Sari, look here please?

19 May,2024 07:03 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Meenakshi Shedde

Every other jury member wore only formal black or white, so I always stood out because of my bright saris

Illustration/Uday Mohite

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Around this time last year, I was on the Jury of the Cannes Film Festival's Semaine de la Critique/Critics' Week, walking the red carpet on Opening Night. It was the crowning glory of my career. All the jury members made an entry together on the red carpet. You are instructed by a minder: "First you look zis side, zhen you go forward and look ze ozer side, zhen you keep moving please." So our jury sort of preened--fabulous German actor Franz Rogowski, French director Audrey Diwan, Portuguese Director of Photography Rui Poças and myself; with Critics' Week's Artistic Director Ava Cahen; jury member Sundance Director of Programming Kim Yutani joined us the next day. We walked up, turned to Side A, when the photographers' bulbs went into a frenzy. "Sari, sari, look left, please!" went up the cries. A little further, we turned to Side B, and again, it was, "Sari, sari, look right, please!" Every other jury member wore only formal black or white, so I always stood out because of my bright saris.

When I tried to take a picture of our jury on my mobile phone, a burly minder immediately stopped me. No photography please, he said. Such meanies! It's like not getting a picture of your shaadi - what's the point if you can't share The Moment afterwards? Here were a gazillion photographers taking pictures of us, but how would I get a picture of us from them later, without a contact? Somehow, I managed to sneak a picture of our jury at the top of the stairs.

A few days later, Critics' Week organised a jury photo shoot at the Plage Nespresso on the Croisette. The photographer placed me, wearing an Eri silk sari, at the centre of the sofa, with all the other jury members around me: Franz Rogowski sat beside me, the others, including Audrey Diwan, the Jury President, behind the sofa. I was embarrassed and suggested she sit in the front centre, but she waved me off: the photographer did it, I suspect, partly because of my gorgeous sari, and partly because Audrey Diwan was taller than any jury member, so she had to balance the composition.

While I've always been a fan of saris since my Indian Airlines job after college, it was my sister Sarayu Kamat who encouraged me to wear different saris at film festivals, showcasing India's textile heritage. So, my saris have included eri silk, Baluchari, Paithani, a garad silk ‘lal par sada' sari, Kanjeevaram, saris with kantha work, and more. When I attended the Jecheon International Music and Film Festival in Korea some years ago, Sarayu had stylist-author Joy Roy ‘style my look,' deciding which sari would go with which jewellery, from Sarayu's and my existing collection, in inventive combinations. Since then, I've been doing #festivalsonalovebudget, attending many festivals including Berlin and Toronto, with saris and jewellery lent to me by Sarayu, friends Falguni Desai, Vishakha Patil, and others.

I feel liberated by their love, instead of having to tag a zillion sponsors for HMU (hair and makeup), clothes, jewellery, bags, shoes, etc. But it was Ava Cahen who revealed her class when it came to clothes: she sported a I Stand With Amber Heard T-shirt; this, when her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, was Hollywood royalty on Cannes opening night. After Heard wrote in the Washington Post about surviving domestic violence, Depp sued her for defamation, won the case and $15 million, while Heard, who countersued, won only $2million. This is why I felt privileged to be on the jury at Cannes: for the honour, of course - and forget my saris - for the rich gift of knowing each of the distinguished jury members, and someone as gorgeous and courageous as Ava Cahen. That is aukat.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist.
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