Skirting The Issue: Is the future of fashion ungendered?

Published in Mint Lounge, Saturday May 13, 2017
(Additional images added below for this blog post)

We have had women in tuxedos and men in skirts. But the new ‘genderless’ direction in the global fashion world might further dissolve the idea of binary identities

designskirt-k2mC--621x414@LiveMintAn image from ‘Vogue India’s’ May issue, guest-edited by Mario Testino. The editorial, titled ‘Role Play’, attempts to ‘challenge gender with fashion’. Photo: Courtesy Mario Testino for Vogue India/May 2017

Earlier this week, Emma Watson received the first gender-neutral award for Best Actor (Beauty And The Beast) at the MTV Movie & TV Awards. “It says something about how we perceive the human experience,” she said. The award was presented by Asia Kate Dillon, who plays TV’s first gender non-binary character (Taylor, on Billions).

Like other recent events, this added to the ongoing conversation on gender-fluidity.

For a culture like ours, with its thrust on uber masculinity and coy femininity, reconciling to this phenomenon may be shocking, but not impossible. While one knows androgyny to be the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, ambiguity in gender could be a lifestyle, sexual or style choice.

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Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have identified themselves as pansexual, but perhaps it is young actor-rapper Jaden Smith’s bold outlook that has fired up the imagination. Will Smith’s son is seen wearing a skirt as part of Louis Vuitton’s Series 4 (Spring/Summer 2016) campaign about a heroine and the multiple facets to her personality. The brand’s creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, believes Smith “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestos and questions about gender. Wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo”.

Androgynous roots

le-smoking-3Le Smoking, Yves Saint Laurent by Helmut Newton

Worldwide, sartorial acceptance tipped when the founders of two path-breaking French haute couture houses, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, gave women trousers and tuxedos in the early and mid- 20th century, respectively. Many male music legends have flirted with everything from make-up and heels to ruffles and florals, but it was David Bowie (in his sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust persona) and Prince (in his flamboyant Purple Rain-era) who cut the sartorial cord with their seminal style statements. More recently, American hip hop artiste Young Thug wore a dress for his album cover, while British footballer David Beckham has been spotted in nail paint and a sarong.

Historically, pre-colonial India saw no issue in dressing up its men, particularly royalty; the traditional male outfits of Gujarat and Rajasthan are adorned with colours, mirrors and gathers, while drapes like shawls, anarkalis, lungis, kurtas, salwars and churidars have been a long-standing part of India’s unisex fashion grammar. Even as the idea trickles down—Tridha, a school in Mumbai, has genderless uniforms (a short kurta students can wear with lowers of their choice)—in a country that lends exaggerated importance to binary sexuality, fashion is setting a new pace for a forward-thinking society.

Beyond binaries

Rajesh Pratap Singh - low res option 2A model wearing Rajesh Pratap Singh.

Designer Rajesh Pratap Singh, who has an affinity towards androgyny, finds the audience for unisex clothing limited. “As women found independence and emancipation once again in India, wearing men’s clothing is considered stylish in most urban areas, but it doesn’t hold true for most parts of the country,” he points out.

What is true though is that modern silhouettes for the local landscape increasingly tend to be sleeker, deconstructed or fluid, shaped according to will, body type and occasion. From anarkalis to dhoti pants, from cholis to shirt-blouses, we have made a shift in styles, and increased the functional element of formal wear. But are women able to take the leap to wearing perhaps a tuxedo to an Indian wedding? Mumbai-based designer Payal Khandwala, whose lines for women are largely anti-fit, says: “It (gender-fluid dressing) will be a parallel movement. The bright side is that it makes us question the male gaze we have taken for granted and re-examine our preoccupation with ‘pretty’ and ‘hyper-sexualized’ clothing for women.”

Unisex clothing creates ambiguity towards age, shape and size, naturally defying the restrictions imposed, stereotypes perpetuated and social comment invited by accentuating and fitted garments. While many designers locally have nailed the anti-fit trend, there have been attempts, such as the “Ungendered” clothing line released online last year by Zara, that faced flak for its unimaginative designs. Unisex outfits shouldn’t be drab, shapeless or colourless—rather, they should be a celebration of clothing that is chic while being free of conservative parameters.

38_RoryA model wearing Gucci.

Women in menswear may be de rigueur, but men in women’s clothing is certainly up for exploration. A key designer of genderless fashion, J.W. Anderson’s Fall 2013 collection sent a male model on the runway in ruffled shorts and knee-high boots, showing off muscular, hairy legs. Singer Pharrell Williams, who likes Chanel necklaces, has starred in the couture house’s Gabrielle bag campaign this year. International luxury brands like Gucci (whose fluid vision under creative director Alessandro Michele has been touted as inspired and sound) have “genderless” models—those without an associated gender—on the runway, also unifying men’s and women’s fashion weeks. Michele stated last year, “It’s the way I see the world today.”

It was a “fluid-packed” fall 2016, with Burberry harking back to Bowie-esque ruffled shirts for men and military-style jackets (also seen in Givenchy’s campaign) for women, along with gender-neutral trench coats.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 2.34.33 PMA model wearing J.W. Anderson.

Bungalow 8 founder Maithili Ahluwalia is unimpressed by men in skirts. “It is not a natural evolution, it is fashion. A man’s body is structured differently and it is a bit limiting to think that what works for one may work for the other. It should be a mindset over a sartorial choice, not a surface-level relationship with fashion. Would a man wear gender-fluid clothing to work, particularly if he works in a bank?” she asks. Possibly, if he is anything like actor Ranveer Singh, who has turned red-carpet dressing on its head with his penchant for aggressive experimentation—of course, creative professions do allow for more sartorial freedom.

Delhi designer Ujjawal Dubey, founder of label Antar-Agni, whose styles are “androgynous and flattering to both the sexes, avoiding stark lines and labels between genders”, believes India is primed for change. So does Sumiran Kabir Sharma, whose new label Anaam is said to “dissolve all stereotypes”. Sharma works as “a silhouette generation artist, not focusing on the physical and the biological part of the human body that defines gender”. According to him, going genderless is not a passing phase—“it is definitely the future of fashion”.

 

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A model in an Anaam piece.

Kolkata-based designer Kallol Datta, who started out making (and wearing) gender-neutral clothing, is now moving towards “sexless clothing, where there is no acknowledgement of gender”. “I’ve favoured all-enveloping shapes and certain proportions when layering pieces of clothing…there is a blurring of lines with these shapes.”

Going genderless

If the male gaze changes, so may the female gaze. In Tokyo, following the explosive trend of “genderless kei” (kei means style), “genderless boys” have appeared on the scene since 2015. The popular Japanese idols tend to be slim-bodied, with dyed hair, make-up and nail polish, coloured contact lenses, and attention-grabbing outfits. They are not necessarily gay or trying to be like women, they are rejecting gender norms and establishing a new yardstick of style. It’s likely inspired by the Korean term ulzzang (“best face”), a common beauty standard for both men and women derived from the “flawless” K-Pop idols.

In America, Marilyn Manson’s genderless Mechanical Animals cover set the tone years ago but today, gender-neutral models like Rain Dove have gained supermodel status. Dove’s Instagram page says: “I’m not a Boy. I’m not a Girl either. I am I.” And further, “Sometimes I like lace panties. Sometimes I like briefs. It’s my body…. And I’ll cover it however I damn please.”

Today, numerous designers worldwide offer unisex lines of clothing, and stores like Selfridges in London stock an “Agender Fashion Without Definition” collection across three storeys, suggesting that the trend is more than that—it’s a new way of life.

