On the loose: Dress up
Despite the election fervour last week, it was hard to miss the image of Aishwarya Rai shining like a headlight in molten gold at Cannes. In her first appearance at the film festival this year, Rai was in a metallic mermaid gown by Jean Louis Sabaji. It had a stiff, high shouldered sleeve, a plunging neckline and a long trail of jagged edges. The general consensus among fashion observers was that this futuristic outfit, while a welcome departure for Rai who’s played it safe in doll like gowns in the past, didn’t do anything for her. For anyone exasperated by this scrutiny of red carpet fashion (who-cares-who’s-wearing-what) it matters because A, we’re tired of talking about Modi. And B, chances are a version of that gown will be knocked off and integrated into a Zara collection in a week — affecting all our lives. And not in a good way.
It’s hard to say exactly when the red carpet began overshadowing the event itself; it’s right about when the audience started losing interest in long drawn-out award shows, and movie halls began losing people to Netflix and Amazon Prime. For the current crop of Instagram actors, there is always a possibility that a carefully constructed image might catapult you out of mere Internet fame, so yes, fashion here is a very serious business. The red carpet is a carefully cultivated marketing tool, a terrific opportunity for self promotion, creating endless conversations on social media whether what we’re seeing is an expression of (inexplicable) personal style, or something else entirely (which explains the liquid gold). The fact is that Rai’s look has most likely been created by a global brand, she would’ve had little choice but to wear it, having yielded long ago to a mutually beneficial financial relationship (the rare pitfall being a terrible dress that accentuates all your worst features).
India’s other actors didn’t fare much better. Designer Wendell Rodricks called out Deepika Padukone’s synthetic looking Barbie pink gown on Instagram and urged her to sack her stylist. Rohit Bal posed a question on Facebook, whether those who get the opportunity to represent India on a global platform should consider wearing outfits that showcase our ancient textiles and heritage. While there is something intrinsically wrong about anyone being made to feel it’s incumbent upon them to be the torchbearers of Indian culture, Bal may be onto something when he points out, why take coals to New Castle? It is worth noting that Kangana Ranaut’s plain Kanjeevaram sari, accessorised with a corset by Falguni and Shane Peacock was easily the best ensemble of all put out by the Indian contingent at Cannes 2019. Not because it represents national pride or any such notion, but because Ranaut completely stood out in a sea of tulle and gauze.
Like her or not, Ranaut always appears to exert more control over her fashion choices, specifically by ignoring the conventional over-the-top absurdities favoured by her contemporaries. Originality is hard to define in a space where itsy bitsy flesh covering scraps are offset by outrageous feathers and shimmering trails. Yet, that’s essentially why we, the audience, like to ogle a parade like Cannes. There’s something comforting about seeing people look ridiculously awful especially when they’ve tried so hard to look perfectly fancy.
In this scenario, a reverse, sartorial simplicity is akin to asserting independence. Ancient though a sari might be, here, it feels like the start of something new.