Parsi chic: Ashdeen Lilaowala with one of his creations.
THERE IS AN AIR OF easy elegance and soft, balmy luxuriance about Ashdeen Lilaowala’s first flagship store. Located in a tony South Delhi address, amid high-end fashion boutiques, Lilaowala’s spanking new atelier has pink hand-painted walls with gold petals and chess-honed marble floors. There are cranes aplenty, embroidered into the array of Parsi gara saris, even inlaid in the stone steps leading up to the store.
The 38-year old Parsi designer, seated on a plush off-white sofa with curved armrests, holds forth on the many mutations of the ancient textile pattern of paisley. In Iran, it is the cypress tree. The top part of the tree is very light; it moves and bends in the wind. “So if you see the Persian paisley, it is long and bent,” says Lilaowala. “If you come to India, the paisley resembles a mango, that is why we call it ‘ambi’. In China, it becomes a pot or an urn.” He glides over motifs transcending and evolving over cultural boundaries, as he talks about his travels to Iran and China in 2005-2006 to trace the origin and development of Parsi embroidery.
Today, his fashion label, ASHDEEN, is at the forefront of bringing out modern, contemporary versions of Parsi gara saris, the most treasured heirloom in a Parsi woman’s wardrobe since the 19th century. The Parsi gara is often described as “Indian embroidery with Chinese origin and Persian heritage”. It is packed with fulsome floral motifs, intricately winged birds, Persian symbols, pagodas and “Chinamen”. How did it come to embody such diversity? The presence of Zoroastrian merchants in China, mainly for opium trade, is well-documented from the 18th century onwards. Many had settled in the Chinese port of Canton (modern-day Guangzhou). These Parsi settlers transferred oriental designs onto saris, which the Jeejeebhoys and Readymoneys brought back for their women folk in western India.
Lilaowala recalls meeting one such family in 2005 in Shamian island in Guangdong province. They had seen the gara sari trade evolve firsthand. “They had so many saris with butterflies. When thread from previous saris were left behind, they would tell their craftsmen to make multi-coloured butterflies from it,” says Lilaowala. He has been injecting a more modern approach to the imagery of chinoiserie, flowers, birds and butterflies through his brand. His favourite remains the crane.
There is one particularly resplendent number in jet black with a bevy of white cranes in a pool of red. This is also his most popular sari, retailing at Rs 60,000 apiece. “In Chinese culture and mythology, cranes represent peace and longevity. The Chinese were fascinated with flight,” Lilaowala explains his devotion to the long-necked bird. “Even in the most awkward positions, cranes tend to be flawless. This was one of my starting points and I continue to take it forward.” He launched his label in 2012 and initially worked out of his house. Lilaowala hopes Parsi gara saris will attain as definitive and ubiquitous a status as the prized kanchipurams, banarasis and chanderis.
Mayank Mansingh Kaul, Delhi-based writer and curator who recently put together an exhibition in Jaipur on post-independence designers titled ‘New Traditions: Influences & Inspirations in Indian Textiles, 1947-2017’, featured Ashdeen’s “crane sari” as well. “Not only is Ashdeen interested in taking forward the idea of the classic Parsi gara using new materials, he has developed a signature style for Cocktail-evening wear which is refreshing,” says Kaul. “Ashdeen’s work is based on an interest in exploring histories of fashion and its evolving cultures.” Lilaowala has delved deep into Parsi weaving and threadwork, and contributed to many books and articles on the subject.
Lilaowala grew up in Mumbai and was exposed to the illustrious gara tradition from childhood. Two elder sisters and a “very fashionable mother” powered his own sartorial intuitions. His years as a student of textile design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, further streamlined his interests. After graduating in 2002, he worked in Mumbai for a while before moving to Delhi for a research sponsored by the UNESCO Parsi Zoroastrian Project. (This took him to China and Iran.) He later did embroidery, from Delhi, for a Los Angeles-based company. When he designed a gara sari for a friend, he did not know that it would become his mainstay. That first gara sari led to many more. His first big showcase was at the Delhi Crafts Council in October 2012, followed by the Lakme Fashion Week. He now retails saris priced up to 03 lakh. He has draped Tabu and Madhuri Dixit with his intricate, handmade saris. Sonam Kapoor in Sanju was his latest Bollywood outing.