Fashion should cater seamlessly to one’s individuality, without leaning towards homogeneity. Khandwala agrees: “At its core, what one wears must be a democratic decision that comes from a place of honesty and self-evaluation. The impetus cannot be external and certainly not because it is a fashion movement.”

Is the potential dissolution of gender a fantasy of the future or a reality of today? As predefined roles get blurry, so does the way we dress. And we should find our voice in that freedom. Worldwide, as socio-politico-religious mindsets get narrower, perhaps it is fashion’s lot to expressively push back as the non-conformist and heterogenous “genderless uniform” of a truly inclusive and free-spirited society where it is, literally, best face forward.

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How we got here

A brief sartorial history of the blurring of gender lines

1938 Photo Schall at La PausaCoco Chanel

1910s: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel changed women’s relationships with their bodies and ways of life by introducing them to trousers and jersey sportswear.

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Katharine Hepburn

1930s: Katharine Hepburn’s path-breaking attachment to men’s shirts bought secretly from the back of New York’s Brooks Brothers store and Marlene Dietrich’s seminal moment kissing a woman on screen while wearing a bow tie and top hat.

1960s: Yves Saint Laurent’s (muse Violeta Sanchez) “Le Smoking” tuxedo suit for women pioneered the modern-day power suit; Mick Jagger performed in Hyde Park in a white “man’s dress” designed by Mr Fish.

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David Bowie

1970s: Patti Smith’s obvious androgyny, Jane Fonda’s bold red-carpet moments and David Bowie’s sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust persona triggered cultural shifts.

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Grace Jones

1980s: Feminine Prince and masculine Grace Jones set the tone for blurry gender lines. Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo’s ambiguous collections set the tone for the future.

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Marilyn Manson ‘Mechanical Animals’ cover

2000s: Marilyn Manson appeared genderless on the ‘Mechanical Animals’ cover.

A Rebel Spirit: Suhani Pittie

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Published: Verve Magazine, April 2017
Image Credit (Suhani Pittie): Nishat Fatima

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“To be a pioneer means to champion the authority of your own thoughts…your own creative imagination. To bring every genius idea forward. To be precise, but to also allow spontaneity.” Suhani Pittie’s words describe work that may — and should — lead to diverse opinions; for something to be fresh and path-breaking, it must create discomfort. Hyderabad-based Pittie’s jewellery does just that. She describes it as “luxurious but melancholic” and when you hold one of her designs in your hand, you understand exactly what she means. It’s delicate but strong, fine but chunky; it’s bold and yet has elements of the traditional, all the while being “respectful of India, its craft and heritage”.

The label that began formally in 2005 can be considered a trailblazer for its welding of the modern and the conventional but, more importantly, for growing into a self-sufficient business catering to Indians the world over. There is a flagship store in Hyderabad, an online shopping portal on suhanipittie.com (besides being available in offline retail outlets like Ensemble and Aza across the country, and abroad, commissioned by the Museum of Arts and Design) and a new line ‘Dooi by SP’ on Myntra, while also undertaking corporate and festive gifting, wedding lines (which include jewellery for the bride, gifts and decor) and bespoke pieces. And if that isn’t enough, Pittie has also partnered with a technology company which works on a CSR model in the renewable energy space in rural India, called socialsolar.in.

Kolkata-born Pittie’s career choice can be traced back to a rudimentary moment — when she punctured a piece of old silver and bent it; a relative wore it around their neck and someone said, “That’s magic!” Pittie recalls, “When I started, it was an open ground. With my love for India stemmed this deep desire to show new, innovative possibilities of age-old craft and, via that, to explore my own talent. I had never intended to get into this field. Today, it’s no more about me. I want to build a remarkable company, generate more employment, expand skill sets amongst rural women, and raise the standard of living of all our employees, to ensure that they can afford to send their children to school. I’m reaching out to a bigger universe — en route to building something unique…a company with a great product and a warm heart….” What’s striking is what she counts as her greatest achievement. Her first karigar is still working with her today.

Pittie began, as many creative souls do, on a whim, not armed with knowledge or market analysis. “I was new to Hyderabad. I hired one worker. I made 12 pieces with very little capital. And everything got sold. How do you work with metal, when you don’t know how to do it yourself?” As she struggled to find a foothold in a competitive industry, she read every book on the tools and manufacturing of silver. Even today, when 20 to 25 unique pieces are sampled daily, Pittie believes the brand is exactly what it started out as. “Unapologetically individualistic. There is heart in every piece. Non-conforming, yet adhering to values. Destabilising yet disciplined. Beautiful yet rebellious. Paradoxical, really.” And she continues to put a lot of herself in her work: “My jewellery is very reflective of my personal journey at that moment of time. The silence of metal surfaces in tandem with the rebelliousness of design.”

Despite having a corporate structure with departments and managers, projections and targets, Pittie takes a distinctive and free-spirited approach to design. “I execute everything in this department. It’s very emotive — what I’m feeling at the moment, what’s moved me. It could be turbulent. It could be romantic.” Once the thoughts and initial sketches are in, she begins collaborating with her production manager to work out their feasibility. “I was expecting alarm — the day I told him that we are going to make our own metal because I want ‘greyish silver’. But he looked at me and said, ‘That’s what we always do. We invent, no, ma’am?’” She works with a vast range of materials: copper, silver, steel, brass, thermocol (styrofoam), Bakelite and acrylic, to name a few. “I’m not schooled in this field. So it has become my playground…. It was not frivolous when it started and it isn’t frivolous now. The aim has always been to be brave and soar.”

Pittie is the youngest of three artistically-inclined sisters — Kolkata-based fashion designer Anamika Khanna, known to have modernised traditional Indian garments, and Mumbai-based Suruchi Choksi, an abstract artist. “The age gap is tremendous (ten and seven respectively). We didn’t get much time together. I spent all my time outside the house — I was head girl at my school and into extracurricular activities: elocution, debate, quiz, dance, football….” Pittie, who’s been vegan for 20 years, is a graduate in Indian classical music, and was once in a band. Despite her petite frame, she describes herself as “tough” and finds comfort in a “personal, unpretentious” home that has “a lot of books, monster trucks and only beanbags to sit on”.

By those who know her, 36-year-old Pittie, who works in tandem with her husband Stouvant Pittie (a director with the company), has been described as childlike in her irrepressible affinity for a fairy-tale world that soaks up imagination and spits out creativity. You can tell, because she fangirls over Harry Potter — “J.K. Rowling made me believe it was possible even when it seemed impossible. I’m definitely a Gryffindor, but I want to be like Luna Lovegood — so pure and wise.” And then, the woman who believes in magic has a reading list that is steeped in reality. She hasn’t missed a single edition of Time magazine for 14 years, and pours through The Economic Times daily, is interested in public leaders, economics and administration, is currently on Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age, and watches American entrepreneurial reality show Shark Tank. Pittie, despite the success, admits that she “can’t slow down”. She thrives on “razor-sharp focus” (undiluted by social media), enjoys her own company and of those whom she describes as progressive. “People with unique ideas and clarity. Who debate and challenge. And I’m blessed to have some in my life. It keeps the machine going.”

Suhani Speak

“The current non-precious jewellery market in India is seeing something incredible and unprecedented. It’s also a circle really. Customers need more options, hence are more accepting. That encourages more individuals to take the risk and get into the field. Jewellery, which held ‘locker sentiment’, is now being seen more for composition value and its voice. It’s a great time to be in the industry: challenging but so much more welcoming! More products, more experiments and diverse raw material have been entering the market. Non-precious jewellery could be such a strong dialogue of now, for now.”

