Knits in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

I must confess I was a little lukewarm towards DBB when it released but meant to do a review of its vintage vibe all the same. A second viewing awhile ago made me appreciate the film, its attention to detail and the performances (poignant to see Sushant Singh Rajput and pity it didn’t get a sequel).

Indian knits – streetwear i.e. – are a humble and modest article of clothing. The colours are varied of course but they – along with the requisite muffler and shawl – are less about style and more about comfort. And even now, when machine made acrylics are around, they still exude a bit of the handmade, daggy vibe. Somehow it goes with chilly nights, steamy chai, mini bonfires to keep warm and the like.

And so the winter viewing meant I was drawn most to the ordinary knits of a movie that has a good amount of period detail to give the viewer a feeling of the decade in question (1940s) in Calcutta. For much of its running time, its male characters are seen in attire suggestive of a mild winter. Apart from the requisite Bengal=Shawl, characters wear vests often . Almost all of these look hand knit and range from the shabby to more refined versions indicating the social status of the wearer. And so onto the eponymous character.

If my viewing and screencapping is correct:), Byomkesh wears the peach and mustard vest below throughout the film. This is his first case and he is a lad from the provinces so presumably he sticks to the basics. Almost always it is combined with a pista green lightweight jacket and a dhoti. This was probably the last decade where attire combining several elements that were indigenous with English influences (note for e.g. Byonkesh’s shoes and socks with his dhoti) were routinely worn. Its probably also the only vest that has a nifty -albeit unused – pocket.

On to knits (basically vests) worn by other male characters in the film. Each vest has its own detailing (e.g. the front buttons in the first green vest) and almost all characters, right down to the servant Puntiram, wear one. Byomkesh’s love rival, Atanu Sen (Tirtha Mullick), appears to have the most upmarket one – a powder blue vest for the office man. In the pics are also the characters Kanai Dao (Meiyang Chang) and Ajit (Anand Twari).

Only one of the women characters wears a knit. The ensemble worn by Byomkesh’s former sweetheart Leela (Moumita Chakraborty) features a knit vest accesorised with a sari. The blouse is a little Victorian for the time since the styles were a little simpler in the 40s. But the ensemble is quite charming and the vest echoes sweater blouses of the time. In fact they remained popular I think, since my grandmother had a few back in the 1980s. Note also the front braided hair. Additions of this sort to a simple plait or updo were quite common in the 40s. And of course the brooch – the last decade to have a love affair with the accessory,

Though this post is all about the knits, briefly on the saris:

Satyavati (Divya Menon) for some reason did not need winterwear – perhaps a woman who never feels the cold?! Expectedly her wardrobe is full of local handlooms accesorised with simple blouses – again no extravagant styles but simple cuts with an occasional puff sleeve or a bit of detailing. One detail I liked was that the bindi is quite small or absent.

Anguri Devi (Swastika Mukherjee) is an actress so bling and glamour is on display. Spectacular as this fringe sari is, the syling is reminiscent of contemporary Bollywood and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Not very surprising since Manish Malhotra designed for this character in the film. They had a lot to draw on, but apart from a film sequence that is being shot, the styling seems a mishamash of old Hollywood and new Bollywood.

Last but not the leasr: Costume Credits!

Posted in 1940s, Actor, Bengal, Bengali, Bollywood, Cinema, costume design, Costumes in Cinema, film costumes, Film Costuming, Indian Actors, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Cinema, Indian Dress, Indian men, indian style, Indian Women, Period Drama, retro fashion, Sari, Vintage, Vintage Dress, winterwear | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Polka Dot Post

Today let’s look at Rekha’s commitment to the polka dot – with a side serving of leheria (diagonal stripes or literally waves)! As with Vijeta, the look is very consistent, bar a “dream sequence” and a wedding.