But Lilaowala has never been the sort to chase celebrities, seek runway success by churning out collections every season or fall victim to superfluous labels à la haute couture, demi-couture or prêt-à-porter. In fact, he still stocks and sells designs he brought out in 2012. His clients are mostly industrialists. He doesn’t believe that youth defines fashion. “If you have the money, it defines fashion,” he says matter-of-factly. He stubbornly defends his design aesthetic which is strictly “classic yet contemporary”, immune to fast-changing trends. You may think his clientele is slightly older, financially secure women, but Lilaowala doesn’t really care. “Our business is largely outside the Parsi community, with a lot of appreciation coming in from Marwaris, south Indians and other communities,” says Lilaowala. “People who appreciate craft, beauty, fineness, detailed handwork… they will always go for it.”
“Styles may come and go and fashion is ever-evolving but classics like a gara are timeless,” says Anahita N. Dhondy, chef manager at SodaBottleOpenerWala. She wore her first gara sari when she was16, at her grandparents’ anniversary. She considers Lilaowala a pioneer who has revived and refreshed the Parsi gara idiom. “Parsi gara was not really of much interest to a non-Parsi for the longest time,” says Dhondy. “There was not enough spotlight and it was not readily available.” With stores like ASHDEEN, that is set to change.
“And my first ever voice competition and I stood in second and won the Audience Top Choice award! I am absolutely stunned and surprised that I won not only because most of the pieces I learnt in a short time and performed for the first time but I was also so impressed with the level of my fellow Indian singers! Everybody was amazing! I also feel like my hardwork and passion has been recognised by winning 2 awards tonight! Thank you to all my friends and family who came and supported me in every way and biggest thanks to my voice teacher Ulrike Sonntag who supported me relentlessly and was there for me every step of the way.”
The video top-trended on Twitter and Youtube as India chose it over politics, bollywood and cricket!
Shayan Italia, broke the global record for the most-viewed single video of a national anthem on Youtube, beating the French anthem’s 36 million views. It has now crossed 94 Million views, adding a million views daily!
This Parsi Dysfunctional Family Will Leave You In Splits
Akoori, a new web series, which is all set to release on 30th August, on Zee5, shares a story of whacky family and their relationships
Zee5 Original recently released a new trailer, named Akoori, which is based on whacky family ties. While the father, played by Darshan Zariwala tries hard to keep his weird family intact, his wife is under coma for a few weeks. Keeping the entire family sane and normal, Darshan falls for his neighbor, played by Lillete Dubey. Known for its own quirks, Akoori stands tall amidst the clutter of other dysfunctional family stories.
From falling in love at the second innings of his life to going strong with his daughter and his son who he thinks is Gay, a Bawa makes this one looks like a hilarious take on urban relationships.
Akoori is a ZEE5 Original, created and written by Nikhil Venugopalan, directed by Harsh Dedhia, starring Darshan Jariwala, Lillete Dubey, Shadab Kamal, Zoa Morani, Sohrab Sunny, Adi Irani and Harsh Nagar. Join this crazy family as they try to mend their relationships and come to term with their loss. The web series will release on 30th August only on Zee5.