“My buyer is aged from 17 to 72. They are women, from every part of the country, who are not afraid to wear their values like a badge.”

“I have never been a victim of trends, and I don’t desire for my clients to ever be. I want to give them memories, stories, beauty and vulnerability. I don’t want to give them ‘objects’ of today. I want my pieces to be purveyors of pure design and at the same time a narrative of the times we live in.”

“You are emphasising your own expression, your own ideals and inspirations and you are designing the future. Your humble attempts can change the landscape of an industry. To be propelled by love and beauty and instances and events around the world and to physically craft them into tangibility…that is extreme responsibility.”

“Kolkata and Hyderabad both inspire me. They have such strong cultural influences and heritage. Kolkata inculcates in you discipline. It encourages you to debate at 5.30 a.m. next to the chai-wallah. Hyderabad is such a beautiful cosmos of old and new. There is so much tehzeeb in the culture, language. It teaches you to respect. So much of what I am is because of these two cities.”

“I have a brooch which is a miniature grandfather’s clock that I really treasure. It’s all minakari work, complete with a cuckoo bird that pops out when wound. Besides the design, it’s also technically superb. It boggles your mind that without machines such marvels could be made. There are some brooches I have which are made of the tiniest mosaic pieces (0.5 mm by 0.5 mm). The patience the artist must have had!”

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“Our show, Nowhere People (LFW 2016, focused on the plight of refugees), broke me and pulled me together on many levels. To take a painful topic and show jewellery that was distressed and broken, yet wearable and beautiful…. To have connected to the vulnerability of this paradox in a parallel world, with the audience, where they hugged me and cried…. To take a poem by Kenyan poet Warsan Shire Home, and translate each syllable of it into metal, that was, I would say humbly, my greatest moment.”

On Time For Chaplin

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Published: Verve Magazine, March 2017

How Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter is carrying forward his legacy…

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The bright red of her sophisticated outfit sits sharply against her skin, and is offset nicely by her pulled-back dark hair; her height is unnerving as she rises to greet you with her trademark wide smile. Carmen Chaplin’s bloodline packs a punch — besides being the granddaughter of comic actor, film-maker and composer Charlie Chaplin (and on the maternal side French artist Patrick Betaudier), she is also the great-granddaughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, and daughter of actor Michael Chaplin and artist Patricia Betaudier. There are aunts and cousins in the movie industry, who run the gamut between Doctor Zhivago and Game of Thrones. But for this family, you can tell that it’s not show business, it’s art. As she says, ‘It’s in your DNA to love films.’ She made her acting debut in 1991 and has since appeared in nearly two dozen movies including All About The Benjamins (2002), besides directing a short, Tryst in Paname (2012).

Itching to get out of school, she simultaneously started attending acting classes and modelling at the age of 16. As a child, she would act in, direct and co-write plays (with her sister). In The Greatest Moments of our Time, a short film by Jaeger-LeCoultre, she says, ‘I love every part of the process of directing. In a way, it’s much fuller for me. I find the process of writing very painful, but it’s one of the most satisfying things when you get a script together’. When she was around eight years old, she made short films with her sisters and friends with a Super 8 camera. ‘Film sets are a lot like staying a child, because you get to pretend that you are creating a world that doesn’t exist, you get to play like you did when you were a child. You don’t have to focus on any other realities of life — you just focus on telling the story.’ Excerpts from the interview below:

How much does legacy count in creativity?
“I think we’re always looking to what has been done to create new things and I think it’s always been the case — you always inspire yourself with something someone else has done. So, it’s a part of art.”

Is it difficult entering a creative field that’s been previously dominated by legends in the family?
“Yes, and I think that’s why I didn’t start directing in my 20s…even though as a child it was something that I was really interested in. I guess it was daunting. But I wasn’t very conscious about it until I began directing. Then I thought, oh, why didn’t I start earlier? Because comparison is just something that will make you stagnate in life and paralyse you; and if you’re free of that, then you’re free to create.”

What does art mean to you?
“That’s a very big question. (Laughs.) I guess it means a lot because my mother is a painter and my grandfather was a film-maker. On my mother’s side, too, my grandfather was a painter. My father writes. I have a lot of artists in my family, so…maybe it’s a way of living, but also something that makes your life more beautiful.”

Can luxury and art meet?
“Definitely. I think they meet in all artistic mediums; but, in some ways, they pollute art and in other ways, art needs that side of things, too. Sometimes you feel it’s just become so commercial that you don’t know where the art is. And the same with cinema or with luxury brands. But at the same time, it’s a continuous act of balance.”

You’ve been a ‘friend’ of the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand — we see the Rendez-vous in yellow gold on your wrist….
“The association feels very natural even though I didn’t know much about watches before collaborating with them. I find them to be a luxury brand on a very human level, and I love their love for cinema. I enjoy wearing their old watches from the ’20s and ’30s. People have such a passion for watches, including the people who make them — in that sense it’s similar to making movies — you need people who are extremely talented at one very specific thing.”

What was your first experience with fine watchmaking?
“There was one Jaeger-LeCoultre watch (Memovox) that was given by the Swiss government when my grandfather moved there. (He was forced into exile from the United States, for alleged communist sympathies.) My grandmother gave it to my father when he was a teenager, and my father gave it to my mother when they got married. When I met with the brand, in one of our conversations, we spoke about this watch and then had the idea of making a film together.” (A Time For Everything, which features not just the watch, but Carmen’s mother and daughter as well.)

Tell us about Bombay Nights….
“Oh, that’s a film I wrote and really wanted to direct. Before my pregnancy, it was my passion project! Then I had my daughter. My partner is Indian and my daughter is half Indian — I thought that it would be the easiest thing to make as a first feature. But Mumbai is such a hyperactive city and it’s so different from the way my daughter is used to living, that I then felt it would be better for me to make a movie in Europe before I made one in India.”

Are you familiar with India?
“I’ve been to India three or four times: to Kerala, Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Jaipur. I love India. I think it’s a very exciting place to be and a world apart from Europe — all your visions of life and death are so different in India. I was always struck by how death is kind of a part of life. In Europe, we hide people who are dead. I remember seeing processions in Mumbai with the dead just wrapped in white cloths and their faces being shown. It just felt like it was a much healthier view — something that isn’t as taboo. So, lots of things are very inspiring…just to be confronted with a culture that’s so different. At the same time, because of my daughter, I hear a lot of Hindi. It isn’t my culture, but it’s one that’s becoming more familiar to me.”

Have you watched any Indian movies?
“I’ve seen some old Indian movies by Satyajit Ray and some Bollywood films. My daughter likes the latter, particularly those from the ’70s and ’80s — she loves the dancing and singing. I find them fun, but they have an element that to me seems kitsch because I didn’t grow up with them. I prefer the more independent Indian cinema….”

Father of the Child: Imran Khan & Tusshar Kapoor

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Published: Verve Magazine, December 2016
Image credit: Ryan Martis

These two young dads from the Indian film industry exemplify the changing attitude towards child-rearing

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The gentleman of today is exactly that. Ready to accept that raising a family is a joint responsibility, a far cry from the Indian men of a previous generation who believed in the division of responsibilities: earning was a male domain, while taking care of the home and kids was restricted to women. Taking this a step further, what happens when a man decides to become a father without a woman? Two young dads from an industry that celebrates showbiz show us that they are as real as they come and all about changing the name of the parenting game, albeit in two diametrically different ways.

