FEATURE: THE SATURDAY TIMES/PROFILING PRASAD BIDAPA


                                                    The Style Maker Speaks







Mention fashion and the mind immediately conjures up the name of Prasad Bidapa.
Sheila Kumar in an informal chat with the man who lives, dreams, eats and thinks fashion.



It’s a somnolent morning, there is no electricity and the air is unbelievably still. My eyes flit over incongruous bits of furniture, typically circa D and PG, probably every bit as uncomfortable for all its olde worlde elegance, as the wooden bench I’m sitting on. Phones keep buzzing, miniscule cups of coffee come and go and a model with bee-stung lips that would have made Botticelli shout in delight, watches us incuriously.

I tear my eyes away from an ancient ottoman and look at the man beside me. Clad in crisply appropriate summer garb, white khadi pajamas and a slightly wilting white cotton shirt, his face has that familiar look of polite interest. In all the years that I have known him, I have never seen the composure slip. I now wonder, is this man for real?

This is Prasad Bidapa, the Bangalore boy who is now synonymous with any kind of fashion happening in the country. If Hemant Trivedi organises shows, if Lubna Adams choreographs ramp attacks, Bidapa has cornered the market in the collective marketing of fashion, from conceptualising, styling, organising, to presenting. Today, if the sulky pout of a Marc Robinson or the dreadlocks of a Noyonika Chatterjee are musts at every big show, then it’s almost given that the prime mover and shaker behind the show is Prasad Bidapa.

I tell him of the three-week waiting I had to do, to run him down to earth. Sorry, he says, sounding impossibly sincere. He has been in Nairobi, doing a show at the Robillac Derby, a Mallya production. This week, he’s putting together a sampling of Indian talent for the Marks and Spencers people. In a few weeks time, he’s off to Australia with a bevy of beauties.

Today, the impresario is probably peaking his high profile quotient. He has more or less closed shop on advertising accounts but the other events go on; the inauguration promos, fashion shows, the theatre productions, work for virtually every fashion magazine, the creating of concepts for the next big happening in town, (in this case, the Levis launch), writing for Bangalore This Fortnight

“Writing a regular column for Business Standard, Asian Age, and in the process of deciding whether to put that book inside me into print”, Bidapa interjects with a faint smile.

You have a book inside you? About fashion, I query.

“I have at least five books in me. The one I’m going to write first is not about fashion”, he replies. I can almost hear all the sighs of relief going up over town and country. This, after all, is one of India’s Bold and Beautiful people and when the B and B decide to tell all, who can estimate the quantity of fur that will fly?

So how did this army brat from Coorg acquire virtual overnight success?

Bidapa talks of starting D and PG fifteen years ago, of handling campaigns more small that big, of working, working, working up that silken ladder. He talks of inspired ideas like his suggestion to Pervez Damania on instituting the Damania Designer Awards. He talks of his persistent plea to all big business houses to give fashion a forum.

Do you ever crack under pressure, I ask in my blandest fashion. The reply comes from the Botticelli model. “No, he doesn’t. Not ever. With Prasad, what you see is what you get.”I am fascinated at the idea that this urbane politeness never ever slips. “I am not in line for an ulcer”, smiles Bidapa. “I believe that everything has a solution. You just need to find it.” And its reminiscence time, of grace under pressure, show-time confusion, room reservations going haywire, photographic equipment being misplaced and of course, temperamental bella donna models.

When Bidapa talks fashion, people listen. Now, he’s moving along expected lines, praising Armani’s silhouettes, Donna Karan’s ingenuity. Then he jumps lanes and starts to enthuse about the aging high priestess of radical chic, British designer Vivienne Westwood. Though I consider Westwood a demented designer, I keep quiet. Obviously, Bidapa’s politeness is wearing off on me.

“India, according to me,” pronounces the man with a distinctly oracular air, “has only three seasons: summer, monsoon, festive. It’s time our designers cater to purely Indian needs, shucking all the superfluous rites of Western fashion.”

I ask him to name Bangalore’s top three designers, he names Monish Hinduja, Jason Cheriyan, and the Hidden Harmony duo, Sonali Sattar and Himanshu Dimri. I ask if he considers Bangalore advanced or adventurous enough for the wacky humour of some of the Hinduja and Hidden Harmony creations. He ducks the q, talks of these designers’ ability to connect globally, their refusal to make concessions to commerce.

Inida’s top three, I ask. David Abraham, Rohit Bal, Jason Cheriyan, he shoots back. We mourn the loss of that designer par excellence, Rohit Khosla. Bidapa speaks of Saks 5th Avenue recognising Abraham’s talent. “He’s from Bangalore.”

Good for Bangalore, I say.

“Oh, I don’t know,” is the unexpected reply. “I love this city, but let’s face it, Bangalore has a village mentality. The irony is, even the ‘outsiders’ imbibe this strait-laced mentality.”

“People in the fashion world use Bangalore as a stepping stone,” sighs Bidapa. “We spawn creativity, it moves on. It’s not fair to the city, but then the city is not very fair to us either. The fact is, I do better up country, in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta.”

“Can India afford haute couture?” I ask plaintively.

“Why ever not”, replies Bidapa patiently. “We have a world of exquisite textiles to give the world. Do you know, we have had unofficial prêt (ready to wear) lines for years in India. Look at The Wearhouse, The Weekender.  The trickle-down effect is rapid here. Our designers create expensive pieces of clothing. Those who afford it, buy them. Those who can’t, buy the marked down rip-offs.”

I’m not convinced but I realise I’m in the presence of one who feels passionately about fashion. Any suggestion that couture is dying would be impertinent.

Bidapa is all praise for Indian women who he says, retain a firm grasp on their roots, the ethnic hype notwithstanding. He rues the fact that men still shy away from the garment that mostly combines climatic comfort with elegance, the dhoti. He laments that with all of India’s potential, we only supply to the lower end of the global fashion market.

And at the end of the day, the truth dawns on me. The fact is, dramatic flourishes notwithstanding, this man is for real. It’s no mask, the affability, the charm, the laidback patience that is so typically Bangalorean.

This is the real Prasad Bidapa. Which probably makes him some kind of anachronism in the hyped-up world of fashion. A stylish anachronism, though.

(Again, a piece that ran in the pre-digitalisation age. I place it around February 1997.
The subject of the profile continues to occupy an important place in  Indian fashion  and continues to be as down to earth as he was back then.)


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