There is nothing as much of its time as the period film – see successive Jane Austen adaptations for e.g. I am therefore not terribly fussed about authenticity in period films, though it is always pleasurable if filmmakers do their homework and you get a film that feels truly authentic.
First off the bat, I really liked Lootera. As you will see, it is a work of love and not a movie that puts its 1950s heroine in a Manish Malhotra sari for the modern audience:). The post is intended as a simple comparison between the way it was in the 50s and the way we wish to perceive it today. This perception is subjective yet even my aunt – an easily satisfied movie viewer - felt it wasn’t always 1950s in tone. So I will also try and isolate elements in the movie costuming that could lead to this feeling.
Lootera is set in a specific year, 1953. In which year the West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act was implemented, the effects of which form a crucial part of the film. The heroine, Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), is the daughter of a zamindar. Though not explicitly stated in the film, the family is probably orthodox Hindu and not Brahmo (for the contrasting dress of women from the zamindar families and Brahmo women, see for e.g. the characters played by Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. Though of course the film is set in an earlier time). But Pakhi has been to Santiniketan, an institute founded by Tagore, a Brahmo, and is no doubt influenced by it. The setting is a small town/village in Bengal. Such specificity in itself makes it a bit hard for the costuming department. In fact I myself take liberty in comparing it with the decade and not the year.
While the male protagonist is possibly from UP/Bihar (Varun Shrivastav, played by Ranveer Singh), the film is also an ode to 1950s Hindi cinema, specifically some of Dev Anand‘s film noir. Styling for the key male characters therefore derives from the “petty gangster cool” characteristic of Dev Anand’s 1950s films. So there is a little bit of dissonance in this because the costuming for the female characters is not always film inspired.
With that background, first up the plain sari. Which features in Lootera. This was very much around in the 1950s, albeit not always with a “matching” blouse. Rather, as someone on tumblr earlier noted, they tend to be brocade/art silk and brilliant for contrast (pic 4 comes closest). There is also a single occurrence of the brooch, a staple of Indian period films. It was sort of dying out by the 1950s. Then again it is Manikpur:)
In the above set, a number of saris have gold/zari borders. While very much a trend in the 1920s and 1930s, they are of course seen in every decade after. And in a number of non-film photographs of the 1950s, many of the handlooms with which we are now familiar appear. It is a quibble particular to me, but the woven Mangalgiri with zari kind of sari that seems to be used in Lootera always seems contemporary Indian urban to me. The 1950s saris tend to be more like this.
I post quite often about the necklines of the 1940s/1950s. The square neck/sweetheart neckline here echoes those trends. The yellow sari and blouse is probably the closest to images I routinely see of films of the decade. A definite plus in my book.
Simpler printed blouses were also common in the 50s. In fact in pic 1 below on Devyani (Shirin Guha) paired with a Bengal cotton sari it echoes Suchitra Sen. The film also uses Bengal cotton saris now and then (on Devyani in pic 3, on Sakhi in pic 4). The printed silk (I am assuming then too a Santiniketan staple) appears. As does a black sari which kind of looks like Kalakshetra saris (pic 6). I am not sure if it was intentional but it certainly adds an “artist girl of the 50s” touch :)
Of course there is the Occasion = Banarasi brocade! These saris seem to be under a cloud these days what with net saris and the world’s gemstones on it.
On the whole therefore the costumes for the women do in one way or the other evoke the 1950s in India. If I had to tinker with it, I would change the way blouses and saris are paired. And though Bengal tended to stick to handlooms, I think a few synthetic saris or printed cottons wouldn’t have gone amiss. What looks to us like the 200 ₹ sari now was actually quite coveted in its time (worn here by Madhubala for e.g.). To be fair, the film does use plain synthetic saris. Also in a minor vein, the open neck and 3/4 sleeve blouse (see below) while around in the 1950s isn’t something I would necessarily use to evoke the decade.
The bindi was actually not common in the 50s for unmarried girls, especially in Bengal and North India. This may seem surprising to us but the tradition of wearing a bindi from girlhood is seen more in South India. I found the use of the bindi for Pakhi in all the Manikpur scenes a bit jarring but in all fairness I must point out that it was not uncommon amongst Santiniketan students. That tucked in sari pallu should also have been present though:)
Similarly as far as I know the nose ring is not common in Bengal. If this is incorrect, please let me know!
There is also the hair. Which of course is hard to get right in period dramas. Hair in the 50 was styled but in that very “Jabakusum tel” way (Jabakusum tel=Hair oil with hibiscus extracts). The bun common in this decade is a simplified version of the old Indian coiffeurs. The single thick braid was common, though not in Bengal. For young women, ribbons were common. Often, especially in Bengal, hair was left loose. In fact it wasn’t particularly styled, partly because a cloud of hair is often described in our poetry as attractive. I think the movie does try to get this right but sometimes you are left thinking coned or not coned. There is also the makeup which tends towards the modern. I suspect the use of powder kind of got popular with this decade. The make up below for e.g. is fairly typical of the 50s:
Also saris tend to be draped far more casually in the 50s. Even though this is the case with Lootera i.e. it is not the modern draped to an inch style, it still looks more formal and less lived in.
