All That Glitters Ain’t (Banarasi) Gold

waterredcarpet.jpgApparently the only surprise about Deepa Mehta’s Water losing out on the Best Foreign Film award last night was that the eventual winner wasn’t Pan’s Labyrinth, the consensus favorite, but rather The Lives of Others, by an impossibly tall German director with an impossibly aristocratic Prussian name. So there’s little gnashing of teeth or rending of garments in the Indian press today, simply matter-of-fact recognition that “India’s Oscar jinx” carries on. It’s also apparently a known fact (I never get to the movies, so I’m just repeating what I read) that the entire field for the foreign-film award was extremely strong. So no injustice here any way you cut it.

However, I am rather exercised at the Monday morning snub from the newspaper round-ups of red carpet fashion, which roundly ignore the gorgeous heirloom gold-threaded Banarasi sari in which Mehta graced the ceremony. Los Angeles Times, New York Times — no one paid the slightest notice, positive or negative, to the passage across the red carpet of the Water crew. Even my mellow Hank Stuever in the Washington Post — political, worldly, and queer as the proverbial three-dollar bill — ignored the desi contingent, his confessed ogling of Ryan Gosling affording John Abraham no residual love.

Oh well. Perhaps it’s all for the best that our peoples passed by under the radar, considering the standard-issue snark that’s become de rigueur in such coverage. Or perhaps coverage was the point — body coverage, that is: with so much exposed bosom and leg to take in — let alone Jack Nicholson’s creepily depilated dome — those who took cover in dignified, discreet outfits necessarily condemned themselves to oblivion in the morning news.

deepatoronto.jpg Deepa could have joined the flesh parade, had she wanted to match up against Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren in the “do they still got it?” division, a bit of a rigged fixture for a director against two actresses. The dresses were there for the wearing, but the sista had a much better plan:

They must have been throwing clothes at Mehta once the nominations were announced.

“Yes, they were,” she admits. “Chanel, Armani, Prada etc. … approached me. `No, thank you. I’m wearing my mother’s sari.’ For one thing, I’ll never wear a dress in my life: I’m more blue jeans and cargo pants. It was just a question of what sari.”

Her mother’s sari was part of her trousseau.

“My paternal grandmother gave it to my mom when she got married,” she recalls. “It’s gold but because it is so old (from the ’40s), it’s burnished. It’s very subtle. The gold thread is a weave not done anymore. It’s gorgeous and it’s personal. It’s Mom’s.

“And Bulgari wanted to do my jewellery. But I’ll wear my antique Indian jewellery because it goes with the sari.”

Read the full, friendly feature from the Toronto Star here. As for the Oscars, if you’re feeling the pain of desi exclusion, the Economic Times offers you here a kind of consolation.

196 thoughts on “All That Glitters Ain’t (Banarasi) Gold

  1. Seemed like Mehta was wearing a Santiniketan-style blouse–block print, primary colors, modest cut–to tie in with her 1940s Benarasi tissue sari. I thought it was elegant and old fashioned; this seems the look she was trying to evoke: antique jewels, little makeup, hair in a bun, etc. Too true, she could have worn a bollywood backless blouse; more makeup; a sexier hair do, etc. but perhaps she just didn’t want to.

    Meanwhile, her publicist clearly sucks. I noticed the Mehta crew walking across the red carpet and I was pretty excited then disappointed that no coverage ensued. Total missed story that would have made great sceen time for 45-seconds: accents from far away lands, shimmery fabric and unusual bling. Stupid E! producers.

    Japan and Spain. Wow. Excluding India from the divesity spectrum was not Ellen’s fault as she probably has a staff that helps her develop her content. Who ever checked her monologue should have suggested she map out a bit.

  2. A couple of comments: Although it’s nice that her sari is a family heirloom, I’m not really awed by it. It’s not that unique. There are so many more beautiful, striking Banarasi sarees that show off the craftmanship of the weaver. However, I happen to think the blouse is a nice vintage touch. The outfit is maybe not striking enough for the red carpet. And that other red and white sari the other chick is wearing reminds me of the depressing afternoon I spent doing wedding shopping in New Jersey, going from one tacky sari shop to the next as they unfurled overpriced rhinestoned monstrosities and I longed for a classic Kanjeevaram. The whole concept of a “designer” sari is a joke. Handloom saris are unique individual pieces and finding the perfect one is far more of an achievement than having one designed for you by Ritu Kumar (whose other clothing designs I actually happen to like).

