Shabana Azmi tweeted two vintage images of herself, Smita Patil and Shyam Benegal in Cannes, in 1976. Attired in cotton saris, bindis and simple jewellery, the caption read: “Film was important, not the clothes!” Point noted. It’s been years now that the focus is so much on the deluge of shimmering gowns at Cannes, that the pomp and finery of the red carpet completely eclipses the films. In the sea of tulle and gauze, it’s difficult to tell one year from another at Cannes and indeed, you begin to wonder if there is such a thing as fashion at all or just more of the same grandeur.
The quiet elegance of these Indian actors of the ’70s harks back to a time when substance trumped style and the intimacy of good cinema transcended language and gowns. Those days a film festival was a festival of movies, not a quasi-fashion week. Azmi and Patil’s guilelessness when it came to red carpet etiquette seems quaintly noble, compared to the circus-like aspect today, and the stress actors must endure to just expertly jut out a leg. It is worth noting that in the Indian media, there’s been virtually no reference to the filmmakers and the contenders for the Palm D’Or, the game at Cannes has changed so completely.
For the current crop of Instagram actors, originality and wildness has to be carefully constructed. The look is so thought through for a million retweets, that an actor dressed demurely looks like she’s making a statement. European and American actors, more familiar with the scrutiny of red carpets, occasionally, boldly retaliate: Marion Cotillard looked ethereal in a pair of structured jeans and a long white tunic. Kristen Stewart’s sleek short haircut radiated edgy sophistication, rendering the outfit immaterial. Which is why it is perplexing, that after so many years of being regulars, the Indian pair of Sonam Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan still prefer being conservatively pretty: dolls in ice blue and salmon pink, content to follow in the tradition of Elie Saab and Dior, when they have a platform to become beacons of original glamour. But for that, they would have to be confident enough to be themselves.