On Uski Roti (1969)

Uski Roti (1969) and Gaman (see my previous post) have a vehicle driver and a lonely wife in common and there the comparison ends. But this post is a companion piece to the Gaman post because like Gaman it’s limited number of costumes convey a sense of place and time, in this case rural Punjab in the late 60s. Where Gaman’s costumes signal a faded gentility and melancholia, the costumes of Uski Roti are rugged and utilitarian, with spashes of bold prints in keeping with the time. Add to this hints of ornamentation, a bit of tinsel, an anklet and so on. In this movie the men are a little on the margins, but given the rural setting and the truck driver protagonist, their costumes convey a direct sort of masculinity.

The female protagonist, Balo, and her sister are rural women. Throughout the movie they appear in a salwar kameez, the dupatta draped over the head and often with a shawl indicating a colder season.

The type of salwar suit worn is not dissimilar from say early 20th century photographs of the Punjab, in particular the shorter kurti worn by the sister. Given the otherwise just below the knee kurtas in the film, it did make me wonder if the shorter length indicated the sister’s youth. The prints however are like those of the 60s and 70s – often the kind of fabric and the prints are a more useful indication of the period than the tailoring per se. Where the sister’s kurta has strong sunflower prints that stand out against the stark background (and we can assume that it was brightly coloured too, given the 60s), Balo’s is a little faded. Nevertheless the motifs are large. Balo’s kurta sleeve is also like a buttoned down shirt – kurtas upto the 50s often incorporated western detailing in the collars, sleeves etc and these no doubt percolated into rural areas too.

A full length view of the salwar kurtas of the film above (click for larger view).

The movie has a lot of close ups and frames its actors against stark surroundings, you can therefore see the texture of the fabric as well as embroidery details on shawls and dupattas. I think the embroidery on the first 2 pics is Kashmiri but I am happy to be corrected if this is not the case.

Just a few more screengrabs that show the little details like the bangles and payal (anklet). As well as the protagonist’s bridal dupatta – synthetic with a bit of tinsel. And the winter signallers like the shawl (Kulu?), sweater and the razai/quilt (the block print Rajasthani sort).

The men in the movie have a bit of a mustachioed swagger overriding any ordinariness of clothing. Turbans and scarves tied around the head feature a fair bit. Much of the costumes can I guess be categorised as the tamba and kurta though I couldn’t always see the folds in the front.

As an aside, the lungi in a temperate climate like the Punjab is a bit interesting for me because broadly sarong/lungi garments are more common in tropical areas with divided clothing like trousers being favoured in drier, colder weather (there is the robe of course but that’s a separate story).

Sucha Singh’s mistress appears to live in a small town/city on his route. Though dressed not too dissimilarly from the rural women in the movie, the cosmetics and other things that surround her speak of the influence of cinema as well a greater focus on her appearance than the rural protagonists of the movie.

There are of course plenty of rural scenes in the movie as well as a card playing session filmed at Sucha Singh’s pit stop where the costumes provide a picture of the milieu but I haven’t really used those as they flow out from what I already have here.

I coudn’t ascertain who did the costumes for the film.

This review is part of summarising the costumes of older Indian cinema, you could say the little details that play a part in drawing us into a world long gone by.

PS: Uski Roti is not a movie I would easily recommend, though I quite liked it. I guess I would say read the non-spoiler reviews before giving it a try:)

Posted in 1960s, Costumes in Cinema, dupatta, film costumes, Film Costuming, Indian Cinema, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, Punjab | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Gaman Post

Last year we got ourselves a subscription for mubi and ended up quite enjoying their selection of films. We caught a fair few old Indian films – some of the films we saw are also on youtube but I guess the print quality might be a bit better on mubi. One of these movies was Gaman (1978). It is still relevant, many of the migrant issues raised in the film remain and some have grown more complex.

In comparison to the Muzaffar Ali films which followed later, notably the opulent Umrao Jaan, the costumes of this film are very few and often quite threadbare. Nevertheless they have the elegance of well worn clothing worn by a dignified people. And are also Uttar Pradesh/Awadh specific which is quite unusual in a movie.

Khairun (Smita Patil in a quiet, lovely performance) wears about 3 or 4 gharara suits in tones of black, white and red throughout the movie. I think this chevron print dupatta is quite characteristic of Avadh (more colourful versions appear in the movie Umaro Jaan too).

Ghulam Hasan (Farooq Shaikh) is largely in city clothes – especially the taxi driver uniform – so I might skip the male costumes in this film.