“Within a matter of days, #IWouldStandForThis has generated a spectacular response, the most viewed online video of the Indian national anthem ever. Thanks for the thousands of great comments but we are now disabling them. This rendition is a heartfelt tribute to both Mother India and my dear Mother whom I lost early on. I would prefer to keep this precious space quiet. One and all–thanks very much for the respect. Keep watching, keep liking and keep sharing!” – Much love, Shayan
In just 48 hours, the Indian National Anthem #IWouldStandForThis version becomes the most successful Indian National Anthem video on YouTube securing over 8.6 million views. #IWouldStandForThis honours the Indian National Anthem (Jana Gana Mana), performed by Shayan Italia in 8K Ultra HD on the world’s grandest piano, to pay homage to his mother. #IWouldStandForThis brings together multinational cross-cultural music and video production talent from all over the world to inspire patriotism amongst the youth of India in its digital age. Incredible detail when viewed in Ultra HD and with headphones. Full 8K (8192 x 4320) resolution can be viewed via Google Chrome browser. Support the global initiative by adding the hashtag #IWouldStandForThis to the end of your comments across all social media platforms and join the movement.
CHIEF PRODUCTION TEAM & SPECIAL THANKS Since 8K Ultra HD processing technology doesn’t exist in India as of yet, various studios from across the world (including USA, Russia, UK, Australia, Singapore and the UAE) came together in unison to make the processing of this video happen.
Arranged and Performed on Steinway Model D by: Shayan Italia Directed by: Dr. FarhadVijayArora Chief Audio Engineers: Tim Young, Ronan Phelan, ShantanuHudlikar Produced by: Shayan Italia & FarhadVijayArora Co-Producers: AmarjeetDahiya, RajanVanmali & ShyamGarg Co-Director: Sandeep Singh Khichi & Aapar Gupta Director of Photography: Mohammed ShahnawazAnsari Post Production & VFX Overview: Kalinath Roy & DilberVijayArora Associate Producers: Jagdish Ingle, ImranMalgunkar, & RajuDubeyEPs: SahilGulia & PankajKansara Photography: Jeetu & Kinnari Makeup: ArshisJaveri Styling: Shanaya Boyce Script: Atul Malhotra & DilnaazBharucha
Next stop: The #71for71challenge – it’s simple. Copy the text below, share the link, tag 3 friends and challenge them to UNITE India this independence:
Challenge text copy (copy exactly and post on any social media platform)
I accept the #71for71challenge to #unite #india! To make https://youtu.be/YNpqyL3Z_6A acquire 71m views by India’s 71st Independence. Show your #patriotism: I challenge @friendtag1 @friendtag2 @friendtag3 to accept and further refer 3 more! #IWouldStandForThis
Soprano Farah Ghadiali recently won the Joint First prize in ‘All India Western Classical Vocal Competition’ held in New Delhi, on 27th April, 2018. Organised by the Neemrana Foundation of Music and the French Embassy in India, Farah received the ‘Neemrana Voice Competition – The Godrej Talent of India’ Award, based on three selection rounds, that rounded up five finalists who battled it out at the Akshara Theatre, New Delhi. Having to sing one compulsory piece and one classical piece of the singer’s choice, Farah sang the ‘Aria Of The Fairy’ from the Opera La Cendrillon by Pauline Viardot as the compulsory piece and ‘Der Holle Rache’ from the opera Die Zauberflote (the Magic Flute) by WA Mozart, as her choice in the finals.
Currently a music teacher in Bombay, Farah completed her MBA from the University of Mumbai and worked as a Senior Marketing Manager at the NCPA, before taking the leap of faith and signing up to study classical music at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in London. Having completed her Masters in Music in 2016 and the Post Graduate Advanced (Artist) Programme in 2017, studying with Soprano Patricia Rozario (OBE, FRCM), Farah is on the coveted student scheme of the Philharmonic Chorus and has delivered various operatic performances in London and India.
Speaking to Parsi Times, Farah Ghadiali said, “The award validates all those who supported and believed in me. Pursuing Western Classical Music in India is a real labour of love and I am very happy that there is a growing interest in encouraging Indians to do well in this field.”
Currently, Farah is busy with her project, ‘Duo Farinaldi’, established in 2017 by Steinway Artist and award winning Italian pianist, Paolo Rinaldi. Together, they have curated and performed in two seasons of concerts in the UK and are set to perform concert tours in Italy and India, later this year.
