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The Kalam lady
Banasri Rao in one of her designs. Picture by Rashbehari Das

Kuchipudi exponent Banasri Rao is a woman of many parts. Not only has she had “20,000 performances in 65 countries”, she is also making a name for her brand of Kalamkari blouses. In Calcutta for the launch of her creations at Kamala (ICCR, 9A Ho Chi Minh Sarani), the Delhi-based dancer-designer chatted with t2...

How did designing happen to you?

You cannot call me a designer! I will be very ashamed.... It all started with my intention to make well-fitted blouses. You cannot get a well-fitted blouse in the whole of India. People neglect blouses. I feel you should buy blouses first and then match your saris with them. When I started designing, I never thought it would pick up. I have never liked a rubia voile blouse. I used to design blouses for myself. I am an artist and I go to so many functions. Whatever I used to wear, people would notice. Even when I was struggling (with dance), I did not want to wear something ordinary… and this was 30 years ago. There was nothing professional about it. I started doing it professionally a year and a half ago. It was only last year in April that one of my students asked me to make something for her. She wore it to some functions where people asked her if it was made by a designer. After that she suggested that I design.

How did you go about it?

I hired a domain in the name of Anghaar. It means abhushan or what you wear and Angikam (her label) means body. Angikam is a word from the Natyashastra. For me it was difficult, being a well-known artist… a Padma (Padmashree) awardee and then asking people, ‘Will you buy a blouse?’... In Delhi, people don’t get to show their blouses as they are covered up in shawls. So, I made a Kalamkari and woollen blouse. I thought Kalamkari could be done differently. I sold my first 10 blouses to a dancer in Hyderabad — Alekhya Punjala.

My first time as a saleswoman was when I carried 20 blouses to an embassy in Delhi. The watchman thought I was a saleswoman. I showed a lady some blouses. This was in April 2010. Now she only wears my clothes. I have 60 to 70 clients in Delhi. I make blouses, churidars, dupattas and jackets.

A Kalamkari applique blouse by Banasri at Kamala. Picture by Rashbehari Das

Why Kalamkari?

I am a Bengali by birth but in my previous birth, I was a Telugu! That’s the only explanation I have. I used to go to Tirupati a lot and whenever I used to see a Kalamkari painting or a bag, I used to pick it up. I love Kalamkari! So, I read up about it. It is a very rare art.

Your Kalamkari, you say, is a little different…

People have different sensibilities. I love bright colours... a contrast to Kalamkari. So I thought of experimenting with red and blue. I buy the fabrics myself and then I sketch. Then my tailor comes and we have sessions for five to six hours. I now have six people in my Kalamkari unit. I don’t think about what will sell. I do what I love to wear.

What are your favourite motifs and colours?

I love peacock and birds. I have also put a lotus motif in one of my creations… a Bengali motif. If you walk into a room with a simple sari, wearing one of my blouses, people will ask you where you got the blouse from. I love red and maroon.

What have you launched in Calcutta?

Kamala has 50 pieces. Lots of blouses... about 19 saris. This is my first time in Calcutta. I am thrilled.

How do you juggle dance and designing?

I find it challenging. I am a very punctual person and I am successful because of my time management. I have 100 students in Delhi and three dance centres. Mondays and Fridays, when I don’t have dance classes, I devote to designing. If a design comes to me even in the middle of the night, I get up and sketch so that I don’t forget the combinations.

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