His path is his, nothing else matters: Payal on her designer brother Sabyasachi

by Sathya Saran

Editor’s Note: No one knows a man better than the women in his life. Be it his mother, wife, daughter or friend, they offer a unique and intimate perspective on men with larger-than-life media personalities. In this new series titled ‘In Her Eyes', we ask these women to offer their frank, unedited, and always affectionate view of the men they love dearly. Their responses are honest, revealing, and unexpectedly familiar.

He is among India's most successful designers, succeeding the doyenne Ritu Kumar in being the most copied and imitated. His signature style is originality, as he moves between stunningly crafted bridal wear and perfectly structured western statements. Sabyasachi Mukherjee's sister Payal talked about her brother while he showed select friends around his new Mumbai store, Sabyasachi for Sabyasachi.

What was it like growing up together?

My brother (she calls him that in a very pronounced way, each time she refers to him) is older by seven years. And he was always studying. It was like not really having him around. I was the one playing football and being defiant. He was so focused, ardent. I just didn't understand him. He was the way he was because nobody understood his passion. He was initially calm, absorbed in his studies, but as he grew older, he suddenly became very assertive. He became fixed on what he wanted to do, and pursued it so relentlessly that my parents became very concerned.

Did that cause tension at home? Between you two?

In a way, yes. He was so intense, it was not easy staying with him. Even today, his path is his, nothing else matters. If you want his attention... Tough... You have to accommodate to his plans and change accordingly.

The first time the tension rose was when he wanted to join NIFT. My parents did not want him to do so; they did not understand what he wanted to do with a course in making clothes. So he was refused the money for the admission form. He sold his books, got the form with the money and gave the exam. I still have this vision of him jumping on the street shouting, "got through, got through."

Sabyasaachi with his muses — Rani Mukherji and Vidya Balan. AFP Photo

Were you his only ally at the time?

Actually, my interaction with him increased only after I passed out of B.Com. I had never done fashion before but I started working with him.

And was that tough?

Very difficult. I am at work till 10.30 - 11 every night despite the fact that I have been married for just 6 months. But I won't change it. I won't find anyone like him who can push me to perfection. I have been working with him for 6-7 years now, and his demand for quality, attention to detail, the time he spends on his product has never changed.

Nothing has changed in seven years?

Things have become more organised but he is the same. He still takes risks, he still works hard to make things work. Let me explain. When he first started his workshop, it was very small — 200 sq ft. With two or three workers. We are a middle-class family, with middle-class aspirations. The fact that he was not an engineer, was not going for job interviews after coming out of NIFT, bothered my father. But my brother just went on. He had his bed in the workshop, he would go on working till 12.30 in the night, practically live there. He did this for three to five years. Work, work. He never had time to have coffee, or meet his friends. Today, thousands of weavers come to him, because of his Save a Sari project. He shelters all of them. It's a risk he took, starting the project, but it worked.

He is the leader, and you follow?

We are both strong minded; I am more stubborn. We have violent discussions on everything, from setting up the new factory to what new to do for summer. The discussion can go on a whole night, sometimes for 26 hours. We push each other as much as we can. It is not about ego, as it would hurt both of us if we created something that was below par. But in the big picture, I am the support system.

Any memories of him being an elder brother?

Yes. I think when I was around 16. We went to a night club, and you know how it is. Some guy would come holding a glass in one hand and try to talk to me, and he would come and stand squarely in between. Then he would complain to my parents, "Don't know who she's mixing with." And he is so indulgent now. Always buying me things; he has got me the best things from all over the world. Now I need to stop him doing so.

What is your role in his relationships?

I am the first to know if there is a new relationship in his life. He is not really secretive about his relationships. But he is an extremely personal person, so I let him keep his space unless he wants to share it with me. If I ever see him suffering or if somebody is cheating on him, I tell him what  I can see clearly. I can do that, and he will accept it.

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How have his relationships been?

In a middle-class family, you know how it is if you walk off the tried and tested path! Also, he is awfully naive in his relationships, whether they are personal or professional. I once got lost as a child. It was my first day in school. But I approached a man with a briefcase knowing he would have money to spare, took bus fare from him and came home. Of course I got slapped for doing all this, but the point I am making is I am a survivor. He could not even tie his own shoe laces properly when young. Today, he trusts people, and gets hurt sometimes.

And when he is hurt...?

I believe sometimes getting hurt is a good learning. When he is hurt, he will discuss it, question why it is happening. I think today he is more mature, more spiritual, though we are neither of us idol worshippers or religious in the conventional sense.

Tell us about his interaction with craftsmen.

His love for crafts is thanks to our mother. She was at Government Art College and her friends and she were deeply into handicraft. It influenced his love for products and the creator of the craft. He naturally moved to weavers. I know he will never exploit them, he is their ma baap .

What about his muses? Rani, Vidya...

He's an emotional person; he finds that it makes good business sense to have a muse, but they are not objects or PR tools for him. He will say, "Vidya is going for an award function; let's give her a sari and blouse she can look charming in." He is picky in his muses. We do get so many requests for doing up so many, but he turns them down. He wants real women, who believe in hard work, like he does.

And his work for films?

He will only touch a film if he is involved with the idea. Then he gives it his all. For Mani Ratnam's Raavan, he had at one point to redo the clothes as the scene was scrapped and changed. He worked without a murmer. It's not that he does not have a temper. In our family all five of us have bad tempers. That includes our dog. But when it comes to work, my brother is patient and painstaking.

Is he astute in business?

Not astute, brilliant. His inspiration has always been Satyajit Ray, and how using a broken camera he made world cinema. He works in the same way, taking all aspects into account. His fashion, his films, his stores are all an expression of this inspiration.

Updated Date: Jan 28, 2012 09:15 AM