Shining through the Seventies. Then mysteriously: It’s a wrap!
Sometimes, certain fashion trends simply fall off the radar once their time is over. They’re not remembered fondly even in the way outlandish styles are – such as the enormous bouffant of the Sixties, derided then too as a “chidiya ka ghosla” (bird’s nest).
I’m talking about a ’70s trend which got lost in the flood of maxis, front-knotted blouses, bell bottoms, polka dots, printed saris and platform heels. It was a very filmi trend, and it’s worthwhile to remember that this was an era when fashion designers were not popping out of every garage and basement. Trends were set firmly by film stars.
I present the resplendent silk lungi-kurta combination, worn by both men and women, off screen and onscreen. (It had nothing to do with the humble checked cotton lungi working-class men wore and continue to wear in many parts of India.) The Bollywood version was seen as stylish and posh; it was always in silk, in bright colours or prints and mostly worn at home as leisure wear, in lieu of the less flashy kurta-pyjama.
The most visible champion of the outfit was Rajesh Khanna. In his biography of the superstar, Yasser Usman quotes film journalist Bharati S Pradhan, who says that Khanna “used to famously wear silk lungi-kurtas at home.” (For a cover image for the magazine Star & Style, Pradhan said they played on his fondness for the lungi-kurta). Real life spilled over into reel life — Khanna also wore the outfit in his hit film Daag (1973). The scene is his wedding night and he’s sitting alone, smoking a cigarette, wearing a matching printed silk kurta and lungi set.
Other stars favoured it too — in her memoir A Patchwork Quilt, director Sai Paranjpye writes that when she went to Sanjeev Kumar’s house to narrate the story of her film Sparsh, he was wearing an orange silk lungi and kurta. (He didn’t do the film, Naseeruddin Shah got the role.) Like Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar was seen in silk lungi-kurta sets in his films, and in at least two of them, the heroines wore them as well. In Anamika (1973), Kumar plays a writer who favours this combination at home. He gives shelter to a mysterious young woman Anamika (Jaya Bhaduri), who, since she doesn’t have clothes of her own, wears his silk lungi-kurtas, even trying to seduce him in an orange kurta and yellow lungi, while singing the come-hither number Baahon mein chale aao.
But the silk lungi-kurta combination was very much part of women’s wardrobes. In Pati Patni aur Woh (1978), both Sanjeev Kumar and Vidya Sinha (who play husband and wife), wear it at home. We see Kumar in a bright orange lungi-kurta (clearly a favourite colour) and Sinha in a shimmery maroon silk kurta with matching lungi.
Interestingly, in his 1972 novel Antaral, set in Mumbai, writer Mohan Rakesh has one of his characters, an independent young working girl, Seema, wear lungi-kurtas.
Onscreen its most glamorous avatar was probably in the 1971 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna, where Zeenat Aman wears a bright pink kurta and lungi in the song Dum maaro dum.
Leading costume designer for Hindi films, Niharka Bhasin, says she remembers her mother wearing lungi-kurtas back in the day, and this was in the small town of Jamshedpur. Why did we forget about the trend? “I think that’s because when we recreate a period like the Seventies in a film, we tend to give audiences a sense of that time by showing popular elements, like bell bottoms. We wouldn’t use something like the silk lungi-kurta.”
Maybe that’ll change one of these days!