    “very few women especially Mehta, look good natural” I totally disagree with that. It’s a matter of personal preference. I don’t think most women NEED makeup to look presentable. Even cosmetics companies no longer try to sell that idea. Some are even built on the foundation (no pun intended) of looking “natural”. I think Deepa Mehta projected the look she wanted to project, which is what fashion is really about anyway.

  3. For the life of me I can’t understand why the producers of WATER didn’t hire PMK/HBH for this gala event..It would have made all the difference..they really dropped the ball on this. Any thoughts Saira?

  4. DEEPA MEHTA WORE THE SARI IN THE WORST WAY POSSIBLE! One was seriously appalled! You go to kancheepuram, u get so many lovely saris. She chose this??! Anyone can teach a person how to wear a sari. All u have to do, is make sure nobody steps on it.

    As for an indian movie winning an oscar, indians have to make movies about india, for india. Either they make movies that are made about foreign countries for india, or made for foreign countries about india.

    Lagaan and Water are classical examples of the 2nd category. Nayakan, Thevar Magan are examples of the former.

  5. Oh ho ho! I thought you were a Spence girl yourself. If you’re the mother of a Spencie, I mean no offence. Spence girls have a reputation for being aloof and hoitie-toitie, but I’m sure it doesn’t apply to your darling daughter.

    Thanks BB, it really doesn’t apply to them– they party down, and we always see Gwyneth movies. Me, I’m not-so-girlish-

  6. “PMK reps Lisa Ray”

    I imagine she doesn’t rank high on their list of priorities…sigh PMK just hasn’t been the same since Leslee Dart was fired.

  7. I don’t think most women NEED makeup to look presentable. Even cosmetics companies no longer try to sell that idea

    It’s not about needing makeup to look presentable, it’s about needing some makeup so that your features don’t disappear in photos and on film. And DM did have makeup on, only it was harsh black liquid liner and some sort of ashy unflattering foundation and blush, and the lips totally disappeared because of her “principled” stand against lipstick (which is slightly ironic given that she was wearing Prada shoes and a designer blouse. It’s like, honey, you’re going to the Oscars, you know what the game is and you’re playing it, marketing and all, spare us the faux highmindedness on lipstick for gods sakes.

    And that other red and white sari the other chick is wearing reminds me of the depressing afternoon I spent doing wedding shopping in New Jersey, going from one tacky sari shop to the next as they unfurled overpriced rhinestoned monstrosities and I longed for a classic Kanjeevaram. The whole concept of a “designer” sari is a joke

    YES! I’ve had very similar experiences, in Delhi. The shop guys were stunned that anyone should want an “old-fashioned” tanchoi or kanjeevaram when the glories of multicoloured rhinestones lay before them.

  8. It’s not about needing makeup to look presentable, it’s about needing some makeup so that your features don’t disappear in photos and on film.

    I wasn’t really defending Deepa Mehta, just responding to JOATs opinion that most women don’t look good natural. Or maybe she was talking about on film too.
    Is Mehta’s dislike of lipstick really principled, or is it just that she doesn’t like it? I can’t imagine how it could be the former when she wears other forms of makeup. I don’t necessarily think, though, that designer clothes and makeup go hand in hand. For example I spend a lot of time, money, and effort on my clothes, but own and wear very little makeup. Not a principled stand, just a personal preference.

    YES! I’ve had very similar experiences, in Delhi. The shop guys were stunned that anyone should want an “old-fashioned” tanchoi or kanjeevaram when the glories of multicoloured rhinestones lay before them.

    I feel like it’s a new phenomenon–when I was in high school in India it was considered quite hip to wear traditional fabrics. Now I see people in the US who in other ways dress normally and tastefully wear those rhinestoned getups whenever they attend a desi event. Obviously I realize this is a matter of opinion but I don’t get it! I realize too that it makes me a hypocrite because I’m defending peoples’ right to not wear makeup in the same breath I pick on their clothing :)

  9. I wasn’t really defending Deepa Mehta, just responding to JOATs opinion that most women don’t look good natural. Or maybe she was talking about on film too.