We’ve watched Imran Khan take a leap into parenting in much the same way that he made a foray into cinema — suddenly, without warning, and quickly reaching superstardom. His focused and balanced nature held him in good stead, and we see that in his role as a parent. During his first ever photoshoot with his daughter, we discover that Imran has Imara’s baby footprint tattooed on his chest — a sign of an endearing and permanent love. He may be a man besotted, but he is also hands-on about life, not one to watch as things happen around him.

Tusshar Kapoor has bitten the parenting bullet with single-minded predetermination, and six months into it (before which, he preferred to avoid Laksshya facing the camera), he’s finding his ground. It has made him an example for a generation that strives to juggle choices — whether in a partner, career or life. Perhaps Jane Austen hadn’t prepared for this eventuality. Can a single man in possession of good fortune, be in want of a wife? Or would he prefer IVF-led-surrogacy into single parenthood instead?

Let the men do the talking, we say.

What made you decide to take the plunge?
Imran: It was completely accidental. It was one of those extremely hectic nights. I won’t go into any further detail, but next thing you know, three weeks later, Avantika (Malik, married since 2011) is in the bathroom throwing up and I’m making jokes like, ‘Haha, what if you’re pregnant?’ Two hours later, I wasn’t laughing anymore.

Tusshar: The best things in life just happen. I was considering becoming a father; marriage didn’t seem to be on the cards and I was nearing 40. I had a faint idea of becoming a single parent through surrogacy — maybe through IVF. It just didn’t seem very possible in India. Then I happened to have a chat with director Prakash Jha, and he introduced me to a family that had done it. Things fell into place, and it was wonderful that a year later, I had a child in my arms.

You’re likely to go in with a romantic notion of being a dad — was it all that you imagined?
Tusshar: I was a bit anxious at times, especially on the day of the delivery. The entire family stayed up all night. All the ‘Still a few days more’ just went out the window. But thereafter, I was quite prepared, with the nursery, with help. My biggest concern was losing out on life while wanting to be a hands-on dad. I asked my friends, ‘Can I go out? Will I be able to…?’ And nothing changes. You just have to manage your time well.

Imran: I didn’t know what to expect because, as I said, we had stumbled into it. Suddenly, she was pregnant. Suddenly, the baby has come. And I felt like it snowballed really quickly, and those first couple of months, we were both at a complete loss; we had a really rough time. Even though Imara from, like, day two or three would tend to sleep through the night, we’d be up in the night wondering, ‘Is she breathing? Is she suffocating?’ Both of us were nervous wrecks. It took us five or six months to really settle down and stop being so panicky. That was when I first started to really feel that, ‘Oh my god, I’ve lost my heart to this girl.’ And now I know what that mad parental love is.

 

What is that one moment in their lives that you’re waiting for?
Tusshar: I don’t want to miss watching him go to school and picking him up. My parents (actor Jeetendra and Shobha Kapoor) were never there to do that. I mean, they came for PTA meetings and my mom used to drop me off, watch me go to my class, crying. I don’t know if my dad remembered my birth date at that point in time, even though he remembered to wish me. The parents of the ’70s and ’80s (at least in my case) had their own issues. Working, trying to make a life for us. I want to be there for my child. I’ll dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Imran: It’s a nightmare, haan. Every time I drop Imara to playschool, it’s ‘Papa, don’t go’. You’ll die on the spot because your baby is weeping and you have to leave her. I sit on the steps outside, listening to her cry, thinking, ‘Oh god, I’m a bad father. What am I doing?’

To answer your question, what I am looking forward to the most is the point when she will come and tell me things and make me laugh with her words, with wit — I think that’ll be something that will really make me proud.

Will you change anything in your parenting style from the way you’ve been brought up?
Imran: I love my mother (producer, director and screenwriter, Nasir Hussain’s daughter, Nuzhat Khan) and my mother loves me perhaps a little bit too much — so, I think throughout my life, she was a little over indulgent. That is why I have these notions that I want everything to be exactly the way I want it. This is not an ideal situation, so I would try to love my child a little bit less than my mother loved me.

Is there anxiety about missing key milestones with the nature of your work?
Imran: I was shooting a film from the time Imara was four to eight months old. I was a little nervous about not being there for big moments like if she were to say a word…. I would see her in the morning before I left, for a few minutes. And then the second I returned, I would spend time with her till she went to sleep. Avantika would come on set all the time with her. Luckily, I was there when she took her first steps. I consciously made an effort to not take on work when I knew that that was ‘baby Imara time’. For the past year, I have not shot for any movie. I have been home, with the baby. I’ve been travelling with her and I’ve been there for every major moment.

Tusshar: I’m a little anxious about what’s going to happen next month, when I start shooting. I hope it doesn’t really change things from what I’m doing now and what I’ll have to do then. The shoot, fortunately, is in Mumbai, so I will not be disconnected from my child completely. I’ll try to meet him before I leave home. If he’s sleeping after I’m back home, I’ll miss spending the evening with him; unfortunately there will be some moments that I’ll have to sacrifice. If you are worried you’re not going to be with your child, I think the child also senses that. If a parent is away, but trying their best to make it work, the child understands that and connects with that. And that’s love.

What’s the one thing you enjoy the most about being a father?
Imran: It’s the first time I’ve had the experience of wanting to spend time with someone — and not caring about other things. If the phone is ringing, you let it ring. If you’re late for something, you’re late — it doesn’t matter. If you’re hungry, you eat later. It just doesn’t matter. I also had that fear of my life coming to a standstill because I like to go places and do things. You’ll have a choice between spending time with your child or going somewhere else. And you’ll feel like you’d rather be with her because it’s more fun. It’s not a difficult choice. You’re not giving up anything.

Tusshar: It makes you very selfless. It calms you down, it’s very therapeutic. In a city like Mumbai, we’re clouded with issues and career ups and downs. I haven’t shot for a film at all this year. But, thank god. Since the baby’s come, I feel like I want to be at home with him, I want to spend time with him. And that’s the best part of being a parent — the maturity that comes with it. You rise above petty things that make you anxious. I think my child has taught me what fun it is to be on a playmat! I see his expression change and stop worrying about my work or about who’s inviting and not inviting me to some function or even about who’s calling or not calling back.

Tusshar, if your child asks, ‘Where is mom?’ what would your answer be?
Tusshar: I’m going to have to be very honest with Laksshya about him not having a mom. I’ll have to tell him exactly how and why he came into this world, so that he knows that he is a child born out of love and that I wouldn’t have been happy without him in my life — that he’s my everything. I will try and compensate and be what two parents can be to a child. It is just love that will make things work out.

So who fills the gap of a female figure?
Tusshar: The female energy at home comes from my sister (television and film producer Ekta Kapoor) and mother. I won’t be lying to Laksshya, telling him that his grandmother is like his mom. I don’t want to confuse him with that ideology. My mother has waited a long time for a grandchild. She gets to do so many things all over again, 40 years later. A large part of why I had this child is because my parents were going through a phase of depression; any parent would want to become a grandparent someday, so this is their dream come true. We feel like a very normal — and, I hope, happy — family, one where there’s enough attention from me as a father and enough female energy from my mother and sister even though there is no mother.

Imran, Imara’s obviously got you wrapped around her finger. Who’s the disciplinarian?
Imran: Avantika’s always on my case about not being a good disciplinarian. I can’t say no to Imara for anything. Whatever she wants, I feel like I have no choice but to give it to her. It’s not ideal, but I’m working on it.

