If you make it your business to be feted for what you wear, someone may make it their business to see you solely in the context of clothes. Culturally it may not be polite to rate a bride’s wedding finery. But some would agree that Bollywood actor Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, co-founder of the #EverydayPhenomenal wedding hashtag, the leading lady of a few thousand photos — which created an overwhelming shaadi meme on Instagram a few days ago — asked for it.
After her friends, former and current stylists, former and current directors, fashion magazines, photographers, her Bollywood uncles and aunts, co-stars, fan clubs, primary and subsidiary professional associates had posted from her wedding, if you had the bandwidth to dust off the glitter-storm, there were some underwhelming views circulating on social media as well. “Mata ki chhatri” for instance. “We may like it or not but she influences the decisions and dreams of lakhs of young girls in this country,” argued a leading fashion designer. By afternoon that day, this had become a big issue in drawing rooms, newsrooms, chatrooms and powder rooms.
Going by Instagram posts emanating as if from an untiring fount of magical couture and beautiful people (unleashing forgivable anxieties like where do they get their hair done; where do they buy their jewels from) Sonam changed and changed and changed. Her clothes. From one mehndi outfit to another mehndi outfit — an ivory lehnga choli by Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla to her Anand Karaj wedding ceremony ensemble. This was a startling creation of big gold patterns on red accessorised by so much jewellery that all her bridesmaids could have shared that lot. Then to a cake cutting ceremony outfit to a chevron patterned grey and white lehnga set with a white gold cape ensemble by Anamika Khanna for her reception to a chikankari kaftan for an after party with friends.
Her life, her money, her clothes, her wedding. Can’t we just stuff our opinions in our cupboards? Here’s why not.
India’s most popular fashionista, the most frequent fashion magazine cover girl, who supposedly redeemed our fashion worthiness from the year she stepped on to the Cannes red carpet in 2011, a fashion influencer by every definition, who traded her acting potential to reign as the mistress of Indian glamour, ended up giving scores of young girls a “wedding complex”. She succumbed hook, line, sinker to the traditional bride couture that inspires as much as it worries a large section of unmarried girls. Instead of writing her own story, a reasonable expectation from the diva of fashion and thus of newness, she made “getting married in 12 garments” a dreamy aspiration.
Wedding couture drives and dominates Indian fashion. So Sonam’s shaadi is big business in the clothes story. But when it is beamed out in such profusion, it could throw spectators into an anxious, me-too vortex. Especially those who may not have as many clothes for their weddings and who worship Bollywood stars as role models.
It certainly lands a thud on the soft rumbles of modernity that have just begun to sneak up on the wedding industry — newer, simpler yet beautiful options in bridal couture, private rituals protected from photo amplification, jewellery that doesn’t dominate a bride’s face and body.
Ironically, despite the procession of lehngas, Sonam’s loveliest accessory was her radiant and joyous smile. She looked most attractive in images where she shares excited glances with Anand Ahuja, her charming groom, the founder of Bhane, a casual wear fashion brand and of VegNonVeg, a sneaker boutique.
Our problem should not be that Sonam wore red or grey, or that she did not strut out in avant garde Jean Paul Gaultier like on a red carpet. But if some of us expected her to subvert the traditional bride story to write and copyright a contemporary one, the time to confess our disappointment is now.
Shefalee Vasudev is a fashion journalist
The views expressed are personal