    My whole point was that I find some of the principled ‘oh I don’t wear makeup’ a bit ridiculous when it isn’t about needing to wear makeup as much as it is about looking presentable and getting noticed for an event that requires it. Not everyone looks good natural, Mehta is one of them. Very little bit of makeup would do wonders for her and yes NATURAL makeup. That’s the whole point. No one is asking her to look like a clown just not hurt our eyes to look. The 1980s liquid eyeliner needs to die! Personally I think it was tacky on Mehta’s part to take such a ridiculous stand. She looked terrible and no one noticed her. If she doesn’t care that no one notices her well then so be it. It has nothing to do with her ability to make movies or her movies in itself, it has to do with walking the red carpet.

  10. OK, I went back and checked the lipstick quote (it was from the Toronto Star article) to be sure I wasn’t misinterpreting her stand:

    Her hair is straight with beautiful natural streaks of grey; her face is makeup free. A bright red lip colour would be stunning with her gold sari, but “I’ve never worn lipstick in my life and I’m not going to start now.”

    It’s not clear if it was out of principle or preference, on a second read. In any event, silly decision, and much as I respect her right to make it, my inner nitpicky makeover-er cringed.

  11. my inner nitpicky makeover-er cringed

    Heheehe my whole rant was along that principle :-) Along the lines of natural I used to know someone that insisted on not using any kind of hair products after she washed her hair and held every cowlick of her hair down with bobby pins sometimes over 20 bobby pins and the head looked like a ‘fro (read: NOT ATTRACTIVE). And I kept thinking wow a little polish would bring out the soft curls in her hair and make her look lovely. And her stand was “I prefer natural”. But who was to tell her natural looked like Cousin It?

  12. Didn’t care for Water but calling Mehta fugly and witch is weak. It’s not like Peter Jackson’s breaking hearts all over red carpet.

  13. Didn’t care for Water but calling Mehta fugly and witch is weak. It’s not like Peter Jackson’s breaking hearts all over red carpet.

    Thank you. A lot of meanness and dare I say some sexism and double standards floating around. As much to the point, am I the only one here who actually thought she looked lovely, in a dignified, retro way?

  14. While that is not how I would personally go dressed to the Oscars (I certainly would not tuck the pallu of my sari into my waist like I was getting ready to fry pakoras), I think she has a deliberately cultivated image. Part exotic, part natural, part artsy, and part defiant insouciance, it’s a look that is eaten up by the demographic that most enjoys movies like Water. The dark eyeliner, the unstyled hair and the heirloom sari are all part of it. While it might not appeal to the Oscar crowd, she has other fish to fry. And as evidenced by the article SP referenced, that look does get positive attention from other media people.

  15. As much to the point, am I the only one here who actually thought she looked lovely, in a dignified, retro way?

    I didn’t think she looked lovely, but I thought she looked nice. And as I have now said 3 times so will try to stop saying, I think she looked the way she wanted to look, which is what really matters.

  16. And frankly, she would probably consider it a compliment that most people thought her outfit/makeup wasn’t appropriate for the Oscars. Bucking the trend is a much more powerful fashion statement than following it.

  17. Is it particularly mean or sexist to want the desi crew to stand out and get some attention at what is, after all, a major publicity event, rather than downplaying their assets to the point of oblivion? Weren’t you disappointed that they got so little attention in the postmortems, Siddhartha, and isn’t that why you posted about this? There’s the aesthetic judgement part of it (which I realise is very personal) and then there’s the pragmatic part of it. But as desishiksa rightly points out, DM does play to a more arty base.

  18. Is it particularly mean or sexist to want the desi crew to stand out and get some attention at what is, after all, a major publicity event, rather than downplaying their assets to the point of oblivion?

    Not at all. But when people start throwing around terms like fugly and witch, as Shodan points out above, that’s when it becomes mean and might, in context, be considered sexist.

