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On Bindis, Drapes and Indian Cinema

02nd June 2023 .  6 min read

Over-the-top sarees, designer blouses, heavy gold and silver jewellery, winged kajal and stylish bindis—together form the image of the classic Indian television vamp. Who can forget Komolika’s style in Kasauti Zindagi Ki or Ramola Sikand’s iconic bindis in Kahinn Kissi Roz? Even before we came to know about the storyline of a specific Indian drama series, looking at a character, donning a unique big bindi, used to let us know that the vamp is here. On the other hand, the female protagonist would be shown in a simple saree or a kurti, with jewellery and bindi kept as minimal as possible. While this might not resonate with all Indian television dramas, the persistence of this polarity is true for at least most of them. 

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 Komolika and her iconic bindis in Kasauti Zindagi Ki

In Indian cinema, clothing has a major impact on how a character is perceived by the audience and the emotions which are communicated through a particular scene(s). For example, in our minds, chiffon sarees have become the symbol of romance, seduction and sensuality. We have all been mesmerised by the saree-clad looks of Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai in Devdas (2002) or of Sushmita Sen in Main Hoon Na (2004). Not only sarees but the unforgettable Anarkali look by Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam (1960) is still considered to be a sign of elegance, grace and beauty

in mainstream fashion and culture.

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Mesmerizing Saree-clad looks of

Paro (Parvati) and Chandramukhi in Devdas

Clothing, the colours used and the patterns shown all have a role in making a scene or a film sit tight in the minds of the viewers. From the flowing pallu of Paro (Parvati) in Devdas as she runs through the corridors to reach Dev to the silk-draped looks of Tripti Dimri in and as Bulbbul (2020)—as viewers, we couldn’t seem to ignore the attire of these characters during the entire film. For example: “Bulbbul’s red wedding traditional attire or even her golden silk saree represents the norms, where she doesn’t have much say. Even as a grown-up lady, she is mostly shown in pastel pinks and greens, probably to express the vulnerable and dainty side of the character”. But, when Bulbbul represents Goddess Kali, the colours also change—from pastels to bold ones like blue, purple and red to show her character under a contrasting light.

Jewellery has also been employed as a key medium of symbolic communication in and across cinematic works. For example: In the Bengali film, Goynar Baksho (2013), the story revolves around the character, Rashmoni, who was widowed at a young age and starts living with her parents. Having lost the right to fulfil the desire of wearing colourful clothes, Rashmoni “holds on to her jewellery as her only source of happiness”. She becomes obsessed with it and tries to protect it even as a spirit after her death. In this movie, jewellery symbolises a widow’s desire to reclaim her body, liberate herself and cross the rigid boundaries laid in front of her by society.

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Bulbbul and her tryst with Sarees 

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Rashmoni in Goynar Bakhsho

Based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel and directed by Rituparno Ghosh, one of the most brilliant descriptive uses of jewellery can be seen in the Indian Bengali drama film, Chokher Bali (2003). In this film, jewellery symbolises the life of both Binondini and Ashalata—one who is a widow and another, who is a married woman. First, it marks the difference between the life of the two, where one has the right to adorn her body with beautiful necklaces and earrings while the other, cannot do so because she is a widow. Second, jewellery also becomes the reason for the friendship between Ashalata and Binondini. Ashalata lets Bindonini borrow her jewellery and live out her desires, at least in secret. Third, jewellery also marks the start of Binondini’s betrayal as she starts an affair with Ashalata’s husband, Mahendra, in a bid to imagine a life for herself where she can fulfil her desires and live like Ashalata.

Cinema reflects societal hierarchy and the customs, beliefs and rituals which are its products. What characters wear and, more importantly—what can or cannot the characters wear is based on their caste, class, gender and circumstances in life. Through clothes and jewellery, the tone and mood of the story are communicated to the audience and, that is an essential component of film-making. Sarees, bindis, jhumkas—all become a part of a character as they give life to the storyline and transition through various scenes to reach the climax. 

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Binondini and Ashalata in Choker Bali 

"Sabahat Ali Wani is a writer, researcher and artist from Kashmir. She loves to explore the intersection of cinema with gender, identity and politics, and believes that the appreciation of cinema is incomplete without its criticism."

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