Wearing traditional Indian saris is a conscious decision I have made as I love natural fabrics such as cotton or silk. I love khadi and raw silk, but Kanjeevaram saris are my all-time favourites.
My mother bought me my first Kanjeevaram when I was 18, for a cousin’s wedding. All my cousins were wearing saris, and as the youngest, I insisted on wearing one as well. So she got me this beautiful cream-coloured sari with a green and pink border. It was simple and elegant and I still have it.
Timeless: (clockwise from left) Vidya Balan at the Star Screen Awards; Balan in a Sabyasachi creation at the Filmfare Awards; Kareena Kapoor in a Chanderi sari. Praveen Bajpai / Hindustan Times; and Celina Jaitley in silk. Photographs by Yogen Shah
I recently picked up a few Kanjeevaram saris from Nalli in Mumbai. These Kanjeevarams are a bit contemporary in the sense that they have a solid colour body and thread borders. The sari I wore for the Star Screen Awards was from Nalli; it was traditional, but the colours were young and modern. I prefer thread borders, or a plain gold border instead of the motifs that a Kanjeevaram often has. I also buy saris from Vimor in Bangalore and my mother goes often to sari exhibitions and buys them for herself, my sister and me. She has some beautiful pieces, dating back 40 years or more. There’s a deep maroon Kanjeevaram with a smattering of gold butis all over; I absolutely love that one.
She also has gorgeous Mysore silks and butter silks which were very popular a few decades ago. I appreciate their beauty but I don’t think Mysore or butter silks look especially good on me. I prefer saris with some weight, because I feel they drape better. Even when I wear a net sari, it has different borders or some other element to give it weight, such as the saris I wore for the premiere of Paa and the Filmfare Awards.
Modern touch: Dia Mirza’s old-style sari gets a fresh look with a strappy, backless blouse. Photograph by Yogen Shah
I’m not very fond of prints and prefer solid saris. But I like wearing contrasting printed blouses with solid saris. I love the way Shabana Azmi used to contrast her blouses. The other day I was watching Ek Baar Phir and admiring Deepti Naval’s saris; they were young yet elegant.
Though I own many saris, I’m not a hoarder. I can’t repeat the same sari for public appearances, so I gift my saris to my family and friends. But I won’t part with my Kanjeevarams.
I’m a big fan of Sabyasachi (Mukherjee’s) work. The way he uses khadi is amazing, and his combination of colours is unusual and striking. He makes ethnic weaves look cool, edgy and even sexy, depending on how they are tailored. I heard that after seeing the saris he has created for me in Paa, some looms in Andhra Pradesh have got an impetus, as it has rekindled interest in handloom saris.
I get my blouses tailored by Shekhar master, a film tailor who was my tailor even before I started working in films. The fit of his blouses is unbelievable and all my blouses are stitched by him, even for designer saris.
My wardrobe is organized; each sari is kept with its blouse and petticoat. I hang the heavy ones and fold the light fabrics, so they don’t develop lines.
I’m just sticking to what I enjoy wearing and if that sets me apart from other actresses, so be it. I’m making no effort to be different. I’m not saying I am an ambassador, but if it is working and reviving interest, I’m more than happy.
I love the fact that there’s so much variety in Indian weaves and work. How different can cocktail saris be from each other? I would love to see young Indian girls wearing saris like the Kanjeevaram. A simple piece or even one in bright, funky colours is so extremely sexy.
As told to Parizaad Khan