    Weren’t you disappointed that they got so little attention in the postmortems, Siddhartha, and isn’t that why you posted about this?

    Frankly, no, I wasn’t disappointed — when it comes to awards and galas, I’m in the KRS-ONE school of thought (“the award shows/for pimps and hos”) — so I guess you could say that I found the lack of media attention interesting, noteworthy, and valid as a conversation starter here, but not disappointing per se. It’s all illusion and artifice anyway.

  19. Here’s that KRS quote in context. The album is Edutainment, released in 1990.

    On my shelf I got titles
    Other artists want belts and idols
    World cups from seminars and conventions
    Competition and not to mention
    The award shows for pimps and hoes
    And every other hypocrite that flaunt their clothes
    KRS knows, so he just grows
    Always sayin somethin different from the average Joe’s
    So I confront them with the biggest chain
    but it doesn’t rate albums, I believe it is the brain
    So I’ll remain free while you reign, I’m lovin it
    You be the king and I’ll overthrow your government
  20. Fair enough, I certainly wouldn’t defend the use of ‘fugly’ or ‘witch’ (both words I detest).

    I don’t see DM as that much of a principled outsider arty-filmmaker type, though. I mean, one wants to, she fits the mould sometimes, but with this movie I felt she really was focused on marketing and particularly marketing to the West, with the prettification of actors/scenery, random colourful Holi scene that showed up on all the promos, the bookend dramatic quotes, etc. And I almost felt like she was trying to play up the retro-chic bit with the interviews about her grandmother’s sari and antique jewellry and all that. So I’m less inclined to cut her slack for a principled refusal to play the Hollywood game than I might have been for the makers of Khamosh Paani, Pinjar, Hazaron Khwahishen, Amu, etc.

  21. A lot of meanness and dare I say some sexism and double standards floating around.

    Oh come on now. There was a practically naked picture of a very attractive young woman up here a few months ago, the post about the desi calendar and people ripped her too.

    Janeofalltrades: Are you commenting from India or are you back?

    I’m back thank you for asking.

  22. I for one am proud of her for choosing to wear a beautiful sari instead of being cowed into the same ol same Oscar garb everyone turns up in. I know that most women would give up a limb just to be able to say they’re wearing a particular popular designer or another but she wasn’t one of them. Good for her.

  23. Thank you. A lot of meanness and dare I say some sexism and double standards floating around. As much to the point, am I the only one here who actually thought she looked lovely, in a dignified, retro way?

    Nope. You’re not.

  24. It seems to me that we’re all so thoroughly hegemonized by Western (American?) standards of ‘good-lookingness’ (not beauty, that would be too presumptuous) and ‘appropriate attire’ that we can no longer discuss these issues outside the well-defined parameters. And it’s not so much sexism (or racism) here as ‘look-ism’. I mean, we all know there are no ‘bad-looking’ actors and actresses, Ranjit Chowdhury excepted, but gosh, directors and such ought to be able to look like, well, themselves (and us?).

    BTW, JOAT – who are all those people in the pics you posted. Just random folks, or specific people we might know if only we knew who? Also, what’s the desi angle on Pic4 :)

  25. Here are perfectly good examples of how to be desi or wear desi at the Oscars.

    How do any of those pictures look any better than Deepa Mehta? I wouldn’t be caught dead in the outfit in picture number one, whereas I would wear Deepa Mehta’s sari even if it wouldn’t have been my personal first choice.

    It’s a time-honored Oscar tradition to dissect the red carpet outfits after the show, and in light of that, I don’t see why we shouldn’t do it here, but stop short of personal attacks on her attractiveness.

    Although I’m honestly starting to feel like I have been living in an alternate universe. I didn’t realize there were events that required makeup.

