A Brief History of the saree blouse and Indian fashion before 1960 with an occasional excursion after. All images are credited but if they are here by accident please do let me know and I will take it down. All posts also on vintageindianclothing.tumblr.com
Santosh Sivan’s epic film of the Mauryan King, Asoka, surprisingly sticks to a simple, subdued palette and body decoration for the princess Kaurwaki. Again not quite the choli but perhaps a sewn breast band.
The movie adaptation of Maitreyi starred Hugh Grant and Supriya Pathak and is a listless Jean-Claude Carriere adaptation in which the costuming is the least of its troubles. But it is as uncertain as Hugh Grant’s French accented English in the film, partly because it is never made clear which year the movie is set in. However, the film largely borrows from the novel and leaves intact references to Tagore. For the most part Supriya Pathak wears handloom sarees and blouses common in the 80s. And Alain/Mircea never appears in Indian dress.
Shabana Azmi plays Maitreyi’s mother in the film. While her saris are worn in the Bengali style, the blouses are fairly unremarkable.
Apologies for the pics-my copy has a pretty crap transfer.
Costumes from Shatranj Ke Khiladi set in the Awadh of 1856/7. Those seriously wide trousers were apparently all the go at the time. As was gauzy wraps, paisley prints, shawls. And dance. And hookahs. And…..chess.
Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam is set in 19th century Calcutta. The women who appear in the film belong to different classes. Of the two main characters Choti Bahu (Meena Kumari) belongs to the feudal, zamindari class who are presumably Orthodox Hindus. Jaba (Waheeda Rehman) belongs to a Brahmo family, at the time the reforming, modernising part of Bengal society. The film also has a few song sequences set in the dance houses that the zamindars frequent. And there are the servants in the zamindari estates, e.g. Choti Bahu’s dresser.
As the pictures indicate the women are differently attired and fairly accurately in keeping with their social status/period. Choti Bahu is in jewels and silks, Jaba’s light coloured simple saris are pinned to lace edged blouses with a brooch. The dance house/kotha sequences use Kathak costume and are presumably of the time. And as the last picture shows, the working women who served in the zamindari houses held on to the old custom of not wearing a blouse.
And a bit on Raima Sen, whose attire in these pictures have varying degrees of fidelity to the period they are set in (Chokher Bali: 1903, Naukadubi: 1920s,The Japanese Wife: uncertain) and who must surely hold some kind of record for appearances in period films.
And the absence of a blouse on Aishwarya in Chokher Bali is a correct detail – the blouse was seen as enticing and hence forbidden to a widow.
Which has similarities in style with Attia Hossain’s wedding dress of 1933. Though described as a saree, it’s more likely a “wedding joda” with a heavy skirt. Also I think I have mentioned my love of those hair ornaments before:)
A little bit on Attia Hosain here and a review of her novel, Sunlight on a Broken Column, here.
July, 1957 issue of the China Pictorial (Ren Min Hua Bao) shows a still of China’s National Youth Theatre’s performance of dramatist Kalidasa’s Shakuntala to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the founding of the China-India Friendship Association. Shakuntala is played by Bai Shan.
Just a little more on Abhijnanasakuntalam, this time in a Chinese interpretation. This picture has Shakuntala in full dance costume perhaps because the scene is set in Dushyant’s court.
Shakuntala has also been filmed a fair bit. Surprisingly MS Subbulakshmi dispensed with a blouse in the Tamil movie Sakunthalai (directed by the American, Ellis R Dungan). Other film depictions like V Shantaram’s also discard the blouse. All employ a number of flower garlands but none of course use the bark of Kalidasa’s opus.