Sung by Uma Pocha, who died last week, the tune travelled to Sri Lanka and beyond, serving as a reminder that it’s impossible to predict how sounds travel.
Uma Pocha with her husband Jimmy Pocha (right) and theatre personality Adi Marzban (middle) | YouTube.com
Bombay Meri Hai is among my earliest musical memories. When I was a child, the song was always being played on Saturday Date, the pop music request show on All India Radio. But mostly, I heard the tune being performed week after week by wedding bands at the Bandra Gymkhana, opposite my grandparents’ home. Bombay Meri Hai is among the songs in the “masala” section of Catholic wedding parties – the fast-paced crescendo during which revellers wave white handkerchiefs above their heads to conjure up a long-forgotten aboriginal past as they dance to Marathi and Konkani folk tunes.
Perhaps because it’s invariably performed alongside tunes like Galyan Sakli Sonyachi and Sonyachi Kavla, I’d always thought of Bombay Meri Haias a traditional Bombay Catholic tune. So I was more than a little intrigued when, deep into the graveyard shift at The Times of India in 1991, my Parsi colleague Roxanne Kavarana told me that not only did she know the man who had composed the tune, she was actually related to him. Over the next few years, I’d come to learn a little more about how Mina Kava came to compose the first-ever Indo-pop hit.
This photo was taken in 1958, when Mina Kava – peering out from behind the drums – was still a few years away from his burst of success (or at least success as defined by the standards of the tiny world of Indian dance music). It was shot at the Bandra Gymkhana when his band, the Music Makers, was staffed with best-known performers of the Bombay jazz world: pianist Toni Pinto, trumpet player Chic Chocolate and saxophonist Norman Mobsby. If you look closely, you’ll see that the photograph was signed at the bottom by two visiting American musicians: Dave Brubeck and Joe Morello. (Not pictured here are six men who were vital to the smooth functioning of the Music Makers and indeed, most Bombay dance bands of the time – well-muscled coolies. “Sure, we had to transport the piano from venue to venue,” Kava explained.)
The era of technology and social media brought us the possibility to have an open dialog with those whom we admire most. Now, we can follow our favorite people on Instagram, reply to them on Twitter and like them on Facebook. In that sense, we seem to be closer than ever to them being aware of what they do and say about a variety of subjects that touch us all. This kind of exposure has also affected the consciousness of those who want to use the global platform to promote their ideas on how to make our world a better place. American actor, producer, and activist Behzad Dabu is no exception. He is in love with his acting career, which is reflected in his constant expansion as a professional and a person. Behzad has a unique perspective on how acting can contribute to the general wellbeing and anything that has a positive intention is always a reason to celebrate.
If we go by their numbers, Parsis do not amount to more than a minuscule minority in the country. Their total population in India was around 61,000 according to the 2011 census. Unfortunately, the population of Parsis has been steadily decreasing and demographers say that by 2030, they may even cease to be a minority and may become a vanishing tribe.
There are several reasons behind it — the chief one being that Parsis are an insular community when it comes to matrimony. They marry within their own community and are quite strict about it. If anyone breaks this rule and marries outside the community, he or she may cease to be called a Parsi.
But barriers of caste and creed are now breaking down and the young generation of Parsis today do not always go by the strait-jacketed rules of their community. So, inter-religious marriages between Parsis and other communities now take place more often than ever before.
Parsis, unlike other communities of India, are not as procreative. “Be responsible — don’t use a condom tonight,” was a light-hearted advertisement inserted by the Central government in newspapers to encourage Parsis to be more procreative.
Aruna Irani with Amitabh Bachchan in Bombay to Goa.
Being Zoroastrians who faced Islamic persecution when Islam reached Persia, a large number of Parsis emigrated from Persia to India more than a thousand years ago and settled mostly in Sindh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.
But in matters matrimonial, the community was orthodox right from the start which has not changed much even today. In fact Parsis are afraid of losing their identity by inter-marrying with people belonging to other religions in India. So, marrying within the Parsi community is the rule and marrying outside is an exception.