  26. Thanks desishiksa

    I almost decided to never come back to the mutiny after reading some of the comments here ( specifically the ugly terms used for DM as well as the “all women need makeup” thread)

    Thanks for bringing soem common sense to the discussion

  27. I don’t think the discussion is as much about personal preferences as we’ll have a perspective on whether to don a sari or not were any of us invited to stroll down the red carpet. Perhaps, it’s an expectation that when you are such a global stage of 1 billion people, participants should take the time to present themselves in the manner they see best fit. I thought Shekar Kapur’s outfit did wonders for his look whereas John’s fell flat in the standard black, basic backdrop provided by bland tuxes. Deepa’s choice was a personal one, but one that would not solicit images, photogs, or interest from a global press platform. Then I wonder, “if I have my one shot for people to see me, read about me, go watch my film,” wouldn’t that be as important to consider? Celebs don’t choose their gowns based on choice as much as how likely will press snap away to ensure front page coverage to further promote their films, careers, etc. Attending the Oscars isn’t about having fun and celebrating your achievement with shiny lip gloss as much as it is about immortalizing your work. IMHO, the lack of attention was exacerbated by their wardrobe choices.

  28. Attending the Oscars isn’t about having fun and celebrating your achievement with shiny lip gloss as much as it is about immortalizing your work.

    Doesn’t her work immortalize itself?

    Runa, thank you for validating me :)

  29. Deepa’s choice was a personal one, but one that would not solicit images, photogs, or interest from a global press platform. Then I wonder, “if I have my one shot for people to see me, read about me, go watch my film,” wouldn’t that be as important to consider? Celebs don’t choose their gowns based on choice as much as how likely will press snap away to ensure front page coverage to further promote their films, careers, etc. Attending the Oscars isn’t about having fun and celebrating your achievement with shiny lip gloss as much as it is about immortalizing your work. IMHO, the lack of attention was exacerbated by their wardrobe choices.

    I’m not somebody who thinks that women “need” makeup. However, I did think DM’s position was ironic since she is a director. Presumably, any actor who wanted to be in her films would require makeup so as to be presentable in a certain fashion on film. Well, DM was being photographed. Why impose one standard on the actors if you’re unwilling to follow it yourself? On this day, everybody, directors included, are in front of the camera.

  30. “Well, DM was being photographed. Why impose one standard on the actors if you’re unwilling to follow it yourself? On this day, everybody, directors included, are in front of the camera.”

    but a lot of men also wear make-up for tv and the screen (not just for playing an older/younger man etc. but just for cosmetic reasons under strong lights, to look better than they do in real life), but they are not expected to wear make-up on the red carpet so it’s really a double standard against women (at least deepa mehta looks groomed. some of the female stars like diaz looked unkempt with their hairstyles. so that could be another point of personal preference like make-up).

  31. Who said women always need makeup? Or that DM shouldn’t have worn a sari (I loved her sari! I want her sari! I wish she had done a better job of showing it to its best advantage!)? The complaint about “hegemonic western standards” is knee jerk and not relevant here, IMO. I agree with Saira:

    Deepa’s choice was a personal one, but one that would not solicit images, photogs, or interest from a global press platform. Then I wonder, “if I have my one shot for people to see me, read about me, go watch my film,” wouldn’t that be as important to consider?

    Admittedly, any postmortem red carpet outfit dissecting is going to be subjective and the best of us will be judgemental (and reveal our shallowness and vanity ;) in the process. And “lookism” is part of the entire Oscars/Hollywood shebang. Why do you think Lisa Ray and John Abraham were selected for Water, because of their exalted acting skills? The movie industry is what it is, whether or not you and I would personally espouse those values in our everyday lives and interactions.

  32. Bhagwaan ke liye use chhod do. She is almost 60. Is there no age at which a girl is out of the beauty game?

  33. Desishiksa @#130, I agree. I hate makeup and don’t understand why anyone outside of showbiz “needs” it.

  34. The movie industry is what it is, whether or not you and I would personally espouse those values in our everyday lives and interactions.

    Do that comments on this thread count as part of one’s ‘everyday lives and interactions’?

  35. To the extent that comments on this thread are in response to Siddhartha’s original post lamenting the lack of attention given to DM and the Water crew at the Oscars, they are related to the question of self-presentation at a Hollywood event – by “everyday lives and interactions” I was referring to whether I personally feel the need to always wear makeup or would judge friends for not wearing it, that sort of thing (and btw, I don’t).

