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Business News/ Opinion / Royal fuss: Prince William and Kate Middleton’s India visit
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Royal fuss: Prince William and Kate Middleton’s India visit

Prince William and Kate Middleton's India visit is as conservative as it getsboth in dressing style and the itinerary

Actors Parineeti Chopra, Jacqueline Fernandez, Huma Qureshi, Aditi Rao Hydari, designer Manish Malhotra and Sophie Choudhary with Prince William and Kate Middleton in Mumbai. Photo: @UKinIndia (Twitter)Premium
Actors Parineeti Chopra, Jacqueline Fernandez, Huma Qureshi, Aditi Rao Hydari, designer Manish Malhotra and Sophie Choudhary with Prince William and Kate Middleton in Mumbai. Photo: @UKinIndia (Twitter)

There is a photograph in the newspapers today that shows film stars Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in earnest conversation with Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, while Madhuri Dixit looks on, curious observation writ large on her face.

Another has a bunch from Bollywood (somehow the term sounds better here compared to the more impactful ‘Hindi cinema’)—Parineeti Chopra, Jacqueline Fernandez, Sophie Choudhary, Huma Qureshi, Aditi Rao Hydari, designer Manish Malhotra—with Kate and William among them. It’s a typical “party photo". The kind you would gloss over if it sat amidst two dozen similar photographs in a fashion glossy. In fact, there are many such photographs on Indian and British blogs and in the online versions of publications—they show some of India’s most known people—cricketers, CEOs, bankers, stars—eagerly lining up to meet and greet the “royal couple". They are from a charity fundraiser gala in Mumbai thrown for the royal couple on Sunday evening as part of their week-long trip to India.

It is a dull “who wore what" story. Prince William wore a tux and looked fine in a regular sort of way. Kate Middleton looked nice in her indigo blue Jenny Packham gown. Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai looked unexceptional; their blingy saris more suitable for a wedding sangeet. The “Bollywood girls"—Hydari, Fernandez, Qureshi and Chopra looked exactly that: Bollywood girls in lehnga skirts, some razzle, some dazzle, some frazzle. Messrs Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar, Anil Kapoor and Sachin Tendulkar carried their tuxedos and suits okay even as SRK chose a white one with a black bow tie. Only Arjun Kapoor wore a bandhgala to hold up a slice of his culture. Nobody looked extraordinary.

Not even Kate Middleton, who looked “elegant" and “nice" but didn’t score higher than that. Her embellished gown with a drape around her shoulders was neither distinctly Indian nor British. The clutch was a part of her gown “set" and got drowned out while her ring and earrings exactly matched the hue of her gown, no surprises there. Her Emilia Wickstead dress on Day 2 in Delhi is in fact a disappointment with those pocket patterns on the front.

She looked more herself with a pleasant Indian touch earlier on Sunday in an Anita Dongre printed dress with nude wedges as she sportingly played cricket at Mumbai’s Oval Maidan. She usually has a remarkably controlled appearance tactic: she is always elegant, always smiling and friendly. Her slim toned youthfulness that radiates practiced ease in well-tailored knee length dresses, blouses and jackets, tweed skirt-suits, often worn with high heeled pumps and wide brimmed hats easily converts to “princessy" elegance when she wears long flowing gowns with ribboned or floral fascinators. That is so far missing in her wardrobe for India. But beyond that, you can’t stretch Kate’s influence on global or British fashion beyond “nice" and “elegant"—words that also belong to a dozen other women in public life.

Kate is no Diana. But nor is she Gayatri Devi. There is no mystique about her. She has never been experimental in clothing or trend-setting in a trailblazing way. She translates her only role as the Duchess of Cambridge into stylish but conservative dressing even when she wears the most beautiful clothes. No smoky eyes and mesmerising red lipstick, no grungy pyjamas with flat gladiator sandals, no unpredictable appearances in round, vintage framed glasses.

The Will-Kat story in India seems to imitate Kate’s pleasant appearance. There is a flawless script in place and the two are following it wholeheartedly. Playing with underprivileged kids, visiting a heritage site, paying homage to victims of terrorism, then raising a toast to Bollywood-Shollywood. Homage at Gandhi Samadhi in Delhi today and a trip to the Taj Mahal later in the week only reiterates how well a royal glove must fit.

The Will-Kat agenda also shows how clichés get replayed in endless loops and thus strengthened, in clothing as much as social and royal diplomacy. They strain to become standout stories while in fact they are only plagiarised versions of hundreds of previous stories played out by monarchs and political leaders. The Duchess of Cambridge may wear her hair up for a gala or let it down for cricket but she is unlikely to speak on contemporary feminism and become a breakaway female royal.

Back in England, the intelligentsia analyses the popularity and fandom of its monarchy in current times from all angles; it also continues to question the work they do or must do for the country and its relevance. Respect for the royals is respected but deference (for them) frowned upon.

But India has a deep-seated obsession with royalty. From colours to flavours, clothes to style, cars to vacations, the resplendence of jewellery to the luxury of homes and the fascination with palaces as destinations for birthdays and weddings—we use the word royal liberally, exuberantly. As if “royal" is a self-explanatory adjective. In reality, it’s a historical concept, not a contemporary tool to interpret our times. Given our flutter, I expected Indian TV news channels to repeatedly and enthusiastically run the Will-Kat coverage. Nothing of the sort happened thankfully. The BBC telecast bits and parts but Sunday evening on Indian channels was devoted to the fireworks tragedy in Kollam as it should have been.

Kate playing cricket is a page one photograph in some top newspapers today—a good choice too—but by and large the Indian media (page 3, tabloids and celebrity blogs not included) doesn’t seem overwhelmed by Will-Kat.

The only people who look smitten are our film stars and the “who’s who". Does that reveal something about us as a people or about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?

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Published: 11 Apr 2016, 03:43 PM IST
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