However, the importance of the Indian Parsi community lies more in what it has achieved in various walks of life than in its insignificant numerical strength.
Affluent, enterprising, and highly intelligent, Parsis have done remarkably well in the field of science and industry. Homi J Bhabha, Homi N Sethna, JRD Tata, and Jamshedji Tata are distinguished Parsi names. Godrej, Cowasjee, and Wadia are other well-known Parsi families in India owning massive business empires.
The Parsi contribution to Hindi cinema is also of considerable value. Hindi cinema in its initial years was greatly influenced by Parsi theatre, beginning from India’s first silent movie Raja Harishchandra (1913), which was a filmed version of a stage play of the same name, to the tales of Shirin Farhad, Leila Majnu and other such legendary lovers, the influence of Parsi theatre was clearly visible in the acting style. In fact, some actors of Parsi theatre switched to films when sound recording techniques enabled filmmakers to produce talkies (speaking films).
It was Ardeshir Irani, a Parsi, who created a sensation in 1931 by making India’s first talkie titled Alam Aara. The original film has been lost now, but Ardeshir Irani’s name shall remain immortal in the history of Indian cinema.
One of the earliest actors to come from Parsi theatre to the film industry was Sohrab Modi who not only acted in films but also produced and directed them. His first film Khoon Ka Khoon (1935) was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
In this film, for the role of Ophelia, Sohrab Modi introduced Naseem Banu, mother of actress Saira Banu. His next film was Said-e-Havas (1936), also based on Shakespeare’s play King John.
In 1936, Sohrab Modi built his own studio called Minerva Movietone. He produced, directed, and acted in many memorable films based on fictionalised history. His notable films were Pukar (1939), Sikandar (1941), Prithvi Vallab (1943), Sheesh Mahal (1950), Jhansi Ki Rani (1953), Mirza Ghalib (1954), Kundan (1955), and Raj Hathh (1956).
In the 1930s, a Parsi named JBH Wadia, a post graduate in English literature with a degree in Law, entered the film industry. JBH Wadia had initially started his life as a lawyer, but he was soon won over by the world of movies and he worked hard to learn the craft of filmmaking.
He also had a flair for scripting film stories and he was joined by his younger brother Homi Wadia who together, set up their film production unit called Wadia Movietone on 13 April 1933.
Since talkies had now caught the fancy of movie-goers, Wadia brothers mastered the technique and started making action movies which in those days were known as “stunt films”.
At this time the Wadia brothers came across a tall and well-built Australian girl named Mary Evans, a trained circus artist who could perform breathtaking stunts. The brothers saw in her the future heroine of their stunt films and they gave her a new identity, renaming her Nadia — the fearless Nadia.
Nadia was cast as the dare-devil heroine in a number of Wadia Movietone films. Her outlandish looks, skimpy dresses, and speech in an anglicised version of Hindi fascinated the cine-goers. Her outstanding films were Hunterwali, Diamond Queen, Miss Frontier Mail, and many others.
The hero of most of her films was an Englishman named John Cawas who had learnt to speak Hindi and had thus made India his home. These movies made Wadia brothers the most successful filmmakers of their time.
Aspi Irani, a filmmaker of Parsi origin produced and directed many films in the 1950s and 60s. Among his well-known films, Oomar Qaid, Shirin Farhad, Smuggler, and Garam Masala deserve a mention. Faredoon A Irani was a star cinematographer of the film industry in the 1940s and 1950s reputed for his excellent lens skills.
To him goes the credit of cinematographing a large number of films produced and directed by Mehboob Khan. A few famous Mehboob Khan films for which Faredoon A Irani wielded the camera are Anmol Ghadi, Andaz, Aan, Amar and Mother India.
Two Parsi sisters joined the film industry as child artists in the 1950s. The elder sister Daisy Irani was the first Parsi child star whose performance in films simply bowled over viewers.
