They may love dramatic trains and larger-than-life silhouettes, but when it comes to repping the homeland on the international stage, Bollywood’s best dressed names remain partial to the charms of a well-draped sari. Flip through the pages of Cannes red carpet history, and you’ll find that this timeless classic has played a starring role in the wardrobes of almost all of the chosen few who’ve attended over the years.
After a temporary timeout due to pandemic-induced restrictions in 2020, the film festival has now returned to the French Riviera, with the jury and talent taking to the red carpet in all their finery to compensate for the missed opportunities of the past year. As we look forward to another year of sartorial revelry, join us in journeying back in time to all the saris that have sparkled and shined under the marquee lights of the Cannes red carpet.
All the showstopper saris in Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Cannes wardrobe
The year was 2002, and a fresh-faced Aishwarya Rai Bachchan stepped onto the highly coveted red carpet for the premiere of Devdas. Her chosen ensemble for this momentous occasion? A mustard yellow sari by designer Neeta Lulla that spotlighted her svelte silhouette. In the years to follow, she proceeded to rub shoulders with Hollywood’s elite in a parade of classics—from the standout green hue she chose from the same designer for her sophomore outing, to the sheer drape she picked from Sabyasachi’s stable in 2010. That the focal point of the look was a slicked-back bun and smoky eye makes for another Sabyasachi signature. The timeless silhouette won her vote again in 2013, with the star taking to the red carpet in a shimmery gold drape from Tarun Tahiliani before slipping into a head-to-toe black lehenga sari by—you guessed it—Sabyasachi.
Every time Sonam Kapoor Ahuja made a strong case for the sari on the Cannes red carpet
Over the past decade, the must-have silhouette has been given an experimental spin several times at the French Riviera, from outré silhouettes to creative layering. Make note: you heard it from Sonam Kapoor Ahuja first. As she marks a decade at the prestigious film festival, the star’s Cannes diary is headlined by innovative renditions of the staple. Further proof of the same can be found in her iconic fusion ensemble from designer Anamika Khanna for the premiere of The Great Gatsby in 2013. The vintage-inspired drape was layered with a sweeping baroque jacket and finished with a statement nath for maximum impact. She chose to repeat the winning formula the following year as well with a salmon pink cape-style sari from the designer, anchored with a statement choker at the neck. As the years rolled by, the star grew bolder with her experiments—style watchers will have little trouble recalling her pastel trouser sari from Masaba Gupta or the metallic blue sculpted drape from Rimzim Dadu that promptly became an internet sensation.
A look back at Deepika Padukone’s elegant Cannes debut sari
Over a short span of time, Deepika Padukone has deftly become a master at delivering standout sartorial moments on the Cannes red carpet. However, only a few may remember that her debut at the annual event dates back to the year 2010, when she took to the red carpet for the 63rd edition of the film festival. With the eyes of the world upon her, the young star made a poised debut in an ivory and gold sari from designer Rohit Bal, proving that gilded finishes are the way to go. In her capable hands, the classic sari appeared in a sleeker incarnation, teamed with a high-shine blouse with a plunging back held together by embellished doris.
When Vidya Balan chose the six yards for the Cannes red carpet
Since she made her debut as a jury member of the highly touted film festival, Vidya Balan has remained a steadfast Sabyasachi loyalist. In an interview with Vogue, the designer reminisced how she dialled his number immediately after being confirmed on the jury. “I’ll need lots of clothes!” she told him at the time. The couturier proceeded to deliver on his commitment, assuming the reins for her red carpet wardrobe. The result: muted prints paired with timeless finishing touches—a pearl necklace here, a pair of oversized Chanel sunglasses there—for a restrained yet classic formula that even maximalists can get behind. The colour palette ran hot and cold, from the pristine white drape and sheer blouse she chose for a jury photo call to the sparkly scarlets that earned her favour on the red carpet.
Other Bollywood celebrities who have sported a sari at the Cannes Film Festival
Once reserved for traditional events, the sari has been enjoying its moment in the international spotlight for years now, having found favour with a wide array of Bollywood celebrities too. Just ask Diana Penty, who opted for a statement-making sari gown from couturier Amit Aggarwal in 2019. In keeping with the head-to-toe white memo, the star opted for a contemporary pearl necklace and coordinated earrings along with a braided updo to round out the look.
Head-turning drapes also found a spot in Richa Chadha’s wardrobe when she was invited for the screening of Masaan. For the premiere, the star opted for a floral sari and metallic blouse from Sabyasachi’s spring/summer 2015 collection and followed it up the next year with a sequinned sari from the same designer. In 2018, Manto star Rasika Dugal chose to mirror the sunny French riverside with a pastel blue sari from Raw Mango and a pared-back hairdo.