What my mother wore at Cannes

May 20, 2013, 07:41 IST | Malavika Sangghvi

The year 1957. My father's film Gotama: The Buddha was an Indian entry at the Cannes Film Festival (it subsequently won a Mention Exceptionnelle but that's not the point of the story.) The point is what my mother wore to Cannes

>> The year 1957. My father’s film Gotama: The Buddha was an Indian entry at the Cannes Film Festival (it subsequently won a Mention Exceptionnelle but that’s not the point of the story.) The point is what my mother wore to Cannes. Remember the period: no stylists, no hairdressers. No hair-gelled designers.

Amitabh Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor and Vidya Balan at Cannes

“I borrowed a few silks from my aunt and your father bought me one gorgeous Kanjeeveram,” she says as we watch various newsreels on the box all featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, and Vidya Balan in their sartorial splendour. “Your father had one Nehru jacket. It was enough.” This parental adventure on the Riviera, filled with glamour, success and the company of the likes of Jean Cocteau and the Aly Khans was not without its sartorial setbacks.

Usha Khanna at the Cannes Film Festival in 1957

“In the day time we traipsed all over the city in our khaddar churidars and kurtas,” says my mother, “And at nights we’d wash our clothes in the hotel bathtub and hang them out to dry.” A huge salwar discreetly hung out to dry in the gentle Mediterranean breeze of a seaside town. One does not require much imagination to guess what happens next. “One morning, we arose to a small commotion below our window,” says my mother. “A group of very puzzled French people had gathered around my salwar, that had some how unhitched itself from the balcony the previous night and was spread out on the road below. As you know pajamas, especially the salwar have huge gathers around the waist. And when flat out on the floor they look gigantic, almost 3-feet wide,” says my mum.

“That’s why the crowd had collected. They were wondering who on earth could this strange garment belonged to.” Which is not to say that my parents did not regain their homespun elegance when required. I have pictures of them at various jet set parties looking resplendent in their silks. Perhaps the style police — so offended by Bachchan, Balan and Kapoor’s indiscretions would be a tad kinder. After all, in Cannes you can only do what you Cannes do!

Mumbai’s dark sweet affair
>> We saw it with wine, we saw it with coffee and now we are on the verge of seeing some high class snobbery when it comes to Mumbai and chocolates especially gourmet brands like Royce, Chocolat Maison and Sprüngli. “Chocolates have come a long way,” says Mumbai’s leading chocolatier, the statuesque Zeba Kohli, MD of Fantasie Chocolates.

Zeba Kohli

“From churning out the old time favourite almond pistachio rocks, now in demand are single origin chocolates comprised of 75 to 100% dark chocolates with macadamia, pine nut chocolates etc” she says. To be sure Mumbai’s love affair with chocolates is only starting, Sprungli and Royce are all entering the market,” says a chocoholic lady who does not wish to be named. “The top Marwari weddings usually have a Sprüngli counter, for which a chef is flown from Switzerland who prepares the chocolates in a five-star kitchen so that they are fresh,” she says. “And the latest trend in wedding and baby announcements is exquisitely wrapped personalised gourmet chocolates. At Rs 3,500 per box we are looking at Rs 3-4 lakh on chocolates alone!”

“And you can imagine how seriously chocolate makers are taking the Indian customer, they all have eggless varieties,” she laughs!

On Roman holiday
>> And word comes in that it’s La Dolce Vita Roman for some members of the Indian literati. While the serenely glamorous Jhumpa Lahiri is teaching a class at the American University in the Trastavere, Mumbaicha mulga Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is ensconced in the upper echelons of the European aristocracy.

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Earlier this week, Rome’s Prince Doria Pamphilj hosted a private lunch for the fine-featured author at the palace on via Del Corso, amid the feted Caravaggios and Velasquezs. Then best selling author (and Count) Andrea di Robilant put out a dandy dinner, where members of the Agnelli clan were present. And now, we hear the scene is moving to Poistano, where we hear rich Indians are lazing on speedboats in blue waters. It appears that Italy is definitely the playing ground this summer; Let’s see if it’s their future writing is on a Roman holiday.

Her finest yet
>> When we heard her at the Asia Society Spring Gala dinner last recently, groupie-like we’d asked her which of her films she identified most and least with. And characteristically her response was spontaneous and un-pompous: Monsoon Wedding and Amelia.

But after viewing the Reluctant Fundamentalist, we are convinced that not only is it celebrated film maker Mira Nair’s most splendid offering yet, but it appears to have been one she’s enjoyed making the most. From the smoky coffee houses of Lahore’s inner cities to the intoxicating mehfils in its upper class bungalows to the evocative tribute to her father ‘a true Lahore’ in the last scene, this is Nair’s most important film in our opinion and one that praises to foster a vital dialogue between America and the subcontinent. We very like!

A scandal a day
>> It appears that each day Mumbai’s top movers and shakers are being convulsed by one calamity or another. The notice put out by Yes Bank in its attempts to name and shame businessman Navin Agarwal of Sonal Garments this weekend in a leading newspaper has shocked many. Not only is he a respected member of the financial community but also a close friend of some of the most powerful in the land. “For a piddly amount of Rs 6 crores to besmirch someone’s name is shocking,” said another banker. “Where will it end? By that reckoning there will be hundreds of defaulters.” Yes! And a whole new market for newspapers to make money!  

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