For years, we’ve thought only one thing about the bandhgala. That it is an incredibly good-looking piece of formal wear for men – but it is formal. For special occasions only. That’s an impression that designers today would like to alter. The bandhgala can be worn casually too, they insist.
“It is a versatile piece that can depict your own individual style,” says designer Narendra Kumar, who recently presented a line of bandhgalas in brocade silk. “So while for some men it spells pride, for others it may mean elegance or comfort. That’s why we are now offering the bandhgala in a more casual look.”
Straight and narrow?
You know what a bandhgala is. It’s our answer to the tuxedo – a hip-length jacket with a stand-up mandarin collar, modelled on the achkan or sherwani. Cut high on the armhole, it sits snug on the chest and looks best in black or charcoal.
Historically, it’s one of the first instances of fashion fusion in the country. In the mid-19th century, European and Indian styles blended to create the achkan – a long, streamlined, collared jacket, with buttons down the middle, worn with trousers or pyjamas. The bandhgala is a shorter version of the achkan; and the latter became popular when Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, wore it.
“We can indirectly credit Nehru with the popularity of the bandhgala,” says designer Raghavendra Rathore, famous for his bandhgalas. “In his capacity as leader of the nation, he created a look unique to India and made it global.”
Since then the bandhgala has been a classic in India. But now, says Rathore, it’s time to play with it. “People are willing to experiment with styles, so we have tried to create a waistcoat in cotton that has the look of a bandhgala and can be teamed with jeans or trousers to give you that elegant as well as casual look,” he says. If you like, he adds, you could pair his new-style bandhgala with a kurta to give you an Aligarhi-style politician look. And colours have been extended to white, cream, variations of brown, beige, blue and even orange. “Keeping the hot season in mind, we have played with softer shades that can be used for both daywear and evening wear,” says designer Sunil Mehra of Study by Janak. “In fact, a lot of whites have been used in our current collection.”
The formal bandhgala is usually made of cashmere, wool, khadi or matka silk. Now, apart from lightweight woollen fabrics like tropical wool, marina wool and terry wool, some of which are lighter than cotton, bandhgalas are also made in linen, Irish linen, cotton chino and silk. Designers are opting for lighter fabrics and are also experimenting with the lining to keep the jacket as light as possible.
“Linen works best for summer and often, bandhgalas are left unlined to keep them light,” says designer Rajesh Pratap Singh. “These are matched with straight fit or slightly tapered pants and can be paired with denims too.”
In fact, says Narendra Kumar, bandhgalas this summer are actually as light as shirts. “Even their cuts are like shirts,” he adds. And Rathore has designed a bandhgala shirt which, he says, will soon become a brand.
But brands, even international brands, have been interested in bandhgalas for ages. And now the interest seems to be permanent. While Giorgio Armani dressed 51st Grammy Awards nominee John Mayer in an Emporio Armani military-inspired black suit with a ‘Nehru jacket,’ Italian brand Canali launched an entire range for the Indian market last year.
“The Nawab collection not only caters to people looking for the perfect option for red carpet events but also for other important occasions and even to corporate clients who are looking for the perfect answer to the tuxedo,” explains Roasie Ahluwalia, general manager, marketing and communications, Genesis Luxury. The collection had a good response that Canali has launched a summer collection and what they call the Nawab jacket that can be paired with jeans. Soon, they plan to go international.
Zegna, another international brand, showcased bandhgalas called Guru jackets two seasons ago, and soon the foreign brand Etro will open its first store in India, offering bandhgalas among other styles.
For many men, however, the best bandhgala is one that is tailored. That’s because this jacket needs to fit perfectly. “With a regular jacket, it doesn’t matter if it is slightly off balance, but with a bandhgala you can’t take a chance,” says Ashok Vaish of Vaish Tailoring at Rivoli in Delhi’s Connaught Place. “Even the posture, the droop of the shoulder and the thickness of the neck make a big difference. The bandhgala should be absolutely fitted at the chest.”
Despite this need for perfection, says Vaish, young men seem to have suddenly discovered the charm of the bandhgala. “Earlier, it was considered to be fit only for a slightly older person, but now the age preference seems to have reversed,” he says. So it seems as though the bandhgala’s reign will continue.
Stars and style
For many of our celebs, the bandhgala appears to be the first choice. Actors Kabir Bedi and Saif Ali Khan have frequently worn them at red carpet events, award functions and similar dos. Actor Shah Rukh Khan was once spotted in a black bandhgala, actor Arjun Rampal wore one at the recent National Awards and architect Mohit Gujral also favours it.
“Mohit Gujral is a perfect example of the classic boarding school style – almost everyone from Mayo College wears the bandhgala,” says designer Raghavendra Rathore. “And polo player Sanjay Kapoor makes it glamorous by promoting it as a polo culture option.”
Its appeal for celebrities is easy to fathom.
“The bandhgala represents India and is the best answer to a formal suit,” explains Kabir Bedi. “In fact, it’s the elegant Indian way of wearing a suit. Moreover, it is so versatile – it can be formal and also informal, and you can wear it with trousers of the same colour or mix and match the jacket and pants. For a casual look, I have even worn a brown linen open bandhgala with jeans.”
Bedi, who buys his bandhgalas from the Canali Nawab collection, usually prefers them in black, though he is also fond of brown and cream for summer.