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The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal Beauty

The first transformation was the Rockstar. Sexy, smoky and very international! The jewels and clothes transformed Arpita from the good-girl-next-door to an international diva. The shackles and chains in dull gold and diamonds layered with a medallion almost bring her alive on a stage. Can you think of a sexy, sizzling kind of dark personality that’s hot from the outside but really vulnerable inside? That’s the look. I love Cindy Crawford’s hair that I used as a reference for this shot.

The second experiment was evening haute couture... a red carpet look. The exercise was to make Arpita look glamorous, sensual and ‘oh-my-god’ beautiful. This is the look that runs the risk of getting a celebrity into a fashion faux pas. Arpita passes the look with full marks.

Her hair is gelled back at the sides, high and glamorous on top. Because the outfit has a jagged neckline, there’s no necklace. Emerald-and-diamond earrings with 50-carat cut emeralds set in vintage setting in platinum, surrounded by diamonds. The brooch is a flower done in enamel with diamonds from the era of ‘naturalism’. A collector’s piece, almost impossible to recreate. The ring moving petals in a cocktail style with a centre solitaire. The bracelet soft but chunky with one-carat diamonds interspersed with small diamonds. The hair ornament Burmese rubies set in a red blaze to complement the copper tones in the dress.

So quiet, so elegant, so fiery, so complete. Arpita looks like an international star and holds her own. The hairdo, the jewels, the clothes give her a confident look, again understated but innately stylish.

Victoria Memorial. The Marble Palace. The old buildings in Dalhousie. The Howrah Bridge. Rabindranath Tagore. Satyajit Ray. Suchitra Sen. Jhaal muri. Nolen gurer sandesh. The laal paar sari. These are the ingredients in a magic recipe for Calcutta’s unique sense of style.

I have often spoken about Calcutta’s unique fashion sense that exudes a certain old-world charm. The charm that Calcutta used to once stand for. The charm that the entire country talks about but unfortunately cannot have. That bygone era is etched deeply in my mind and that’s the time in history I would like to freeze and eventually bring back.

The essence of who we are and what we aspire to be is rooted in our past and we should never forget it because that’s what gives us our identity beautifully and uniquely. So when someone talks about the style in London, Mumbai or Paris, sitting here in Calcutta, for us it’s only a borrowed sense of style.

We are better than the best. We can create fashion. We can make magic. And we can bring back the yesteryears but in a modern avatar. A little more modern, a little more edgy and a little more chutzpah but never losing our sense of balance, grace and dignity.

Satyajit Ray’s Devi

The message is clear to be able to recreate the style of the woman in Calcutta. Talk about cinema, let’s go frame by frame. Look at movies 50-60 years ago. They looked like static silent films with noise pollution. Seventy five per cent of what was made was about frames that didn’t look good, except Ray’s films.

Some of his films had the black-and-white charisma and elegance. At that point in time, even Bollywood took notice of this particular style statement. Ray had a way with his camera angles and the manner in which he captured the moods and natural beauty of a woman and her own space. Lots of movies came after that, both in Bollywood and in Bengal, that had no style at all. The leading lady wore pants or a gown, looking like a caricature of a Hollywood actress in a style completely borrowed and plonked on her without a second thought.

Chokher Bali

In later years there was some maturity but somehow the Bengali film industry (I really can’t get myself to call it Tollywood) didn’t give enough importance to depicting style or capturing the flavour of the past in a contemporary context. The style quotient was lost in translation.

A noticeable image was that of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Chokher Bali where importance was given not only to how she carried herself but also to the room and the furniture. Rituparno Ghosh made each frame look so beautiful. The movie was a delight to watch.

When we move on, we realise that nothing significant has happened recently in terms of style that would leave an indelible impression on one’s mind. Why can’t the industry have stylists who would make a difference to each frame in the film? Why can’t they pay attention to detail? I think it is time.

The name of the city changed from Calcutta to Kolkata, but the flavour should not have. This is a debate close to my heart and I wish we can recreate the beauty and style of Calcutta in today’s Kolkata. This exercise is a humble start in what would become, I hope, an eye-opener to influence young readers.

Make-up: Dee, hair: Imran

The third look [used on the t2 cover] was complete retro, going back in time to Merle Oberon, a classic young Elizabeth Taylor and Madhubala. We turned that moment around to look more contemporary and in keeping with today’s woman. Classical, sophisticated, confident and chic! Let’s take away demure and innocent because that’s being really naive! But the faraway look brings a mature innocence, if I may use those two words together.

The hair lazily retro-ish, table-cut diamonds cascading down her neck with large emeralds set in vintage dull gold, works wonders. The earrings understated with a pearl drop never too long! The bracelets stacked up, always old-world and important. The hair ornaments substituting my favourite rajnigandha with modern flowers in every colour with rubies, yellow sapphires, aquamarines and pearls with table-cut diamonds dominating the petals. A pearl and diamond ring quiet but meaningful. The sari a classic ivory and black sensation with a maroon velvet blouse. Picture perfect, romantic and elegant that makes Arpita look like the Bengali woman I am looking for. A truly modern-day avatar of the age-old beauty transformed with elegance and retro-inspired style with classical sophistication.

Remember, the clothes and the jewels have to be understated and put together with a lot of care. Less is more in this frame. Never too busy. The Raj Mahtani woman never looks like she is posing for a jewellery advertisement. In fact, Arpita was amazed and she said: “You are different. Most jewellers want more jewels on the girls”. My favourite picture of Elizabeth Taylor is one without any jewels... it’s always inspiring.

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