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Clothes and a crisis of confidence

Paromita VohraI’ll admit it right off I love clothes. When I moved into my new flat, I had no money for furniture and woodwork, but I did spend time and money designing an ideal closet and over the years, the smooth slide out of long shelves where my clothes are arranged by category and colour, never fails to cheer me up. What can I say? (I know. Nothing).

I confess to also loving newspaper columns and blogs which analyse celebrity style - they are catty and witty and possibly the only writing in most general newspapers with some verve and humour. But despite this frivolous tendency, I have never been able to understand this business of what Hindi film industry people are wearing to Cannes.


Illustration/ Amit Bandre

The fixation on everyone from Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to Mallika Sherawat to Amitabh Bachchan and now Vidya Balan and back to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan this year brings to mind all those Georgette Heyer novels I devoured as a 13-year-old. The characters in these novels were always going to balls and coming-out parties. There would be a great deal of anxiety about who was invited and who wasn’t.

There would be luscious descriptions of the chintz gowns and tulle trains, the non-Pareilles and the Arabellas. There would be shock that someone from the social margins had appeared at one of these balls wearing something clearly inexpensive, not in the latest style because they had money but no clue (the equivalent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s suit being criticised); there would be bitchy whispers if a woman was dressed too outrageously. Most of all, there would be distasteful tolerance of the bumbling and sometimes obnoxious, sometimes good-hearted nouveau riche entrants who tried to enter the social set, trailing cash.

Both, the movie industry and the media are behaving quite like ladies and gents of the London season in a Heyer novel. And that’s not surprising, even if it is embarrassing, since this isn’t about clothes or films, but really about the social ritual of identity and snobbery, money and status, in much the way of the Regency era - the stress on beauty and fashion, the pampered brats of the rich, the stratification of society which the nouveau riche nibbled at with a craven bravado, the tremendous squalor that lay under the visible wealth.

Right now, there seems to be such concern about how our stars are letting us down by not dressing right because it will expose us as the nouveau riche of the world. Hey, big deal. Each edition of Cannes brings out the neurotic paralysis of our commercial industry through these clothes, which seem to have emerged from some unidentifiable world.

Clearly both, talented designers and beautiful people suffer such a crisis of confidence, such a desire to convey that we are Indian but also know Western culture (because, of course, international is equal to Western), that we’re exotic but also cool and that we’re local but also global.

It’s sad that people who are so beloved in their home country find it so difficult to be themselves - that this love has not given them the confidence to dress with joy rather than with tension. Clothes are simply expressive of how you feel about yourself in the presence of others, about what you enjoy about yourself and so, want to share with others, about liking beautiful things.

I’m sad that someone like Vidya Balan who’s USP is being herself succumbed to this terror and pressure despite all her recent success. How little we must matter to ourselves, eh? That said, really, there was no excuse for Mr B’s funny blue jacket.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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