whenever I think of white and sensuality, I think of Rekha in Umrao Jaan, wearing that white anarkali, and her hands painted red with alta. That slight hint of red sets off the pure white and gives it a sensual undertone,” says designer Meera Ali of the House of Kotwara. The label, which Meera runs with her filmmaker husband, Muzaffar, is synonymous with white. Their opulent white creations use a lot of white-on-white thread embroidery.
“The festival of Holi has a lot of fun and frolic elements, but there is a sensual undertone to it, which I think is enhanced by wearing white,” she adds. “In the summer, one can never go wrong with white. There’s a widespread acceptability of the colour, and now even brides are wearing it on their wedding day,” says Ali. For summer, Ali suggests choosing a fabric that has a good flow. “A white fabric that has a good flow and fall will enhance your comfort. Also simple white on white chikan embroidery will enhance the glamour quotient,” she says. express features service