Saudi Arabia through a dictat has brought the humble lungi, one of the most common sartorial attire in the countryside, as also in South India into an existentialist dilemma. For the laborers who work in Saudi Arabia, after a tiring scheduled being attired in lungi is the most visible form of lounging, but it may not happen in Saudi Arabia henceforth. The idea behind issuing is the dictat is that it is tied by folding it from the middle above the knees and in the process legs are displayed in the public space.
What would the wearers of lungi do? For the wearers it is the most visible form of association with the roots that they have left behind in their quest for a job in the alien land. A sartorial representation is the most visible cultural symbol that one can demonstrate in the public to display his ethnicity and identity, but now it would be subsumed.
Interestingly enough, such has been the importance of lungi as a male attire been, that it has been used quite frequently in Hindi films, till the time, the jeans and shorts took over. Mehmood was its celebrated brand icon who used it with impunity to create humorous situations in score of films, and Amitabh Bachchan was also inspired to use it in a big way in few of his films, most noticeable being, Desh PREMI, where he had sung the song ” Khatoon ki khidmat mein salaam apun ka, agi potti patana hai faqat kaam apun ka”. It is also a fact worth underlining that whenever Mehmood had used a lungi in the cinema the setting of the scene was in Hyderabad, and when Amitabh Bachchan used it he followed in the same steps.
Lungi’s most visible manifestation as a dress of the common man in the world of Hindi cinema was displayed in City of Joy the iconic film in which Om Puri had played the role of a rickshaw puller. It is also worth underlining that the color of lungis that has invariably been used in Hindi cinema is blue check. Besides, lungis have found visible manifestation whenever a Muslim background was to be displayed. Lungis became sensual attire after Karishma Kapoor and Govinda romped in it in Khuddar crooning “Sarkai leo Khatiya”.
Now that the fate of lungi as a dress in public space has been threatened in the international forums, may be the government should interfere to let lungi be in the public space.
By: Suman Rai