BY Vani IN Guest post

Sidhu, Sardars & Their Turbans: Of Conquering the Ramp (And More)

Vani via Quint

If talking about Sikh males walking the ramp sounds a little too anachronistic to you, think again. Apart from Waris Ahluwalia – who broke on the international fashion scene a few years ago and remains ever so popular for his bling jewellery, bespoke suits, black turban, and, of course, his acting career in Hollywood – there aren’t many Sikh models that you’ll see around. However, attitudes are definitely beginning to change – if one were to look at a new breed of men, all of whom have defied the odds and carved a niche for themselves only because of their “differentness”. Leading the squad is one particular fashion and cricketing icon who carries his turban with inimitable style and swag: Navjot Singh Sidhu.

“My turban completes me,” Sidhu tells me. “It is my pride. You take that pride away and what remains is a man who is like an umbrella without the ribs.” Such sentiment! – And perhaps it explains why the man loves to flaunt his turbans, choosing them in myriad shades, color coding them with his business suits. Has he ever been slighted because of his turban, though, or asked not to wear it by the fashion police. “Never,” he replies emphatically. “I’ve only ever been praised for wearing it. In fact, I’m constantly asked how I tie it. A good turban dazzles the mortal eye, you see. It makes an ordinary man look extraordinary.” As to those young men who get dissuaded by negative messages from the industry-wallas, Sidhu has only one thing to say: “your turban is a gift from your Sikh gurus. It is your identity. Wear it with attitude and a sense of pride.”

Sidhu’s sentiments seem to resonate with many young men. One of them is 24 year old, Aman Preet Singh Virk, who was the show stopper for fashion designer, J J Valaya, at the Amazon India Fashion Week. Virk, like many others, had to face strong opposition from his well-wishers who felt that a career in medical sciences, rather than modelling, would suit him better. Why? “Everybody felt that fashion industry had little scope for turbaned Sikh men.” Despite that, this 6.4” model from Chandigarh continued to pursue his dreams – without removing his turban, of course – and found tremendous success on Instagram, where people complimented him for his royal look, style and attitude. Soon enough, companies like Uber, Renault, Numero Uno and Mr Button signed him up for their ad campaigns. Today, Virk doesn’t get to hear the rhetoric about turbans anymore, but that doesn’t mean that things are any easier for him. He does need to put his foot down every so often when fashion designers want to combine his turbaned look with wacky costumes and girlish accessories (read: nail paints and earrings).

Similarly, Shehzad Deol, the 25 year old Sikh model from Delhi too hated it when people commented on his turban. When he moved from Mumbai to Delhi, everybody advised him to go for a clean shaven look if he wanted to survive in the film and fashion industry. “It’ll look better in the camera frame, they said – and I am glad I didn’t listen to them.” Deol was only recently declared the first runners up of Top Model India, aired on Colors Infinity. “People love me for my turban, especially females. It adds to my mystic, they say.” And even as he goes on about how this is a whack on the face of the naysayers, it has not been a cakewalk to get to this point. For starters, he had to learn the proper way to tie a turban (even Sidhu had to do that, standing in front of the mirror for hours before he perfected the art). Second to that was self-grooming. The rest was luck. It was a chance encounter with a Viacom18 executive at his gym that landed him the show, he tells me. “And since then so many people have contacted me to tell me how I’ve inspired them, which all means one thing – you don’t need to give up your identity to do what you want.”

Sarab Ghumaan, the 28 year old artist from the Punjabi industry had to learn his lessons the hard way, too. “Early on in my career, I was made to believe that I won’t go far if I wore my turban. I was young and didn’t know any better so I agreed to do whatever my seniors told me,” he says, and adds how he found success only after he embraced his identity. Not only did he find a fan following among youngsters, but he found connect with the older audience, too, many of whom, he says, respect you much more if you wear a turban.

Concurring with these opinions is Amarjeet Singh, a popular producer of Punjabi movies who feels that people have become more open to seeing men wearing turbans now – in films and on fashion runways – perhaps the reason why actors like Diljit Dosanjh have found such success in Bollywood. But he is also quick to credit the young brigade of turbaned Sikh men – models, actors, singers alike – many of whom have gone all out to prove naysayers wrong. It is because of them that the opinions of the industry pundits have changed, he feels.

This article is also available to read here.


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