Friday, December 9, 2011

Lagerfeld's Bombay: Is he lazy or insightful?

Image stolen from Sorry Guardian
Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director and head designer of the French fashion house Chanel, has just unveiled his pre-fall collection in Paris. And guess what? It's theme is "Paris-Bombay".

Bombay here stands for entire India, of course, much the same way that Bombay and Delhi did for the Centre Pompidou's blockbuster summer exhibition on Indian contemporary art: "Paris-Delhi-Bombay". Two black points to France for unimaginative titles.

What makes Lagerfeld's collection - replete with bindis, bangles, tikkas and pearl necklaces - still cheekier is that fact that he has never actually visited India, let alone Bombay. "It is much more inspiring not to go to places than to go," he reportedly quipped backstage.

Now there are two ways to interpret this act. First, Lagerfeld is lazy. He has put a whole collection together based on his idea of India rather than the reality of the country: much like the Lonely Planet writer who authored a guidebook to Columbia based on the information collected from his Columbian girlfriend without actually visiting the country.

On the other hand, maybe, Lagerfeld is being honest. Perhaps, he just knows his limitations. He is, after all, into the business of inspiring and selling luxury, decadence and aesthetics - three things famously absent in Mumbai. We have immensely rich people in Mumbai but I have never seen the rich live in more discomfort anywhere in the world than they do in Mumbai. Perhaps, Lagerfeld is intelligent enough to recognize that what he is looking for simply doesn't exist in Mumbai. Sometimes, it is indeed more inspiring not to go to places and to live with your myths than to actually visit it and have them crushed.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The FHM Cover: Pakistan outraged, but what about us Indians?

Here's one thing I don't understand about the FHM India controversy. Sure, Pakistan is outraged at both Veena Malik's nudity and the ISI tattoo. But what about us Indians? Isn't there any debate in India over this cover and its presence in our horrifyingly repressed Indian society? 
No, I am not a social conservative nor am I bore. Unfortunately, I am an Indian woman who has to navigate her way through the streets of India and doesn’t find it fun. Let your guard down for a minute, and there’s sure to be a random male body part brushing past you. Wear anything remotely provocative, and just the leers will make you run for cover. Even as women on screen and magazine covers compete to shed their clothes to get noticed, I find myself wishing for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak to walk Mumbai’s streets. 
No, this is not a tirade against the Indian man and his roving hands either. I feel sorry for Indian men. They are amongst the most sexually repressed in the world and it couldn't be fun for them either. It leads to all kinds of perversities, the need to harass women on the streets being one of them.  
Lads magazine have similar covers in the West too. But they exist in a different sexual context: a context where men are not repressed and women know they can walk the streets without feeling violated. These covers merely act as a bit of fun and titillation here. 
But within an Indian context, how exactly should we view such covers, shoots, item numbers and porn stars on Bigg Boss doing pole dance numbers? Whom are they really liberating? Certainly not me, as I stand surrounded by leering men next to a Wheelers at Mumbai's train station with Veena Malik hanging naked above me. And certainly not the Indian man, for all he is getting is another image to take to toilet as he silently jerks-off to it. 
Meanwhile, Malik sues FHM for 100 million rupees, and FHM countersues her for 250 million rupees.