Updated: May 19, 2022 8:03:36 am
At Cannes, the mecca of cinema, the Indian film fraternity — actors, producers, directors, film critics, even politicians — checks in annually with a zeal, pride and politesse for fellow colleagues and countrymen that’s often missing in spaces back home (where their presence, in body and mind, would truly matter). It seems that if not seen on the French Riviera, the very purpose of the lives of these luminaries would come to a naught.
This year, the celebration are many splendoured — as will be the bling on display. It is great that Deepika Padukone is a jury member, sharing the pedestal with a fallen hero, a director who has been accused of plagiarism. She, however, is not the first Indian female actor to be on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary – just like her country that is being honoured at the festival’s marketplace, the Marche du Film. What greater joy can there be than a joint celebration? Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, after all.
This is India’s moment in the sun, and our showstopper there, Padukone, is a truly international personality. A model for many brands – being a Louis Vuitton ambassador is no mean feat – here was a chance to represent Brand India in all its glory. Alas! Her go-to designer is one whose USP is dressing up rich and famous brides. Sure, she was gorgeous in her retro look. But that was just her, not the sari. Let’s give it to designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, his outfit for her press conference — the tropical lime-green trousers, jaunty shirt, and headband — was excellent.
But the sequinned-sari look on the Red Carpet: Didn’t Sabyasachi design a similar blue-sequinned sari look for the promos of Padukone’s film Chhapaak (2020)? Sabyasachi says: “The sari is a story I will never stop telling… it has its place.” Coverage of her Cannes sari says it’s the “Royal Bengal Tiger look”. There’s something sexual about animal prints. Doesn’t that make the woman wearing it, a sexualised object, dressed/designed in a man’s vision? Why did Padukone agree to that? This isn’t a fancy-dress competition.
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Why can’t India’s Cannes story weave the indigenous into its many folds? “Celebrated heritage Indian crafts and techniques through a modern lens,” is what Sabyasachi says about the sari in question. Padukone may carry contemporary looks far better than the traditional, but she could definitely pull off a handloom sari with élan. Why make her look like a thaan, wrapped in metres of unstitched cloth? Or worse, sofa upholstery.
She, of course, wasn’t making a political statement like Riz Ahmed did at the recent Gilded-Age-themed Met Gala. But why be coy? In her Western-appealing designs by Sabyasachi, the aesthetic belongs to an India that doesn’t speak to the other. The colour-coding of gold and black is nothing ingenious. The hues take off from the Cannes festival logo — the palme d’or (golden palm) against a black backdrop. And while black and gold aren’t a design aesthetic exclusive to the rich and famous, it has a socioeconomic story of its own, if anyone cares to peel off the shimmer and take note. It belongs to the nouveau riche. West/East Delhi’s showrooms and living rooms hold proof. On display are curtains and sofa upholstery, in similar stripes and shades — at which, some of us have, at some point or the other, turned up our noses. And, so, when former photojournalist-turned-author Farah Bashir posted a picture of herself seated on her black-and-gold-striped couch on Instagram, I felt heard/seen.
But really, this feels like a missed opportunity. Padukone could have led by example. Like Bangladesh’s Azmeri Haque Badhon did last year, when her film Rehana Maryam Noor was in competition (Un Certain Regard) at Cannes. She wore a slice of her home on her being: A beige-olive, half-silk Dhakai Jamdani sari with gold threadwork. A sari “true to my roots”, which “speaks of our heritage”, as per the actor. Last year, Bangladesh was celebrating 50 years of its liberation. Badhon’s film was the first Bangladeshi film ever to bag a slot in the festival’s main competition. A sari isn’t just a piece of clothing — it has its place, to use Sabyasachi’s words. It has many stories, many histories in its folds; it links us spatio-temporally to our roots and ancestors. Handloom-weaving, like indigenous languages and oral traditions, are passed down through generations. If we don’t preserve and celebrate them — and what better stage for this than a global festival like Cannes — then what country are we really celebrating?
If the Rajasthani folk singer Mame Khan walked the Red Carpet for the first time, if Indian food, music and movies are being celebrated, why not its handloom? Every state of India boasts of a handful of unique handloom styles. What Badhon did at Cannes — through that one symbol, the world spoke to the age-old, impoverished, Jamdani weavers who have kept the tradition alive — Padukone couldn’t. But picture, aur festival, abhi baaki hai. There’s still a week to go. Let’s hope Sabyasachi will surprise his critics.
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