Thursday, June 14, 2012

Guzaarish & Black: Or a tale about Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Bohemia and Films

A tale from never-never Goa
Dear Sabyasachi, 
I don’t normally write to fashion designers. But I lost my way around Melbourne Central pondering over your unsatisfying answer to my question at the masterclass yesterday. It was most annoying and I missed feeding my 5-month-old baby girl. After that I felt I owed it to myself to demand a debate. 
My question related to your and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s inspirations and references to the two films you discussed: Black & Guzaarish. Why were the inspirations and references so decidedly European? And if the characters were based in never-never land where to do you begin building a costume language for them? 
You began by saying that this was a tiny sample of your huge body of work, and was not representative of your myriad inspirations and references.  
Then you added that you consider yourself a global Indian, who draws inspiration from anywhere and everywhere and your life and work reflects that. And that if I visited a friend’s house and found his life, travels and inspirations decorating his walls, wouldn’t the resulting bohemia enchant me?
I guess, you were saying that the characters of Guzaarish and Black were a result of your inspirations. And you reserve the right to draw your inspiration from anywhere. And the resulting bohemia is enchanting.
At first, I loved your answer. Mainly because after five years of living in five different countries, I am finally moving into my own home. My thoughts are consumed by how do I use this empty space to create a story about my life, thoughts, inspirations and passions. And your comment encapsulated my feelings.
But then, as soon as you moved on to the next question, I realised that your answer called for a counterquestion. 
Isn’t bohemia for the sake of bohemia meaningless? Bohemia, more than anything else, is interesting if it is organic but not if it is overly-constructed.
I would love my friend’s house if I found that the memorabilia decorating the walls truly reflected his or her experiences, travels and passions. But if they were there merely for aesthetics and effect, I would find it pretentious. Like when a friend, who generally disliked Bollywood and didn’t get irony, suddenly placed a 1980s Bollywood poster on her living room wall. It looked fashionable and arresting, but was it interesting? I thought not because it said so little about her. 
Sure creating a gypsy skirt for a nurse in never-never Goa - as you and Bhansali did in Guzaarish - is fashionable and arresting, but is it interesting? 
Sure putting a Parsi lacing on a Michelle McNelly in never-never Shimla - as you did in Black - is fashionable and arresting, but is it interesting?  
Sabyasachi Mukherjee at Hoyt's Melbourne, June 13
And while films belongs to its creators - and I count you among the creators of Black and Guzaarish - doesn’t it equally belong to the characters of the film? 
I felt that while you and Bhansali were true to your own bohemia, the bohemia of the characters of Guzaarish and Black was constructed, stylised and somewhat meaningless. So while you were true to yourself, you failed your characters in the film.
Why would putting-on a garter on Aishwarya Rai in Guzaarish help her get into her character of a Goan nurse more - as you asserted? No Goan nurses wear garters - regardless of whether they are victims of domestic abuse or not. Most wouldn’t even have access to garters.
Now you’ll say that I am over-intellectualising the costume design. I am not. I am telling you exactly why I couldn’t enjoy the two films with such compelling storylines because try as I might, I just couldn’t lose my way into the character’s lives: they were so alien. 
I’ll end this letter now because my baby girl is crying again, and I am sure you wouldn’t want to be responsible for more of her misery. 
But a debate I demand. You name the place and time. 
Curiously yours
Chatnoir: A Mumbaikar in Melbourne
PS: Feel free to pass-on my questions to Mr Bhansali.

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