Tusshar: That’s something I feel strongly about — I would hate to have a brat as a child. I’m going to be careful about not spoiling Laksshya, but my parents, bua, my sister and the nanny are always going to spoil him. Which is why it’s important that we (the parents) be the balancing factors. And the sooner, the better.

Imran: Yes, I will start today. Today, I am going to start disciplining!

Who do you guys go to for parenting advice?
Imran: I’ve never asked anyone for parenting advice — not my mom, dad, or Avantika’s mom. I’ve never read any of those parenting books. Maybe I’m missing out on something, I don’t know, but I feel like Avantika and I just kind of figured it out between the two of us. You find your own rhythm.

Tusshar: I didn’t read any books or take any advice from anybody. But the people who’ve done surrogacy before — the family who took me to Dr Firuza Parikh — they helped me set up the nursery before the baby arrived and to deal with things like finding day and night nurses for Laksshya. For day-to-day questions, I got help from my mom and friends.

Who’s the one reading stories at bedtime?
Imran: Anything that is play-related, I’m the one. Building things with Lego, reading books, telling stories — that’s where I’m always first to jump in, saying, ‘Haan, don’t worry, baby, I’ll take care of it.’

Tusshar: Bedtime stories haven’t started for me. I sing loris to put him to sleep. I have some old Hindi songs that I just hum — and he loves it. If I stop humming, he starts crying.

How many diapers have you two changed? Of course, Imran, you’ve had more years to change them.
Imran: Yes. That being said, I’ve probably changed fewer diapers than Avantika has. My trick is this — you change diapers when people come over to visit. Then everyone thinks, ‘Look, this guy’s an amazing hands-on father.’ After that, I can hand it over to Avantika or the nanny.

Tusshar: I don’t know why everyone thinks that diaper-changing is it and why it stands for being a hands-on father. It’s the easiest thing to do. There are tons of other things. Do you know how to poop your baby on a flight? Do you know how to feed your baby? Do you know how to put your baby to sleep? These are my fears.

Imran: I’ve noticed you’re not answering how many diapers you’ve changed.

Tusshar: I’ve changed — to prove to myself — three or four diapers.

Dads today are breaking the stereotype of the Indian father. What do you think has led to this change?
Imran: Part of it just has to do with globalisation. We are now more exposed to international culture, with the way that it is in the US, UK, and Europe.

Tusshar: It’s not like somebody wrote a book about good parenting which everyone read and, therefore, the next generation turned out to be much cooler, better parents! I think my son is going to have some issues with my parenting, even though I’m doing my best. It’s a learning process: what you go through as a child, what you’ve seen your parents do for you and what you feel was left out. Then you make those changes; it’s a natural progression. Society changes, parents change, family settings change, and that’s what evolution is all about.

 

Alia’s Unalienable Allure

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Published: Verve Magazine, Cover Story, October 2016
Image credit: Tarun Vishwa

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She’s waif-like, with fine features and aggressive sideburns. You would expect her to be loud and vivacious, but her off-camera persona is quietly dignified with moments of impetuousness. At Verve’s Best Dressed cover shoot, she inadvertently transforms breathtakingly into India’s answer to Audrey Hepburn. She’s poised and controlled, even though a stray, unstifled yawn delicately slips by between shots. Grievances, if any, are kept under wraps, evidenced only by the slight movement of the eyes which her very tuned-in press representative, Priyanka, catches. The blower gets switched off when the dress billows too much, her hand stays next to it, and she quietly strives for the perfect pose that keeps the skirt from doing a Marilyn Monroe while facing the lens with youthful zeal.

Unlike a tall, lissome model that you would want to make a clothes hanger, you nearly want to shoot Alia Bhatt with the bare minimum on, because she is, literally, comfortable in her own skin. And yet, she transforms in front of the spotlight with every kind of outfit that comes her way. Flirty dresses that lend romantic appeal, punk rock chic with attitude, jackets that demand attention and couture befitting an urban sophisticate. It’s all Alia, and you could keep going. Wielding props from metallic studded headphones to virginal blooms, she carries off the ready smiles and pouts like she was to the camera born.

It’s this chameleon-like adaptability to clothes, moods and the environment that makes her come alive on screen with a natural aura. She isn’t someone who needs the ‘right’ look or the ‘perfect’ environment to perform. Alia is a heady cocktail of daintiness amid sharpness: the limoncello that is quietly, unobtrusively intoxicating, without a harsh edge. And she has a wry sense of humour. It’s not slapstick and perhaps not sharp enough to be British, but it is blunt. When she can’t hear our creative director’s suggestions over the loud music, her lips curl into a slight smile to knock the bite off the words, “Either scream or don’t talk!”

The one ‘look’ that suggests longevity is the all-encompassing smile that radiates oomph and naïveté all at once: the glow of youth and the vigour of a woman. Alia Bhatt has an incredible fan following online, despite the live gaffes that have had the country in disbelieving splits. But then, refreshingly, like India rubber, she bounces back, laughing at herself, finding humour in the absurd and her fan base swells with overwhelming uproar. And that is style. The skill to be suave in situations that don’t appear favourable, to shrug those perfect shoulders and create your own brand of cool; that’s what makes Alia Bhatt stand out from the crowd. “I can’t answer questions about what others think about me or what image I am portraying. I prefer not to think about why I am not like the others. Then I will become conscious of it and I will try and be this fabricated version of myself which is not fun, and then you are taking yourself too seriously.”

She doesn’t need to be an intellectual, she’s smarter than that. Intellectuals alienate the masses, smart people know that being a nonchalant but authentic version of yourself is magnetic in a world of make-believe and press imagery. “You can’t develop that. You either have it or not. It’s actually not even an ability, it’s just who you are. I think a certain way, which I assume is how it’s supposed to be, and which reflects how I have been brought up. Because of the fact that people keep talking about it now, I feel that it’s a big deal to not take yourself too seriously.”

At 23, she is admittedly a dreamer, but in other words, she runs the happy risk of losing interest rapidly — and you have to work really hard to engage her. Much like a girl of her age, in today’s age. It’s a generation that perhaps isn’t heavy on wisdom, but is wise beyond their years. Wise enough to understand that in a world of ephemeral wants and multiple choices, it’s best to go with the flow. To know who you are and ignore naysayers and disbelievers. Because where’s the time for that? Alia Bhatt epitomises the young woman of today — self-assured but not self-reflective or conscious. “I know when people say things like ‘youth icon’ it bodes a sense of responsibility. I just hope that when they look up to anyone, or look at anyone, they see a real person they can connect with rather than the images portrayed on screen as characters.”

It’s important, to her, that this ‘real person’ be well-put-together. “If I am going out for an event, or a party, I always want to look impressive. And that’s not to impress one person in particular!” Who’s her definition of a best-dressed person? “Somebody who stands out without trying too hard; who can combine looks with a certain ease, which is not ‘black heels, a bodycon dress, tight and fitted right here, and perfect hair’. That’s nice, but there has to be some personality, something interesting about the way the person dresses. Either the combination, or the kind of clothes, keeping the trends in mind. Someone who basically understands their body, self and clothes.”

As spirited women from Indian cinema have often grappled with the question of publicity and image, Alia is very firm that being an actor of worth isn’t enough. “It is important to be well dressed. You can’t just be focusing on your talent. You have to be visually appealing. If you are beautiful, you would present yourself beautifully also.” Alia isn’t alien to making a good impression, in every way she can. Much like Angelina Jolie’s internet-breaking wedding gown decorated with the artwork of her children, Alia’s stylist came up with the idea of a ‘doodle dress’ during the promotion of her film Shandaar last year. “I feel really bad — we are constantly getting these lovely letters, drawings, paintings and pictures from our fans and we never get to do anything with them apart from looking at them and probably saving them. This way I can actually wear them, since clothes are such a big part of our lives. It was an ode to the fans.”

