La nostalgie de la boue: Musings on Lingerie by Sumanto Chattopadhyay

I don’t know if that desi lingerie brand still exists, but many a Calcuttan remembers its slogan: Licia Bra Dushtumite Bhora. ‘Filled with naughtiness.’ Most who remember this advertising artifact – a grimy faded signboard somewhere near Sealdah Station – have actually not seen it with their own eyes. It has turned into legend merely through word of mouth. People have talked of it with such animation the image has become more vivid than it ever was in reality.


Such is the stuff of nostalgia. It can make things live on even after they are gone. And sometimes, others can borrow its interest value and bask in it. Take Rupa. This underwear-banian brand is lore, having been around since before most of us can remember. Many knew the joke – Rupa ka underwear pehnoge, toh Rupa kya pehnegi? MTV, in its early days here, turned Rupa’s predicament into an amusing qawali style channel promo to help it move away from the firang tag and establish its creds as an Indian youth channel.


The MTV qawal’s characteristic up-down eyebrow motion as he asked what the bechari will wear, at least in my imagination, is inextricably linked with Rupa nostalgia – which, by the way, continues to grow, in keeping with changing times, on the internet – with answers, such as the following one, to the classic Rupa question posted on blog sites: Hopefully Rupa ko ek underwear se zyada honge toh ek aap pehennna aur ek woh!


And then there’s Madonna golden conical bra. Who can forget that Jean Paul Gaultier creation from her 1990’s Blonde Ambition tour? The image of the pop diva sprawled on a red velvet bed, with two men to keep her twin peaks company, singing, of all things, Like a Virgin! While Madonna herself defies nostalgia by moving on to ever-new age defying personas, her pointy shimmering inner/outerwear continues to make our eyes goggle – which could be quite hazardous as one risks having them poked out by the shimmering protuberances. These gilt-edged peaks of Americana have found their way, in exchange for a princely sum, into a Hollywood fashion museum (next to Tom Hank’s boxers from Forrest Gump), into a book titled, if you please, ‘The Ruby Slippers, Madonna’s Bra, and Einstein’s Brain’ (what an ideal combo of accessories for a woman to possess!) and even into the hair-do of Lady Gaga, possibly an attempt by this Italian-American pop princess to signal that she is heir to Madonna’s pop music crown. One cannot speak of innerwear inertia without acknowledging the Great


Indian White Bra (GIWB). Vishwas Kulkarni, who coined this terminology, described it as a brassiere with ‘huge straps (two and a half times the width of a band aid) with suspended conical cups that resemble mini rockets’. Whether the GIWB appeared in an A-, B- or C-grade movie, it never stooped below a D-cup. In an era of stricter censorship, it was the stock-in-trade of titillation, a stand-in for choli ke peechhe kya hai, which was rarely exposed in the flesh. And to what extent an actress gave viewers a glimpse of it defined her as a vamp or a heroine.


Two actresses who broke norms – Zeenat Aman and Mandakini – ended up on fireworks packets in colour versions of the GWIB with matching bikini bottoms. Usurping the place normally reserved for pictures of impossibly pink plump children, these pictures added to the excitement of our childhood Diwali celebrations. The luridly hand-painted likenesses of screen goddesses on ‘Atom Bomb’ packets have come to be associated with a genre called Bollywood kitsch, as also with what is called calendar art. Genres which many contemporary Indian artists are attempting to milk for moolah.


Who knows if the GIWB was the inspiration for Jean Paul Gaultier’s golden creation. But this classic Bollywood accesory lives on in posters sold on pavements and in coffee table books. I even saw a cake in its shape at a film-frat friend’s birthday bash. But I wish some new-age Indian directors would pay fitting homage to it before it ends up as mere filmi mammary-bilia. Is this longing for lingerie of yesteryear what the French call la


nostalgie de la boue: a yearning for mud, an attraction to something base? Basic, yes. Base, no, I say. That which has been second skin to the second sex is both elemental and elevated. A support we should all look back and support.