If you were a 90’s kid like me, you couldn’t have missed a pop-song called Made in India. (Especially if you had a crush on Milind Soman, like most teenage girls in the day did!)
In case you missed it, the song spoke about a heart desiring another heart that was made in India – a desi heart. But growing up not all our loves were made in India. Especially in the 90s and even the 2000s, where so much of everything we looked up to was foreign. We pleaded with relatives abroad to bring back foreign-branded chocolates, makeup and jeans when they visited. And listened to our NRI cousins talk about McDonalds, and Nutella, and Starbucks with twinkling eyes. We watched American shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S and Gossip Girl, because there weren’t too many shows for teenagers, and secretly wished, we too lived in New York instead of New Delhi.
And what’s more, even when it came to faces on the global scene, the only faces we saw were foreign women. At award shows. At beauty pageants. At film festivals like Cannes. You did have women like Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen being the first to make their presence felt in the international circuit, but they were the exceptions, not the norm. Even with art, culture and fashion, inspiration always came from the west.
Fast forward twenty years later, it’s 2022, and things have changed. At least, with regards to the stereotypical image of the typical Indian woman. And what it means for other Indian women like me. And you.
Over the last week, all our Instagram feed have been flooded with pictures of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. For me, seeing our very own Deepika Padukone make it to the jury was a rather proud moment. And what’s more, seeing her make an entry in a saree by designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee (and not the usual gown by an international designer like Versace or Dolce & Gabbana), greeting a global audience with a namaste gesture – sends out a rather powerful message. The time for the Indian woman, the desi girl has arrived. And it doesn’t just stop at one person. Indian influencers like Masoom Minawala, TV stars like Hina Khan have found their way to the Cannes red carpet, especially in the last few years – invited by brands who recognise their influence and the size of their loyal audiences. Not just the European Cannes, but even the elite Met Gala in New York has seen Indian participants. Many of them wear Indian designers, some of which are a favourite with western celebrities as well.
And Cannes was just one instance. Look around, and you’ll see Indian women taking the global stage by storm, wherever they go. And not just fitting in, rather standing out. Priyanka Chopra is India’s most successful Bollywood to Hollywood transport. CEO Indra Nooyi has ruled the roost at PepsiCo for over two decades. Filmmakers like Deepa Mehta now make films for a global audience. And the list goes on.
What I find rather interesting is that all these women don’t feel the need to set aside their desi-ness. Rather, they choose to celebrate this – their Indian roots co-existing beautifully with global trends. They don’t feel the need to shorten their names, only so that their names seem more acceptable amongst more western ones. They wear the saree and the business suit with equal grace. They rub shoulders with the who’s-who of their respective worlds. But their hearts and voices are proudly at home within their own. And along the way, not only changing their perception of Indian women on the global stage, but making sure they are a force to reckon with, in their own way. And also perhaps paves the way for women to come.
The Indian woman is no longer the side-character in the movie. The one who either had to look up to western inspiration, or perhaps stand behind the stronger male figures. She is the heroine of her own tale. And oh, what a powerful, beautiful and long-lasting one.
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