She’s recently bought adult colouring books, to rewind to a childhood passion. “It’s exciting, therapeutic and de-stressing; it’s complicated, but so much fun! And it’s still hard to stay inside the lines — which is important, to make it look neat and pretty.” And that defines Alia, striving to stay inside the lines, without toeing the line. Someone who always puts her best foot forward, even if she manages to put her foot in her mouth occasionally.

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Alia Speak

“My trademark style is comfort mixed with fun and colour. I dress according to my mood — after all, I’m a Piscean! I’m always comfortable, no matter what I’m wearing.”

“I need my stylist(s) to push me. It’s also important that they understand my vibe. If I feel it’s not me, I won’t wear it even if it’s gorgeous. You need someone who understands fashion and trends, even making a look out of something in your own wardrobe. I may like a stand-alone top and a dress, but I may not be able to visualise a winning combination.”

“I love Kangana’s (Ranaut) sense of style. She has nailed the combination of being at ease and looking unique at the same time.”

“I would happily get into a ganjee and loose long overalls with jeans; pyjamas in bed; and sneakers over heels any day! I wear a nice dress if I’m dressing to impress. It can be a midi, but it should be interesting and not the short, typical outfit. I love what I wore for my birthday this year —  the Bambah dress. There isn’t any look that I regret.”

“It takes me 20 minutes to get ready for a regular look and an hour for something dressier.”

“My go-to city for shopping is London.”

“I love ready-to-wear kind of brands like Chloe, Zadig & Voltaire and Anya Hindmarch. Locally, I love Manish (Malhotra), he’s an all-time favourite. From the newer lot, I really like Dhruv Kapoor.”

“I’m not a label-conscious person, I can wear anything from anywhere. But, I would choose bags from the luxury lines simply because I want them to be long-lasting and of high quality.”

“If I had to be a brand ambassador, I would choose affordable over luxury. For example, Anya (Hindmarch). The bags have a lot of personality.”

“I like following trends — because that’s what is available and looking good. I don’t follow every kind of trend…there are some which wouldn’t look good on me. I could never wear a fringe dress for instance — it would irritate me, the idea of everything just dangling about! Give me a fringe jacket, instead.”

“I have a love-hate relationship with food. While I love it, instinctively I don’t eat badly. I like it to be nutritious and I don’t enjoy the taste of junk grub any more.”

“I’ve recently turned vegetarian/pescatarian — I eat fish once in a blue moon. I went off meat — there is no religious reason, but I felt so much better when I was avoiding it. I prefer only three meals a day. I have porridge or granola (from the Paleo Foods Company) with almond milk for breakfast, sabzi-roti (ragi/jowar) for lunch and something light for dinner, like soup and an omelette, or fish and veggies. Or I have dahi-chawal. I love it, it’s my favourite thing to eat!”

“If I don’t work out, I get really cranky. I have always been like that. I was recently ill and forbidden to go to the gym and all I could think of was about when I could get back. I like sweating it out. I do a combination of Pilates and cardio. I also love swimming.”

“For a night out in town I go to my favourite restaurants for dinner. It’s generally with my sister (Shaheen) or my friends…I have three friends in total! I’d wear comfortable clothes, because if I go out, I eat!”

“I zone in and out of places, people and conversations like that (snaps fingers). I can dream about anything — what I want to do next, something that I saw, a movie that I want to see or be in, a vacation….”

“I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder — vis-à-vis my hands. I need to keep cleaning my hands. While running on the treadmill all I can think about is how I need to clean my hands! It’s very irritating — you reminded me of it now again. And then I keep smelling them. (Smells them.) Now I want some cream.”

“When not working, I just want to sleep…lie in bed and watch Downton Abbey or Friends. Comfortable, happy stuff.”

Gypsy Queen: Anushka Sharma

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Published Verve Magazine (Cover story) April 2015 and on vervemagazine.in
Photographs by Prasad Naik

Anushka Sharma for Verve Magazine April 2015 cover

“I don’t think I have ever felt like I have belonged to any place.” Coming from an army background, she has spent her youth travelling around the country. Even Bengaluru, where she spent most of her time, wasn’t really home. Anushka Sharma moved to Mumbai over eight years ago with no connections, accompanied by just her mother and brother. “The beauty of my childhood, the lovely experiences I had…all came into focus when I didn’t have them anymore.”

The arrival into the city, into the civilian world, made her appreciate the sheltered and contained life she had lived before. “That’s what your journey is about — when you are living it you don’t know what it is, you are only experiencing emotions. In the army background you are prepped to live in order; when you come out of it, you experience chaos. You live and you continue the motions to cope with it. You ride the tide. You can’t stop and think; you go with the flow.”

In her new, comfortably appointed home in Versova, she tucks herself into a nook of her massive sofa and bites into an extra-large samosa with relish. This particular house has been a labour of love; with an entire floor (over 6000 square feet) devoted to private spaces for her parents, her brother and herself. Bright vases, patterned wallpaper, large mirrors, distressed furniture all radiate a happy, lived-in vibe. After the success of the Aamir Khan-starrer, PK, she’s shooting nights, and also juggling the launch of her maiden production venture, NH10 while awaiting the release of Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet with Ranbir Kapoor. She doesn’t have the jaded eye of a seasoned traveller or the wide-eyed wonder of a newbie. She’s free from poetry but she finds the silent music that calls out to her when she moves to her own rhythm. Over cups of cappuccino made with freshly crushed coffee beans and topped with smileys patterned in the foam, we discover the girl behind the gypsy.

“Mumbai made me grow up.”
“I was 17 or 18 when I came to Mumbai. I didn’t have any friends when I came here. My brother (older by four years) accompanied me…we got even closer. You learn so much about yourself. For an outsider, the city doesn’t have a residential vibe, unlike Bengaluru and Delhi. Here, every area is a mix of workplaces and homes. You are constantly surrounded by a rapid pace and energy. You find it daunting, you get involved in it, you get sucked into it and finally find your calm in the city.”

“Mumbai is an extremely professional city.”
“I have gotten a lot from it and I have grown to respect the place. There is a vein in which people who live here function, especially those who have come from outside to work. People are hard-working — constantly on the move, constantly trying to make something out of their lives.”

“Although you are a part of this huge population, you are constantly alone.”
“People say Mumbai is a lonely city. Everyone’s moving in a hurry. No one casually chats with anyone. In a train filled with people, no one is having a conversation. Everyone is in his or her own zone. And you want that, you are looking for this time to yourself.”

“I just want to be left alone when I am travelling.”
“Even when nobody knew who I was, I would explore places as if I were lost in my own world. That’s the time you enjoy your privacy. In India I can only see places when I am shooting, because they are cordoned off. It’s only abroad that I can experience something as normal as getting out of the hotel and walking on the street rather than getting into a car and going somewhere….”

“I’m not interested in sightseeing.”
“As actors we travel a lot. We live in places for 15 days to a month and a half. A film crew is always interested in the sights. For me, it’s all about the experience. I want to go to a restaurant; I want to walk on the streets and eat in the quaint places, experiencing the local flavour of the place. That’s exciting.”

