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In 2017, Azmi tweeted a photograph from a Cannes visit in 1976—of her and Smita Patil in saris, draped two different ways.
In 2017, Azmi tweeted a photograph from a Cannes visit in 1976—of her and Smita Patil in saris, draped two different ways.

The sari’s alternative screen test

  • Lounge scours contemporary labels whose saris evoke Parallel Cinema’s understated sartorial style
  • Shades of India, Suta, Jaypore, Aavaran and Nadiya Paar each offer their own spin

In 1976, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil—leading ladies of the alternative Hindi cinema movement—visited Cannes with director Shyam Benegal to promote their movie Nishant. In 2017, Azmi tweeted a photograph from that visit—of the two actors in saris, draped two different ways—with the caption: “The simplicity of it all. Films were important not the clothes."

Azmi was perhaps commenting on the hype surrounding red-carpet appearances today, but the downplayed style sensibilities of actors like her, Patil and others who followed, have earned their own following.

In India, where fashion trends are often established by the sartorial choices of film stars, alternative cinema offers a style sensibility that stands apart from mainstream glamour. The style codes of alternative movies are varied, from the colourful saris worn by the ensemble cast in Party (1984) to Tabu’s starched cotton handlooms in The Namesake, yet the themes of minimalism and modest refinement are integral to the costumes worn by women in these films. Here are a few labels whose design philosophies and aesthetics are rooted in nostalgia and the revival of traditional crafts. If some of the alternative movement’s most iconic movies were remade today, these may be the labels we would see on screen.

Shades of India

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The lifestyle brand’s new collection, Calcutta, may not be inspired by the movies, but its mood is certainly nostalgic. Mandeep Nagi Housego, the label’s design director,wanted to capture a colonial-era mood in the collection and created ensembles in fine tissue and silk cotton blends. “(The collection) picks up on needlework practised by nuns working in secluded convents and prints that the East India Company in its heyday would have shipped to Europe," she adds. While the collection includes a range of stitched garments, it’s the saris—in shades of ivory and grey—that would fall effortlessly in place in The Namesake.

Nadiya Paar

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Among the fans of Nadiya Paar, the label of National Institute of Fashion Technology graduate Megha Kanera, are actors Vidya Balan, Tillotama Shome and Sayani Gupta. With a focus on slow fashion, the label uses handloom sourced from weaving clusters across India. For Spring/Summer 2019, Kanera has dabbled in digital printing for linen saris with delicate motifs and a hushed palette perfect for sweltering days.

Suta

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An Instagram sensation, this Mumbai-based label founded by Sujata and Taniya Biswas is a love letter to traditional handlooms, drawn from childhood memories. “We loved the feel of the (mulmul) saris that our naanis and aunts used to wear. But when we started looking for these saris in stores, we couldn’t find them," the co-founders say. Suta’s forte is its cotton and light-as-air mulmul saris, in colours ranging from muted monochrome to rich plums and reds. Its latest collection, Shimmer By The River, blends mul with modal (in a tie-up with Aditya Birla Group) to create new iridescent textures.

Suta

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Among the fans of Nadiya Paar, the label of National Institute of Fashion Technology graduate Megha Kanera, are actors Vidya Balan, Tillotama Shome and Sayani Gupta. With a focus on slow fashion, the label uses handloom sourced from weaving clusters across India. For Spring/Summer 2019, Kanera has dabbled in digital printing for linen saris with delicate motifs and a hushed palette perfect for sweltering days.

Jaypore

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Among the fans of Nadiya Paar, the label of National Institute of Fashion Technology graduate Megha Kanera, are actors Vidya Balan, Tillotama Shome and Sayani Gupta. With a focus on slow fashion, the label uses handloom sourced from weaving clusters across India. For Spring/Summer 2019, Kanera has dabbled in digital printing for linen saris with delicate motifs and a hushed palette perfect for sweltering days.


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