    The subtext for me, here, is that people are trying to figure out why DM and Water didn’t get much attention at the Oscars. I think in both the film and on the red carpet DM fell flat by being, pardon my French, half-assed about whether she wanted to pander to the market or be an independent artiste, driven primarily by creative considerations. Just my chavanni’s worth.

  36. SP, I didn’t intend to single you out personally, but the dhulai she’s received at the hands of her desi bahi-behan here is far worse than the cold shoulder she received at Hollywood.

  37. Sakshi, I see your point, but I think it’s worth considering what the original question was, and how responses flowed from it. And when someone like DM decides to play the Hollywood game, get the distribution and publicity, it’s something of a double-edged sword. I personally wish she hadn’t played the game to begin with, because it hurt the film artistically, but she made the decision and there are costs and benefits to it. So I don’t see much point in blaming the lack of attention the Water crew got on the red carpet on some sort of shallow Hollywood conspiracy to only reward chamak-dhamak flesh-revealing babes. Sure, we’d all like good cinema to be rewarded, and good actors like Seema Biswas to get the attention they deserve even though they aren’t Lisas and Aishwaryas. But isn’t it expecting a bit much of Hollywood?

  38. Sure, we’d all like good cinema to be rewarded, and good actors like Seema Biswas to get the attention they deserve even though they aren’t Lisas and Aishwaryas. But isn’t it expecting a bit much of Hollywood?

    Yes, Hollywood likes pretty faces. And that is why I don’t think anyone expected Deepa Mehta to be noticed. Lisa Ray looked perfect, and even she was not noticed. I doubt DM would have been noticed even if she had looked her best. In fact, no one above seemed surprised DM was not noticed(though I did not read through all the comments).

    It seems like Deepa Mehta with her less than perfect dress sense provided too easy a target for people to resist. I also find it offensive that people expect her to dress up, mostly, it seems, because she is a woman. Yes, she bought into the Hollywood game herself, but so did George Lucas, and no one cares about how he dresses.

  39. It seems like Deepa Mehta with her less than perfect dress sense provided too easy a target for people to resist. I also find it offensive that people expect her to dress up, mostly, it seems, because she is a woman.

    That may well be. I personally thought her outfit wasn’t the biggest issue, but that she and the Water crew should have walked the red carpet in pairs/without accompanying family, because that would have been more camera-friendly. But your point about women being easy targets for their appearance is well taken. It’s easy to slip into – mea culpa.

  40. Don’t know why I’m getting into this, but 2 things strike me. First, why must women and men have the same standards for everything? Men have their own constraints and pressures (and they’re not entirely exempt from being judged on their looks either). But the truth is that women just happen to be more into beauty and clothes. While I agree this can be over the top at times, it seems equally stifling to expect women not to be into beauty and clothes. Secondly, standards of appearance and hygiene are maintained as much for others as for oneself. I don’t agree with the i-don’t-care-about-my-appearance hypothesis for this reason. There’s a dress code for the office, the swimming pool and even some restaurants. Imo DM had an obligation to make herself as presentable as she possibly could for the occasion.

  41. there are different standards when it comes to women and men..and what’s expected of their ‘fashion sense’ or ‘presentability’ ..i am not saying that it’s fair…but that is the way the world works (right now anyways)… would an obese weather person ever be on a morning news show like al roker is (even after his gastric bypass).. the answer is a full fledged NO… female newscasters are thin, ‘presentable’…wherease male newscasters can be as fugly, pudgy, balding, etc… (not picking on newscasters, but that is the first frame of reference i thought of…and this can be broadened onto other professions, etc..)

    and as for water not getting much attention at the oscars.. it wasn’t that great of a movie. period.

  42. The way that Mehta dressed for the Oscars is basically the way she dresses for Canadian galas; ornate sari tied in a rather dowdy way, heavy black eyeliner, bare lips. I don’t think it’s a particularly attractive look, but it’s clearly the look that she’s comfortable with. Anyway, no matter how she dressed, she wouldn’t have received much attention because Water wasn’t a frontrunner for the Oscar.

  43. For some reason, Seema Biswas turns up again and again as “Waheeda Rahman” in many news items and photos of the red carpet – how bizarre! I think some AP photographer got quite confused.