The movie: 1982’s Jeevan Dhaara. Bit of a three hanky movie about the travails of the breadwinner of a large family. Remade from the Tamil Aval Oru Thodar Kathai (which has some interesting wardrobe choices of its own). Most of what follows is a working woman’s wardrobe – the everyday curated and modified for a star but still faithful to the character.

First up the 200% all polka dot starter!

The template for Rekha’s sarees in the movies is a saree with a thin border/piping with the colours inverted for the blouse, which too has piping (in general you see a fair bit of piping in 1980s Rekha sightings). When it is the saree that is plain – as here – the pallu mirrors the polka dot blouse. The blouse remains more or less the same, high-necked with a keyhole fastened with a closure. All completely colour co-ordinated and usually employing two colours.

Almost throughout the jewellery is simple studs and a small nose ring and finger rings.

The 70s and 80s were big on matching glass bangles and this movie is no exception.

I can’t figure out if the saree material is terene but it is one of the synthetics available then, albeit not the sheer, flowered polyesters that were popular in the latter part of the decade.

Here the saree has polka dots. Again the colour palette is restricted to two colours, Everything else is similar except that the saree doesn’t have a separate pallu. In general all patterned sarees in the movie do not feature a pallu.

The hair is usually a plait with a sleek middle parting . But the at home scenes feature Rekha’s signature cloud of hair.

Another plain saree/polka dot blouse combo. The polka dots are almost invisible but they are there:) Note the watch – a staple back in time to denote the working woman. Also note the room decor – the basics of a lower middle class home.

Again a similar template. Soft colours but bolder polka dots. As also hoop earrings.

This is a little different in using the same template with three colours. Also note the white clutch.

A bit of a variation here in having a flowered section of the saree, Also note the Kolhapuri chappals.

A couple of the sarees and blouses feature leheria. Generally two colours but also employs three when the blouse is patterned. You will note that the design and styling is consistent with the polka dot ensembles.

If you note carefully, with a few exceptions where the keyhole closure button is contiguous with the piping, it usually picks up the blouse colour thus providing a tiny visual contrast to the piping.

And lastly the shaded/ombre leheriya and polka dot sarees:)

Jeevan Dhaara is truly an example of how to style with a few elements, maintain a consistent look and provide a rich variety. The variety is all in the details and this is practically a collection of its own. I doff my non-existent hat to the team that designed it (see below) as well as the ever glorious Rekha who brings it all to life and more.

Above via imdb.

Posted in 1980s, 20th century, Accessories, Actor, Cinema, clothing, colour, costume design, Costumes in Cinema, fashion, film costumes, Film Costuming, Hindi cinema, Indian Actors, Indian Cinema, Indian Costume, Indian fashion, indian style, Indian Women, late 20th century, retro cinema, retro fashion, Sari, Sari Blouse, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage fashion, vintage sari, Working Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Film Post (1980s)

Everything 1980s can be found in one Rekha movie or the other. From indie style to gharelu chic to plain old Bollywood glamour, she showcased it all in her 1980s films. Each movie often had a signature look with the actress sticking to a distinctive, restrictive style.

In Vijeta (1982), the actress played a Maharashtrian character.  Showcased are a number of sarees one may loosely term Puneri/Ilkal/Narayanpet, all with matching blouses (almost all have the same fabric as the saree, a few are matched, heavier fabrics known as “khun”). The blouses hark back to the 70s with their cap sleeves and round neck, Rekha herself favoured a closed neck style of blouse which was a bit of a 1980s trendsetter.  The large bindi and the mangalsutra complete the look, fairly common among middle class women of the time. Not seen in the pic are the coordinated glass bangles, a bit of a 70s/early 80s style.

The costume designer for the film was Jennifer Kapoor/Kendal.

Posted in 1980s, 20th century, Actor, bindi, Bollywood, Cinema, Costumes in Cinema, film costumes, Film Costuming, handlooms, Indian Actors, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Cinema, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, indian style, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, Movies, retro cinema, retro fashion, Sari, Sari Blouse, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage sari | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seasons Greetings

The annual post on Christmas themed art from India.

nasrani margamkali

First up the Margam Kali from Kerala.  The dance is not Christmas specific though many schools do seem to hold competitions including the dance around December.

