Achhut Kanya was directed by Franz Osten and shot in the Bombay Talkies studio on Europeanized sets of a typical Indian village. It has been cloned times without number ever since in Hindi films.The Indian village, in its romanticized image of pretty girls in ethnic outfits, carrying water pots and laughing together, has since then been central to all rural plots. Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema
“No village girl ever has such eyebrows as Devika Rani wears in the movie and her coiffure and costume towards the end are far too rich and elaborate to be in character” (The Times of India, 24 July 1936, quoted in Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema)
The village girl aka “gaon ki gori” in Indian cinema retains a semblance of rural clothing, more often than not a coarse cotton ghaghra with a mismatched or contrast printed cotton choli (there are of course regional variants). From Achhut Kanya onwards the costume has been glamourised for the screen and actresses appear in full make up. The look has been fairly consistent across decades, see for example here and here.
Stills today: 1) Devika Rani in Achhut Kanya, 1936 2) The iconic poster of Kisan Kanya i.e. Farmer Girl 3) Nargis in the…er..mother of all rural films Mother India 4) unknown
He witnessed his mother’s longing for a sari right from the time he had been a child. It was shameful! A woman, in whose house saris were woven for the entire world, could not afford even an inexpensive Banarasi sari for herself, she spent all her life in cotton dhotis. Song of the Loom, Abdul Bismillah
Even market places in rural towns have replaced the cotton saris with the multicolored, cheap synthetic or polyester saris. [X]
Indian cinema also offered another view of the village in movies like Do Bigha Zamin (still 1), Mother India, Paar (still 2) and Pather Panchali (still 3). All movies deal with themes of poverty, inequality, endurance and struggle. And are fairly realistic in terms of costumes.
As the extract from Song of the Loom shows, the poor in villages could not afford more than simple bordered coarse cotton saris, even when they wove a better quality of cloth for the market. This in turn gave way to printed cottons. And in our time to synthetic saris (as in the last still from Welcome to Sajjanpur).
Love this post, Anu.
Thanks Betsy. I will be doing a series of posts on khadi and Indian independence – you might find that interesting too!
Wonderful post, Anu. The image from Pather Panchali is so powerful. It takes me straight back to the emotion + essence of the film… Thanks for sharing:)
Thank you Mardi. Karuna Bannerjee is wonderful in the movie, such an expressive face.