A clear view of the suits worn in the film, this costume was quite common among Muslim women and is often revived even now for contamporary suits, The dupatta is probably a block print mul sort.

Plainer versions of the everyday dress worn by Khairun.

Khairun as a bride, contrasted with Ghulam Hasan’s passenger in Mumbai, a young Maharashtrian bride, The yellow flowers of the latter are a kind of blanket flower (common in garlands for a long time but I rarely see them these days in Mumbai).

The only bit of glamour in the film comes from Protima Bedi in a handloom saree exuding Indian upper class elegance. These days the large bindi is relegated to TV soaps and it is hard to think of a contemporary actress carrying it off as well as Ms Bedi.

For the brides as well as an upper class woman, jasmine strings are the unifier.

The characters played by Geeta Siddharth and Hira Devi Mishra are representative of contemporary city styles among the lower middle classes and in an Uttar Pradesh village (although I am not a fan of always using the ilkal saree to indicate that the character is Maharashtrian, Mumbai had a more varied range to choose from in the 70s).

The ending is filmed at a train station and while there is a great deal of movement and it was difficult to get screen grabs, these two images show both the plain cottons as well as the synthetic mill cloth that went into cheaper, everyday sarees at the time.

The decoration of Ghulam Hasan’s house and the filmmaker’s grandmother in a costume similar to that of Khairun’s.

And as always the costume credits for the movie. Amir Bano also acts in the film and plays Ghulam Hasan’s mother.

Posted in 1970s, 20th century, clothing, Costume, Costumes in Cinema, dupatta, film costumes, Film Costuming, Flowers, Indian Actors, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Islamic style | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strange Weather in Mumbai

Deeka the Dog encapsulates the mood of 2021

Nearly a year has elapsed since I blogged here. Even for someone like me, used to a quiet life, pandemic anxiety and fatigue set in by mid 2021. If our immediate family made it through the year covid-less, this was not always the case for extended family. And so fashion and clothes weren’t much on my brain for much of last year. And of course there was also the lack of visual stimuli that everyday life provides – a girl in a new dress, passengers on a train, clothes on a rack – so vital in kick starting thoughts about clothes gone by. For most of the latter part of 2021, I felt unable to cohere my thoughts and put it down and something of it still lingers.

During the pandemic I also found myself firmly in middle age and found my relationship with clothes fundamentally altered. The aesthetic I have always been drawn to – traditional and decorative but a little off kilter and bohemian -didn’t seem to serve me any more. It is one of those periods in my life where I feel out of sync with my clothes. Oddly it felt like a question I needed to settle before writing about vintage fashion and clothes:). But that feeling has now passed.

Like most folk, I ended up consuming a great amount of content I had hitherto not paid much attention to. Since most of my posts rely on text and image, youtube was something I used sparingly and for specific purposes. And then last year idly flipping through short videos on India, I found a fair few video clips that were the source of images that I had used in my blog. Take for example, Indira Devi, whose stills are widely available on the Internet. Here she is in the video below at 1.07 and then 2.29.

Or a still of 1920s style that I had once used (and that felt like a great discovery back then). The video version is below, at 3.00 you can see all the ladies featured in the still.

And I must admit to letting out a little gasp when Homai Vyarawalla appeared at the end of the video below at 5:20, walking with equipment through a parade. It is such a cool few seconds, one of our first women photojournalists looking pretty unflappable on the job.

These videos give a very different sense of vintage fashions and style. On the one hand an image yields up minute details provided it is of good quality. But with videos the frozen glamour of stills is replaced with a sense of “real life” – the way clothes fall, move etc very much in evidence. I certainly found these videos very useful and might profile a few at some point this year.

While excavating fashion details from these videos still remains an art, it did make me wonder if the static blog format may no longer be the best way to interpret vintage styles. This feeling was only reinfornced by a fair few vintage/historical fashion bloggers I watch now and then on youtube, among them Karolina Zebrowska (whose droll observations I very much enjoy) and Bernadette Banner as well as non vintage channels like Audrey Coyne’s. For awhile I toyed with the idea of a video essay but the time committment and tech skills required made me put it on the back burner.

Too often in the past few years, a resolve to blog has more often than not fallen by the wayside. So let me not make any resolutions and simply hope to blog more. In the meantime, happy new year to anyone still reading!

Posted in Indian Women, Personal, Vintage | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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.

par3

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 , , , , , , , , | 3 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