The costume is the traditional chattayum mundu (refers to the shirt/top and sarong like wrap).

Artwork from here.

Blue-Madonna frank wesley

Second Frank Wesley’s painting of the Blue Madonna.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Posted in 20th century, Art, Christianity, clothing, Costume, costumes in art, Culture, Dance, indian art, Indian Costume, Indian Women, Kerala, Sari, South India, vintage art, Women | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Dyeing a saree with parijat

The parijat or coral jasmine (also known as prajakta, harsingar, shiuli, shefali, xewali etc) is ubiquitous to Indian landscapes and especially in the autumn the flowers are strewn everywhere in the early morning.


Sarala Devi’s diary (late 19th/early 20th century) records the dyeing of sarees as well as refreshing old sarees by dyeing with shiuli flowers. The dye was also used to colour ritual garments and monks robes yellow (often garments would be unbleached cotton and the like I think and materials like turmeric or parijat would give the needed auspicious yellow).

On to a recent experiment with an old saree that had a few faint yellow stains.

Luckily for me there are a fair few parijat trees where I live and they are in full bloom. The initial part of collecting the fallen flowers in the morning  is the only laborious part of the flower dyeing.  I forgot to measure the quantity of flowers before and after drying (bad scientist) but suffice it to say that it took a few mornings of painstaking collection, brushing away debris and adding to the drying lot to dye just the one saree.

The drying was easy given we have had dry, hot days of late.

Ideally, the stalks should be separated and used for dyeing but I took the lazier route of using the whole flower. The dried flowers were boiled in water (again no measurement, andaaze se) – the process is very sensory given the delicate but heady fragrance of the flowers.  The resulting dye liquor was a deep orange (best exhibited in a wine glass:)). No doubt a stronger and more fast colour can be obtained with mordants but this sufficed for my purpose. A second extraction yielded a pale yellow which I used for smaller items like kerchiefs and threads.

The saree before with stains – it’s a simple Bengal tant (bought right after a viewing of Umbartha:)). And post a 30 minute soaking in the deep orange first dye liquor and through rinsing to remove excess dye. The final colour is a “parijat yellow” that falls more on the buttercup/primrose spectrum than the stronger turmeric/mango yellows.  Happily a faint fragrance remains on the fabric.

The colour fastness is apparently medium so I am expecting a bit of fade with use. But for now I am happy with the results and look forward to wearing the saree!

Posted in dye, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, natural dye, parijat, Personal, Sari, shiuli | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 1910 saree

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Details of a studio portrait of the youngest daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar, Princess Sudhira. Taken in 1910.

Though Gayatri Devi is the most well known, Cooch Behar royalty that preceded her had a distinctive style and you often see a lot in play in their attire that later became the norm.

For example, the saree here is draped much like the present 6 yard saree, even though around 1910 the Bengal drape was quite common in the state.  The saree itself is a light fabric, I am inclined to think a fine muslin but I might be wrong. Around this period you often see sarees (of the very expensive sort) that are beaded/embroidered.  I don’t know the exact term but chiffon gowns in this period often feature beading.  As was common in the early part of the 20th century, the pallu is pinned at the shoulder and draped over the head in some of the portraits, though at least one showcases the Princess’ fashionably short hair.

The blouse has Edwardian details like the lapel like feature as well as the sleeve detail (though the border suggests Indian fabric).  Jewellery is fairly minimal, though the ear danglers are very shall we say “statement”.