As a rough comparison (and very rough indeed given the film is set in a boarding house in Calcutta and the main character is middle class), here is Suchitra Sen in the 1953 Sharey Chuattar (below). A number of elements will be familiar if you have followed the 50s posts. And now I wonder why Pakhi didn’t wear the Bengal sari drape even once! The wedding sari (last pic) as you can see is also quite different.
On to the men! In the 50s suits were common. The trouser was kind of baggy and high waisted; white shirts were common. Shoes tended to be classic or sandals were worn. This photograph, from Linus Pauling‘s 1955 visit, is an e.g. As also of Dev Anand on the sets of Baazi.
However, the film is in fact part homage to Dev Anand’s films of the 1950s which featured conmen who fall in love and reform plots. Plus the actor himself had a constructed urban and debonair persona. The costumes for the conmen is intended to evoke this. If you look at the costuming for the characters of Varun and Devdas in this context, it is fairly accurate. And of course there is the 1950s pomade. Props for the shirt pockets but I am not sure those shoes and the straw boater and the uber layering were quite the go in 1953!
For comparison, Dev Anand in movies like Jaal, CID and Baazi and with his wife, Kalpana Kartik.
KN Singh was very KN Singh. Being KN Singh is fairly easy:)
The movie also had a few nice touches by way of props etc. E.g. the niche with the mirror, a copy of Illustrated Weekly (second pic). And of course vintage car!
To sum up, Lootera is true to the decade (1950s) and time but also departs from it in significant ways for a contemporary audience. In fact the least 1950s part of it is the soundtrack, a given for all Indian movies which seem unable or do not want to to recreate the sound of the decade. But this is not to criticise the movie at all which is well made and has a good amount of attention to detail. The costumes, even when inaccurate, are beautiful to look at. The purpose of the post as I said is to help contrast the actual clothing of the decade with the way it is reimagined in 2013. Long as it is, I hope the post shows this clearly!
On tumblr as always you can follow sari history and the decade which kind of defined Indian style for most if us today, the 1950s. Added bonus, the loveliest and most talented of heroines worked in this decade!
Photo credit: AVM.
It’s been difficult for me to update this blog along with tumblr as I am a little hard pressed for time.
The only significant thing that I need to update here are a series of posts I am doing on the evolution of India’s “national costume” aka the sari, blouse and petticoat from the 1870s onwards. I thought it might be useful to collate images from each decade and discuss them so that it gives some idea about the “look” of each decade. On the one hand there is continuity, on the other hand there are specifics like kind of sari, style of wearing it, shoes, blouses or hairstyles where you can see recurring motifs in a decade.
This is by no means comprehensive given that there are so many a) regional differences b) caste differences c) class differences d) religious differences ) orthodox customs that dictate clothing etc. in India. However, each decade does have its own zeitgeist and in a way the posts do their best to capture this. By necessity this often means fashions worn by upper class women. Especially so in the early decades given that “on the street” fashion is only really visible in photographs from the 1920s onwards. Prior to this most photographs are of elite women, courtesans and “ethnographic studies”. However, given that some of these upper class fashions became ubiquitous, it is useful to look at it.
You can follow it all on tumble under the sari history tag. As always the oldest post is at the bottom.
PS: I spend many hours looking at stuff and its hard to find a cohesive story sometimes. To the best of my knowledge there is a good amount of material but no detailed discussion of the fashions in India in each decade so I have little to go by except my own thoughts. So with these posts, if you want to reproduce, please do credit!
Any hints or tips are always welcome!
I haven’t updated this site in a long time meanwhile the tumblr keeps getting refreshed. Partly this is because I have just been doing simple posts and there is no grand theme: Newish movies; Recurring patterns in Hindi cinema [X, X] – the pompoms still amuse me!, the halter neck blouse and the closed neck modest blouse [X, X], the long shirt worn in Haryana, the Victorian/Edwardian blouse, sleeping women, the fishtail braid and the pallu.
I note that Mardi is back. I can’t comment on her blog but welcome back Mardi and loved all your pics of the Indian visit! It looks like an amazing trip.
Betsy, who I “met” through this blog, has a new book out-Love Potion No. 10. Exciting! If you like cozy mysteries do check out.
Deepa, I keep following your adventures and its always great when you drop by on this blog, though I might have been a bit amiss in not responding to comments.
Unlike the chudidar where the cloth is constricted at the knee and the salwar which is constricted at the ankle, flared trousers were also worn with the kameez. The kameez initially was a tunic with skirt but later you can see shorter, simplified versions. Given the pictures here, the fashion appears to date back to the early 19th century (strictly more Lucknowi than Mughal). The sharara is also an example of this, though it may sometimes be constricted at the knee and then flare.
The paintings are all of nautch girls so it’s a little difficult to say whether the same fashion was followed by other women. However at least one of the links is to the costume of the Queen of Oudh so it seems like it was the prevailing style.
