Bollywood fashion at Cannes

May 22, 2013

By Arnika Thakur and Shashank Chouhan

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily of Reuters)

The image of Aishwarya Rai in a striking yellow sari with lots of gold jewellery walking the red carpet at Cannes 2002 is one that a generation of Indian movie fans may not forget.

Few Indians were familiar with Cannes until the actress made an appearance on the French Riviera. Not only did Rai introduce fans back home to the world’s leading cinema showcase, she also made global audiences take note of Bollywood. This year, the 66th Cannes festival is showcasing India as a guest country to mark the centenary of its film industry.

Celebrities such as Sonam Kapoor, Mallika Sherawat, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Frieda Pinto and Amitabh Bachchan made an appearance – and had to step up their fashion game.

Glamour is key at the annual film festival and the trek down the red carpet is fraught with risk for the glitterati.

The clothes one wears at such events are not merely a sartorial statement but have a lot to do with one’s identity. Remember fashion’s golden rule: you are what you wear. The Bollywood brigade at Cannes may seem a bit like the contestants in the national costume round of a beauty pageant. Keeping their identity intact while representing their country on an international platform is praiseworthy, but is it making a fashion statement?

Take, for instance, Vidya Balan. As expected, the actress opted for traditional Indian chic at Cannes. Balan, best known for her voluptuous turn in the 2011 Bollywood hit “The Dirty Picture”, covered her head on one occasion and seemed almost ready to twirl in a classy Kathak move. Her blouses were close-necked and full-sleeved, and it seemed she went a bit overboard in trying to portray a conservative image.

Sonam Kapoor, known for her dramatic sense of style, made her Cannes debut two years ago in a Jean Paul Gaultier gown. This year, she wore an Anamika Khanna sari with a striking traditional nose-ring. Her other Indian outfit by Shehla Khan, which we found difficult to put a name on because it’s bizarre, was an aberration among the stylish outfits Kapoor has been sporting at Cannes. She made an attempt to mix and match both Indian and Western looks but it didn’t work all that well.

At her last Cannes outing, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan got a lot of bad press for turning out in unflattering gowns that did little for her post-pregnancy figure. While some admired the actress for embracing her body image, others dismissed her as a mere memory of the model who won the Miss World title in 1994.

In a vengeful swish of gowns and skirts, Aishwarya made her way back this year into the good books of most fashion aficionados.

“Gown looked very very nice and she truly stood tall … the white shirt looked truly very lovely on her,” says designer Leena Singh.

While she did wear a Sabyasachi creation, Aishwarya stood out for embracing her own style sense. At Cannes, that has meant some great gowns from Elie Saab and Armani Prive over the last decade. She has successfully defied votaries of traditional Indian fashion on the red carpet.

While Aishwarya’s simple yet sophisticated look won her applause, her father-in-law got more brickbats than expected.

Amitabh Bachchan, the grand old man of Bollywood, disappointed most with his black sequined dinner jacket at the opening night premiere of “The Great Gastby” as well as the bathrobe-like belted jacket with white shoes he wore later. Bachchan has impressed many with his dapper suits on the Indian version of the TV game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” but at Cannes, he was just not himself.

“Bachchan is Bachchan, so he doesn’t have to do (the) over-the-top thing to represent himself, you understand?” says Leena Singh. “He has got so much of substance in himself, his presence is enough to talk of his style.”

Designer Rina Dhaka adds: “The blue jacket with a tightened waist surely was a drab and instead of uplifting the already present charisma, that jacket just suffocated all the aura that Mr Bachchan has.”

Click here for a slideshow on Indian stars at Cannes

(On Twitter, follow Arnika @arnikathakur and Shashank @shashankchouhan )

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