“I always end up talking to strangers.”
“While growing up I used to watch a lot of travel shows. The one thing that connects people and places is food. There are so many stories you hear when you go to a restaurant or to a bar, meeting local people, talking to them. That discovery is very important, which is why I don’t like going to touristy places. If my friends want to go to Goa, I won’t take them to Baga. It will be to a place that I have discovered after several visits to Goa.”

“I’ve always been open to new experiences.”
“Travel is anything that enables you to have a different perspective on things, which could be 50 or 5000 kilometres away. I constantly want to see and know more. I don’t have a wish list, because when you really want to connect to places you keep your horizons wide and open.”

“I find it difficult to connect to European countries.”
“I find that language is a barrier — as much as I love Europe and its unique culture — I don’t think about living or having a house there.”

“I bring back fridge magnets from every place I go to.”
“I also always pick up one for a friend. Unfortunately, in this (new) home, I am unable to put up the magnets on the modular kitchen fridge, so now I just keep them or give them to people….”

“My home is very personal.”
“I didn’t want someone to just do my house. I didn’t want an opulent looking place with chandeliers and velvet or the colour red. I find it impersonal. I wanted a space that would be an extension of my own personality. I’m a little rough around the edges, I’m not very proper; so the elements in the house are close to that.”

“The moment in my life that I felt extremely proud was the day I moved into my house.”
“People in the industry who come from an affluent background, may feel it’s just buying a house…but for me, it’s a milestone. When you come from a middle class background, it’s the biggest achievement. I’ve lived in government lodgings all my life. My father had taken many loans for our house in Bengaluru. I’m very close to my family and always wanted to live with them. When I moved into this house, my father looked very happy — and for the first time I felt proud of myself. Though I had an apartment before, this was the ‘big’ house we all wanted. ‘Achievement’ is a personal term. For the world achievements may be fame and money, but just the fact that we had made a home, meant the world to me.”

Anushka Sharma for Verve Magazine April 2015 cover

Places with connect

St Ives, England
“I had the most amazing mussels here. (I am now a vegetarian). I could see seagulls near the ocean, hear the sound of the birds, the weather was beautiful; I was with my closest friends and the mussels were so fresh….”

Galibore, Karnataka
“I went to a fishing camp with two friends. The Kaveri River flows by there. It wasn’t the fishing season; bits of the riverbed were exposed. We didn’t fish, but we would go on boat rides. We stayed in a camping site that included tents and barbeques, no resorts!”

Australia
“Even though I’ve only been there once, I really liked it.”

Café Y, New York City
“It’s an underground café in the Village. I heard the most beautiful music here. It was commercial music, but done so differently.”

North-east India
“The north-east is the loveliest part of our country. When I was six or seven years old my father was posted in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. I used to travel to places people hadn’t even heard of. It was a completely different world.”

London, United Kingdom
“I could have a house in London. I’ve been there the most number of times; I know the place really well.”

Anushka Sharma for Verve Magazine April 2015 cover

Right Here, Right Now with Anushka Sharma:

On my iPod “Take Me To Church by Hozier.”

In (On) my fridge “No fridge magnets!” (There’s a story behind this. Read more here.)

In my bag
 “Wallet, Lip Balm, House Keys.”

On my blacklist
“Complicated people, drama, lies, dishonesty.”

In my wallet
 “Money, credit cards, identity card.”

In my bedroom “I like it clean. I don’t like hoarding things. Just my bed, TV and books.”

On my bookshelf  “Lots and lots of books. A favourite, JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.”

On my phone “Phone calls, music, e-mails.”

On my wall “Two pictures of a ballet school, showing the feet of ballerinas. It describes all the things your body can’t naturally do, that you train your body to do – it shows strength and hard work; it is beautiful and creative.”

In my car’s glove compartment “Tissues.”

In my wardrobe “Clothes waiting to be colour coded! I have no OCDs but my wardrobe is chaotic. It’s a walk-in wardrobe where I just leave things. I can’t find clothes. So I keep saying I need more clothes.”

On my bucket list “To travel, to grow, to learn.”

In my beauty bag “Lip balm, mascara, under-eye cream.”

In my bathroom “I’m obsessed with bath products! I have lots of shower gels and multiple body lotions. My nose is sensitive and when I wake up and go to have a shower, I like to surround myself with lovely fragrances.”

On my skin “Moisturiser. I have asked all the women whom I have met who have great skin, if they moisturised a lot when they were younger, and they said yes. However late I may return from a shoot or however tired I may be, I make sure I moisturise everyday.”

In my life “Family, work, love.”

Of Perfume, Paper and Tea

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Published: Vervemagazine.in

Pondicherry has a perfect slice of life up for grabs. Where you can be charmed and bring back memories laced with fragrance and atmosphere

Pondicherry La Villa

The hosts at La Villa are quite as charming as the property itself. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the French Quarter of Pondicherry, La Villa is a converted heritage colonial home, with trees that can tell a story that the distress-finish walls may not. One of the architects and designers, Tina Trigala (along with Yves Lesprit), is a Greek lady from France who has much to relate about the process of getting work done and building a space of this kind in India. Cajoling and learning the ways of the locals, she now is an old hand at it. After having built Villa Shanti with an obvious edge of Kitsch, La Villa is for a more refined and subtle palate. The thoughts are in the finer details, not glaring like Villa Shanti’s curtains made from lungis. The 19th century manor speaks of a distressed luxe — the kind of uber casual luxury that isn’t about ostentatious statues and inlay work, but is about the fine bath products, soft linen sheets, conceptual rooms and whimsical corners. Ancient materials and techniques like centuries-old bricks, lime plaster, colour cement flooring, and hand-made tiles from the villages of Tamil Nadu have found sustenance here with sophisticated western design.

From this world we step into the corridors of varied Pondicherry courtesy La Villa’s Sylvain Paquiry. With the grey buildings of Shri Aurobindo Ashram, to the pop yellow of the French institute (by appointment) with it’s beautiful gardens, rich but dusty library, serene and windy view from the top; to the curious boutiques and local stores that sell the wares of the place. A perfumed life with a wardrobe made entirely of things au naturel. We popped into: Janaki, Amethyst, Kalki and La boutique besides a few antique and curio shops.

As the waves crash on the belligerent ocean front, we watch a parade of people march wilfully along the promenade – looking like they belong, making us the observers and the cataloguers. Pondicherry is a study in architectural styles each quarter being typical of it’s type. One side of a dried-up canal is the “white side” or the French Quarter, while the other side is the Tamil Quarter, which also has a Muslim Quarter. And don’t be surprised to see the practically-vintage Ambassador car on the streets, as if stuck in time. 

Make the road trip to Auroville, an enchanting organic hub of arts and culture with the Matri Mandir’s meditation centre, the tree with history, local markets, chic shops of exclusive local fare and for the long-stayers, workshops in a pure-play give-and-take format. In Pondicherry itself, for lovers of stationery (who often happen to be hoarders too) the world of handmade paper lies before you in an open mill ground with dated outhouses and a fair share of mosquitos. Beautiful paper and paper products are available for purchase, but the art of making the paper (via the waste from the nearby textile industry’s hosiery fabric) is enlightening. 

Don’t leave without a hearty meal rounded up with the fresh mango sorbet (or the jaw-locking lemon sorbet) at Villa Shanti. A particular take-away besides the paper and perfumed giveaways? From the streets of Pondicherry to the serene poolside of La Villa: the most divine iced ‘Nanari’ tea. (Recipe: basil seeds, resin of almond tree (soaked in water), lemon juice, Syrup of nanari root.) It will not fail to cool the body in the soaring local climate. 