This post on ruffled blouses refers to Mukti (1937)* [X] [X]. The movie was a bit of a fashion influencer with Kanan’s crown braid and Barua’s beret worn backwards apparently all the rage. It turns out the movie is on youtube. Not the best print but hey given how difficult it is to source 30s movies I will take any print! So without further ado bad screencaps deconstructing the fashions of 1937 as worn in Mukti. Post which you can host your own 1930s themed party:)
First up ruffles were really on trend so if you want to do anything set in the latter half of the 1930s you can pretty much add a ruffle, either on the blouse or as a saree trim. And here are all the features of Kanan’s ruffle blouse.
In the film clip (about 00.03.00+), you can see that the sari is a chiffon/synthetic sort with a zari border (it is in fact quite rare to see “ethnic” coarse handlooms in many of the early movies-anyone with a bit of money was probably buying up chiffons and getting borders stitched or wearing translucent silks and cottons unless they were swadeshi sorts). Perhaps given that she is upper class, Kanan wears the “modern” sari and not the traditional Bengali drape.
Kanan also has an armband (00.06.26), quite popular in the 1930s given that sleeveless or barely there sleeves were common.
Throughout the movie you will also note the lack of a bindi on Kanan. Though sindoor is strongly associated with Bengali culture post marriage, the bindi is in fact not always seen in movies or even in vintage photographs on young women.
Here is a side view of Kanan’s crown braid. Add to that chandelier earrings (a common feature throughout the movie) and a purse and some white heels and you were ready to party. Or at the very least shoot pool like Kanan (00.11.20+).
Barua’s persona, at least in this movie, is a little fey and eccentric. He is sort of a 1930s hipster, different for the sake of being different:). At one point Chitra refers to his clothes as not being fit for a decent person. In his Misunderstood Artist in the City part he wears a tunic that looks like a silken poet shirt that morphs into a kurta and is worn with loose trousers. Also in the beginning some kind of long, silken jacket. Quite deshabille. I am curious, did he devise the costumes himself?
Just when you think you know EVERYTHING about the fashions of 1930s and are like 100% certain that no one ever wore long sleeved blouses with laces and all, along it comes! (see about the 00.29.00 and 00.35.00 mark). I am going to put it down to Chitra raiding her mother’s closet. The sari seems consistent with the 1930s. Some kind of scalloped embroidery or applique on the border but no distinct pallu (the loose end of the sari).
Jokes apart, a quick look at 1930s movies shows that the full sleeved blouse does turn up now and then even though the decade is fairly liberated and sleeveless blouses were very common.
Barua really really liked scarves. At some point in the movie his character Prasanta runs off to Assam to live in a village. His attire gets more peasant like but the scarf never leaves his neck.
Next up Kanan has a butterfly sleeve blouse with a bit of a contrast trim (around the 0:56.40 mark). The sari is still light and translucent but looks more like a muslin Indian weave (you can also spot the pallu around the 0:59:09 mark). To contrast with Prasanta’s “Indianness” and artistic temperament, the smart set, including Chitra’s father, are in suits.
Around the 1.22.10 mark Kanan has something like a satin jacket worn over a sari, hard to get a decent capture of it. This is probably the only sari that Kanan wears that is a bordered Bengal cotton sari (see also 1.22.42).
A little later Kanan in another blouse that seems to have been fairly common in the late 30s and early 40s (I have seen it in old family photographs). Kanan’s blouse is sleeveless with a kind of – I don’t know what to call it – a cape or capelet collar? giving the illusion of a sleeve. The sari looks like a printed chiffon (1.23.41).
A look at Barua’s famous cap! Every hipster in Calcutta was probably walking around with the cap worn backwards (thus anticipating the trucker cap:)). I can’t say whether it is a cap or a beret or even if its worn backwards with this damn print but I am going with beret worn backwards. (1.33.38). These scenes also have villagers in Indian clothing, both for the men and women.
Last up at the climax (around 1.51.00), Kanan again opts for a long sleeved blouse but it doesn’t give off a Victorian vibe. It is more like a kurta or even a Chinese tunic with a side closure. Kanan’s sari is again a chiffon/synthetic with a zari/gold border.
And with that you know everything about upper class fashions in Kolkata in 1937:)
The movies of the 1920s and 30s are either no longer available or the prints are appalling. In fact a number of plots and tropes of Indian cinema are from these decades. And the fashion is also more fun, not so much in thrall to notions of respectability as at the turn of the century and not as formally beautiful as in the 1950s. And there are so many interesting women in these decades too, and from what I can see fairly unapologetic about their lives to boot.
Typically in the first half of an Indian movie you would have a Westernised heroine before the “curse of the second half” hit and out came the saris. And of course vamps were allowed to wear Western clothing all the time! Most of these clothes are similar to contemporaneous fashions in the West, albeit a few years behind at times.
In the late 50s and 60s: Slacks, skivvies. high waisted trousers, pedal pushers, the occasional scarf. The actresses: Mala Sinha, Shashikala, Madhubala, Shakila.
The heavy silver jewellery and skirts of Indian communities from Central and Western India are reflected in early photographs of immigrants to the West Indies. Early immigrants were often indentured labour from the then United Provinces and Eastern India. [X] [X] [X]