Aviators, White Designer Kurtas, and the Evolution of the Bollywood Holi Party


Aviators, White Designer Kurtas, and the Evolution of the Bollywood Holi Party

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Sitting at a café yesterday, I overheard a couple of girls talking about the upcoming Holi celebrations. There was much discussion on who is going where and with whom, but there was also talk of a strange thing called the “Holi Look”.

Once upon a time getting ready for a Holi party meant oiling yourself up from head to toe like a pehelwan before wearing whatever clothes were next in line to become pochas. And it felt like a battle too; with an arsenal full of lead-tainted powder colours and water balloons that could give you dysentery. The object of Holi was to hit people in the eyes with colour, to win a water-gun war against the other kids in the compound, or to be dyed pink for a solid week and earn some serious street cred. Back in those days, if someone asked you what your Holi look was going to be this year, you would have told them to stop snorting gulaal and go easy on the bhaang. But today, a Holi party, like brunch, is apparently an occasion you dress up for.

As hopelessly millennial as the idea of “dressing up” for Holi sounds, it actually dates back to the ’80s and Bollywood. Rekha in “Rang Barse” gave every woman in the country #HoliGoalz. Thanks to her, the idea of a Holi look first came into being – a spotless white, sanskari salwar kameez, a functional but elegant braid, and immaculate make-up complete with bindi. “The Rekha” was designed not only to show off the colours of Holi, but to bring a sense of refinement to a holiday that has traditionally been focused on getting really filthy and really high. Trust Bollywood to hype up a perfectly good thing.

The Bollywoodification of Holi means that it is no longer enough to throw around bright colours and drink yourself silly. In true Indian fashion, weve got to make it bigger and wilder.

Today, the Holi party has morphed into a different beast. The classy aunty might still favour Rekha’s iconic style, updated with a pair of mirrored aviators perched on top of her freshly blow-dried hair. But for younger revellers, the classic Indian style has been bastardised by a barrage of frayed cutoffs, psychedelic crop tops, and whimsically braided maulis. A simple Google search on Holi fashion will give you endless recommendations on ethnic fabrics and prints, just in case your goal is to look like an escaped bridal wear model who fell into a tanning vat. They advise you to cover your hair with a Yankees fitted cap, champi be damned. The reference images are all pictures of white girls doing “colour runs” in yoga pants.

Is it too much to ask that for one day we do something that is not a social media commodity?

As with most of the modern world’s ills, it’s easy to blame Bollywood for this dramatic shift in our Holi #aesthetic. But let’s be honest – it’s all because of social media. After all, if your Holi party pictures don’t look like stills from “Balam Pichkari”, what’s the point? Gone are the days when Holi, or any occasion, was only about having fun with your friends. No longer do we spray colour with abandon, getting our hair wet, and letting our kajal streak our already soiled faces.

Now, we want the money shots for an Instagram fest – a carefully applied swipe of red across your cheek to match your lipstick; a pointless but artsy black-and-white picture of you throwing powder aimlessly into the air; a “candid” in a tie-dye bandana that took 15 minutes and your friend’s phone torch to set up; the rainbow of individual colours before it all disintegrates into a sad purplish-grey-orange muck that won’t even merit a dozen likes.

Is it too much to ask that for one day we do something that is not a social media commodity? The best part of Holi is giving no fucks about how you look. In fact, the worse you look, the more fun you’re likely to have; you’re bound to be willing to destroy that Holi with a good, solid dunking. Don’t give in to the pressure, kids, pull out that pocha.