Posted in 1910s, 20th century, Accessories, Bengal, British Raj, Dress Reform, Early 20th Century, fashion, Hairstyles, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian royalty, Indian Women, Photography, Royalty, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, sari history, Studio Portraits, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage sari, vintage women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

1980s Indian wear for men

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Though Indian attire has not been common for men, especially the middle and upper classes, post Independence, it is pretty much de rigeur for male politicians.  Usually this is varying permutations and combinations of the kurta/achkan/jacket/dhoti with regional variants (e.g. regional headgear) on visits to states. Each Prime Minister nevertheless has his own individuality – or rather items of clothing that become associated with his persona – be it Nehru’s achkan, Shastri’s dhoti, VP Singh’s fur cap or Modi’s jacket.

Much of this template for male politicians is present in Rajiv Gandhi’s clothing from the mid 80s onwards when he became Prime Minister. Many elements expectedly drew from or found their way into Indian styles of the time. This included the bandhgala of pic 2 as formal wear and the more casual kurta pyjama (as opposed to the chudidar), often worn with sports shoes.

Regional elements are often added to attire by politicians when visiting a state. However, two distinct elements, the shawl with a Bengal drape (pics 3 and 4) and the South Indian angasvastram (pics 5 and 6) were often worn by Mr Gandhi, reflecting the decade of Festival of India which brought together several regional elements as “ethnic chic”.

Pic 1 is the Gandhi cap, long worn in India but rarely seen in present times.

Rajiv Gandhi: 20 August 1944 – 21 May 1991.

Pics Source: X.

On the 1980s go here.


Posted in 1980s, 20th century, clothing, Culture, fashion, Indian Dress, Indian History, Indian men, indian style, late 20th century, Photography, Politicians, Politics, shawls, Vintage Dress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Indian Summer

I have been away from wordpress for so so long. Travel meant I couldn’t sit down and write a long post. So a collation of several posts on the Indian summer that I did on tumblr.

First up the most ubiquitous of summer (and spring) flowers, the jasmine.

In the east it is highly esteemed, and the Indian women braid it into their hair when they receive it from their lovers, inasmuch as it promises long affection. [X].

Excerpt on the jasmine. The kunda is a spring flower and varieties of jasmine bloom through spring and summer in the subcontinent.

And though symbolic of a romantic bond nothing at all to stop one from a solo enjoyment of its flowers in the hair:)

Artwork: 1. Deepal Kilewala, 2. Rohini, 3. Vilas Chormale.

The bougainvillea is an import, nevertheless ubiquitous as summer blooms.

The bougainvillea girls enter in a flock, like dragonflies at noon. Their sudden laughter peals over me. Warm salt waves that take the breath and pull you to drowning. They float through the musty dark of the store, glittery dustmotes on a ray of light. The Mistress of Spices, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. 

Pics: 1. DOT, Daizy and Tapushi 2. Peach, photographed by me 3. via tilfi 4. Via parama_g

Summer flowers and staying cool in Sanskrit poetry.


A crest of double jasmine nestles in her braid, fresh after bathing;
A necklace made of trumpet flowers pours coolness on her breast’
an acacia blossom, delicate of tip, adorns each ear
The summer offers its insignia
to a woman’s every limb. Madhusila [X]

Pics: 1. Laxmi Chhaya wearing jasmine 2.  bridal photography by Anbu Jawahar (flowers in pic not the Indian trumpet flower but suggestive of trumpet flowers) 3. detail from a Hemen Majumdar painting 4. Still from Kumki.

The fruit of the season, the ubiquitous mango. It’s blossoms appear in spring poetry and the fruiting tree in art and sculpture.

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In Sanskrit, mango has 63 names. Some of them are as follows : Kamashar, Madhavdruma, Bhrungubheeshta, Seedhurasa, Vasantdoota, Atisaurabha, Madirasav. [X]

The most common words in two ancient languages are: amra in Sanskrit and manga in Tamil……. Most languages have words for mango derived from amra or manga. [X]

Pics: 1. Salabhanjika at Sanchi where the tree is a mango tree 2. Detail from a miniature painting with a fruiting mango tree 3. Detail from a Kumaril Swamy painting 4. Snagging a Mango (2017), Aditi Raychoudhury.