Catalyst of Creativity

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Published Verve Magazine May 2015
Photography by Ryan Martis

Aishwarya Pathy for The Rose Code, Verve Magazine

“I believe in paving my own way through life and society. People like and respect you because of the person you are and not so much because of your family’s legacy.”

While growing up, 33-year-old Aishwarya Pathy (daughter of sugar baroness Rajshree Pathy) has had renowned artists and designers as house guests, while being surrounded by “beautiful, well-made objects”, and never missed the opportunity to travel for an interesting art show or a design exhibit. It was most natural for her, then, to work with her mother on projects that challenged and established aesthetic milestones. “There is a dearth of world-class design platforms and schools in India. We wanted to create something that would bring together creative individuals and businesses from all over the country. We felt the need for a design school for avant-garde design thinkers, a laboratory of sorts for their ideas; hence the concept of CoCCA came to fruition.”

The launch of IDF is a serious milestone in her life, as that set her apart as a pioneer. “I want IDF to be larger than a design conference restricted to Mumbai. It should traverse across the country and serve as a catalyst which changes the way people think about design. We aim to give Indian design the recognition it deserves — especially for the fine craftsmanship that exists in this country, the unique materials available only here and, of course, the talent.” IDF comprises a small team, where “everyone does everything.

For the most part I seek out interesting, new and original concepts in the world of design or in design education. I also handle tie-ups with various partners for the IDF event including sponsors, and work on the entire production.”

She is currently working on the next edition of IDF while also developing two new businesses with her real-estate-developer husband, Laxman Vaidya. Aishwarya juggles various roles by prioritising. “As a mother of two, it’s a constant struggle to do everything you want to do without feeling guilty about compromising somewhere! You do the best you can and try to have fun doing it.” Fond of travelling, spending time with her family and entertaining friends, she enjoys flexible working hours while multitasking, working off a daily task list. “I think it is important for a woman to be assertive — be it in her professional or personal life. Women are marginalised all the time, more so in our culture. We’re used to accepting that. I believe in a level playing field, so if you want it, you have to fight for it.”

Known to be spontaneous, Aishwarya describes her personal style as, “simple, timeless, chic and, most of all, comfortable.” She counts a pair of vintage art deco emerald earrings as her most treasured piece of jewellery and believes that dressing up for an occasion means, “wearing things that make you feel great.”

On looking at the future, she says, “A long time ago, I learnt to stop planning and embraced uncertainty. For me, it’s all about the present — enjoying where I am at this moment in time and not having expectations.”

Maven of Good Spirits

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Published Verve Magazine April 2015
Photograph by Ryan Martis

Aishwarya Nair for The Rose Code, Verve Magazine, Leela Group of Hotels

“It is life in a bottle and that to me is magic.”

The third-generation hotelier with The Leela Group, Aishwarya Nair is the head of corporate food and wine merchandising, responsible for drafting the master wine list for all the units in the chain of hotels. When you factor in variables including location, climate, cuisine and clientele, it becomes quite a task. A vino culture educator and writer, she pushes the envelope for the food and wine experience and knowledge in India. The only woman in India to have been felicitated with an honorary diploma by the region of Champagne, Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, Aishwarya has received the ‘Businesswoman of the year 2014’ title from the Indian Leadership Conclave and has also published a coffee-table cookbook, The Fine Art of Food, with her sister, Amruda and photographer, Rohit Chawla.

“The subject itself keeps me going: there is always something new to learn. Every vintage has a different personality, which is the beauty of the wine world!” With a culinary degree to back her up — she obtained an Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree in hotel and restaurant management at the Culinary Institute of America — Aishwarya ends up delving into the creative aspects of food as well. On a regular workday, her key functions involve product development, menu engineering, research about wine and food, creating menus and reworking existing lists based on her basic algorithm. “I looked at myself as competition and that enabled me to work creatively and build something sustainable in terms of branding for the Leela hotels’ repertoire in wine or my own artisanal brand AMAI.” After the success of her luxury pastry brand, Dolce, she went on to create AMAI influenced by the principles of Japanese macrobiotics. It is artisanal — all crafted by hand — using no refined flour, dairy or eggs. “It is what I predict will be the future for India – the idea of conscious eating.”

She’s fond of electronic music, world cuisine, all things retro, and foreign or classic films. “Eclectic, minimal, edgy yet sophisticated” is her style quotient, while dressing up for an occasion means “coordinating the design of your outfit to match (or mismatch) your accessories, make-up and hair, immaculately.” She believes her curiosity for all things and openness to new experiences is a personality trait that serves her well.

Thirty-year-old Aishwarya Nair, who would like to reach a point where her wants are lesser than her needs, sees herself investing creative resources in a fashion-related business, and cherishes her grandfather’s crocodile leather black suspenders, which he once let her borrow.

She remains inspired by “design, travel, Wes Anderson, powerful women, astrology and metaphysics,” and believes that success is all about being a pioneer in her field. “I would like to live a life where every whim is achievable, by my own right, independently.”

Bavaria: Champagne Nights

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Published: Verve Magazine 

Anyone who goes to Germany and skips Bavaria is really missing something. The Free State of Bavaria is what legends, folklore and tales of royal families are made of. It’s misty mountains, dark foliage and stunning countryside. While the Bavarian capital, Munich, provides the old-city charm, driving into the mountains is breathtaking. It’s also just across the Austrian border, easily accessible from Salzburg. Bavarian King Ludwig II’s royal castle Linderhof with beautiful parks and 19th century Romanesque-revival palace Neuschwanstein are splendid examples of the architecture and opulence of the era. The latter has appeared in many movies and was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty castle. With wonderful summer and ski resorts and spas dotting the Bavarian mountains, you are spoilt for choice. But for the easy proximity to Munich and the understated classiness of the resort, Bachmair Weissach is quite unparalleled. Much like the affluent Mumbaikars who would take off for the weekend to a luxe spot in the hills, the chic local set find themselves near Lake Tegernsee, enjoying the countryside and the untouched views.

Dashing wheels, sophisticated conversations and champagne murmurs add the ambience to the resort’s classy interiors and charming locale. Fifteen minutes from the beautiful lake, the property is chic rustic, with light wood interiors. The rooms, overlooking the mountains and near a bubbling brook, are spacious and plush, with a fine balance of muted pastel colours. From Etro bath accessories and clever tea bags with perforations to a Samsung tablet in the room for room service, the hotel serves up luxe in more ways than its fabulous fine dining restaurant (while the other restaurants are equally enjoyable and accommodating even to vegetarian requirements or children). The host and sommelier of Laulenzi is amiable and the five-course meal is ably wrapped up with a delicious dessert of strawberries floating in a bed of champagne teased with tempered white chocolate rolls. It’s easy to linger on and take in the well-dressed weekenders. Not to miss the many guests proudly turned out in the local dirndl (traditional dress).

The resort is designed to be child-friendly, with a monitored children’s activity centre and indoor sports. Nothing beats swimming in the temperature-controlled indoor pool and then dashing outside in the bracing cold to the steaming Jacuzzi. On the side of the Alps that suggests rain anytime, this is a perfect place to relax. On a fine day the watersports by the picturesque lake are not to be missed, along with the pebbled beaches, quaint town, boutiques and cafes. On Sundays you may be privy to a local music festival in the town square and a host of horse-driven carriages and vintage cars. Grabbing a local meal in one of Rottarch Egern’s cafes or restaurants, you may then stroll back through canopied trees and gardens to the welcoming resort.