She was seen in numerous films of the 1950s as a child star, among which Ek Hi Rasta (1956) and Naya Daur (1957) are well known. Soon she was followed by her younger sister Honey Irani who too took to films as naturally as a duck takes to water.
Among Parsi actresses who have earned name and fame, Aruna Irani has had quite a distinguished career in Bollywood. She started her acting career as a child star with the Dilip Kumar-Vyjayanthimala starrer Ganga Jamuna (1961). In due course Aruna Irani graduated to adult roles in films.
In Bombay to Goa (1972), she was cast as the heroine opposite Amitabh Bachchan. As a versatile actress, having attempted both positive and negative roles with equal ease, Aruna Irani has acted in hundreds of films and TV serials.
Among the present day film stars of Parsi origin, Boman Irani is well known for his versatility, gaining fame with Munna Bhai MBBS and later, 3 Idiots.
In the role of a principal of a medical college being riled by a roughneck student from the streets of Mumbai, Boman Irani gave an outstanding performance in Munna Bhai and has since acted in numerous films and won accolades for his acting.
Choreographer Farah Khan and her brother Sajid Khan are also partly Parsi- their mother was a Parsi and their father a Muslim. Similarly, actor-director Farhan Akhtar is the son of Honey Irani and lyricist Javed Akhtar.
John Abraham is also of mixed parentage with his mother being a Parsi. Homi Adajania, a Bollywood director known for films like Being Cyrus, Cocktail and Finding Fanny is also of Parsi heritage.
Mehr Jasia former Miss India, Nauheed Cyrusi, a model and Bollywood actress, and Shaimak Davar, a noted choreographer are other noteworthy community members.
All in all, Parsis are creative people who have left their mark in all walks of life, including cinema.
Modern-day Bollywood divas Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone have established themselves as an international stars and, time and again, earned the appreciation for it too. However, that stardom is an extension of what they enjoyed in Bollywood. Long before they made their forway into Hollywood, there were many other Indian actresses who tried their hands at acting in international films. Some gave memorable performances, while a few others made us question our fandom. In focus, today, is a pioneering woman, Persis Khambatta, who belongs to the former set of ladies who gave us performances to cherish.
Persis was a former Miss India and model, who became an international sensation in 1979. She created history by appearing in the popular sci-fi film Star Trek: The Motion Picture as Lieutenant Ilia. For her character, Persis went bald in real life – a big deal for women in the 1970s. And, let’s not forget, she was also the first Indian to present an award at the Academy Awards.
Born in a middle-class Parsi family in 1948 in Mumbai – then Bombay – Persis first came into the limelight at the age of 13, through her appearance in a soap brand commercial. It wasn’t intentional at all. It happened after a well-known photographer from the city took her candid pictures and used it for this campaign. Thereafter, she was offered a number of modelling assignments. The Indian beauty, then, went on be the second winner in the Femina Miss India beauty pageant in 1965. After this, in the mid-60s, Persis became the third Indian to participate in the Miss World pageant in Miami. As per news reports, during this time, she was even offered a Bond film, but the beauty queen turned down the offer as she had promised her mother that she’ll return home. Now, that was the first version of the story. A few other news reports say Persis wanted to explore the Hindi film industry and hence, she returned.
Around the late 60s, she debuted in the Hindi film industry with Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Mein in the role of a cabaret dancer. But, soon after, Persis left for London to make a career as she found this industry unprofessional and boring. She went on to become a popular model in Britain and even worked in a bunch of international films thereafter –The Wilby Conspiracy, Conduct Unbecoming, Warrior of the Lost World and Mega Force.
At the age of 29, she bagged the challenging role of Lieutenant Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, for which she had to shave her head. Her courage and talent paid off and she earned a lot of appreciation for her character. It was after the film’s success that, in 1980, she got the opportunity to present an award at the Oscars and became the first Indian to present an award at the prestigious award ceremony.
Persis passed away in 1998 of cardiac arrest – five years after her last acting appearance, which was on an international TV show titled Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.