And the jackfruit.


This is April.
The jackfruit tree that shines
like slashed gold at the touch of a chisel,
and the honey-mango tree that always tempts the hand
to carve a toy boat from its trunk,
will be shaking now
with, blossom, with fruit. [G. Sankara Kurup via X]

Though this artwork is related to Deepavali, the jackfruit is also a summer fruit.

Pic: 18th century miniature painting.

And lastly, my personal favourite. Summertime is jamun time. (wiki on jamun). But do not eat it with mangoes says the Sushruta Samhita:).

The luminescent beauty of Lord Krishna’s dark skin is compared to the shiny black fruit; just as a woman’s round, beautiful eyes is often poetically referred to as ‘jamuns’. The God of clouds – Lord Megha incarnated on earth as the jamun and that is why the colour of the fruit is like the stormy monsoon clouds. [X].

Pics: illustration of the jamun tree, Raag Megh Malhar, Jamun Kheer by kharakapas. 

Posted in 18th century, 1930s, 1940s, 20th century, Ancient India, Art, contemporary fashion, costumes in art, Culture, fashion, Flora, Flowers, Flowers in Literature, India, Indian Aesthetics, indian art, Indian Costume, Indian Flora and Fauna, Indian Literature, Indian Women, miniature paintings, Paintings, Seasons, Women, women in art | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Folk Jewellery of Pakistan

Folk jewellery of Pakistan, 1973 PIA Calendar. The link for the last postcard is unavailable but from the bandhani dupatta and mirrorwork suggests Sindh.  For pics 1 to 3, the captions are as follows:

1. The punjangla has a ring for every finger attached to a bracelet. It is popular with brides all over Pakistan.

2. Women of the Kalash valley wear the kapas, an ornamental head dress adorned with shells, beads and bells. The silver necklace is tied high on the throat and worn with rows of beads.

3. The ghulbali, a heavy head ornament, is worn by women of the Powindahs, a nomadic tribe in the North West Frontier Province.


Posted in 1970s, 2017 posts, Culture, fashion, Folk, Jewellery, late 20th century, Pakistan, Tribal, Vintage, vintage jewellery, vintage style | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brief Notes from Japan


サリーの女 (Maiden in a sari), 1983. From the Museum publication on the artist Akino Fuku (秋野不矩)).

While in Japan I made a visit to the Akino Fuku Museum in Hamamatsu, Japan. While my favourite work of hers was not on display (the paintings are rotated, insert crying icon), it was still wonderful to be there and see her works..  I did get to see one of the artworks I featured on the blog as well as other rangoli paintings.  You can’t gauge works from pcs at all, e.g. I didn’t realise Fuku’s canvasses are pretty large.

The sari is so similar to a Santiniketan silk I once owned that I am inclined to think this is a similar silk.

Getting to the museum takes some planning as it is a little out of the way so only for those really interested!

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I also dropped by at the kimono/furisode show at the Nishijin Textile Centre, Kyoto. The show is about 10 minutes, free and held every hour at the Centre. If you do visit, factor the show in since it is quite charming. Plus you can see the weavers at work.

The blue kimono in the solo pic has a shuttle motif on the obi (sash) as part of Nishijin 550 (550th anniversary since the area began to be recognised as Nishijin)

The highlight for me was the History Room which displays textiles held by the Centre as well as pattern books and the like that date back to the Meiji era and even earlier. As with our textiles, you can see both continuity and change in the motifs, colours, patterns and the like (my favourite was the 20s/30s).

The rest of the Centre is given over to the gift shop as well as rental kimonos.

Posted in 1980s, 2017 posts, Art, Asia, clothing, Costume, costumes in art, Culture, East Asia, fashion, India, Indian Costume, Indian Women, Japan, Japanese art, Japanese Costume, Paintings, Personal, Vintage, vintage art, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment