The Minimalist: Shaana Levy-Bahl
It all started — as it does with many of us — in her mother’s closet. Rummaging through her mom’s wardrobe as an adolescent, Shaana Levy-Bahl loved trying on clothes and make-up. Drama, as the actor recalls, was always a part of her personality. Over the years, the fashionista in her has morphed into a well-informed dresser who found her sartorial role models in style icons of the ’50s. “Back in the day, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly had such a timeless appeal. Today, in the age of social media, inspiration comes in quick bursts so your Instagram feed is your smorgasbord of inspiration.”
Born to a Swiss Jewish father and a Gujarati mother from Kenya, Shaana was raised with feminist values from the off. “I was the only child, and my father raised me to be no different from a boy.” Naturally, this reflects in her manner of dressing, especially when it comes to androgyny. “I’m all for gender-fluid dressing. I love nothing more than wearing a tuxedo suit for a black-tie event,” she claims. Her interest in girl power, and her husband and businessman Uraaz Bahl’s passion for sports and the Olympics, led the couple to direct and produce Ladies First (2017), a documentary on Deepika Kumari who was born on the roadside in rural India in abject poverty and today is one of the best archers in the world. The film is releasing on Netflix on International Women’s Day.
“There was no doubt in our minds that she would win at the Rio Olympics (2016),” says Shaana. “We were so excited that we would be able to document a historic event, at that time no Indian woman had won a silver or gold medal in archery and till date no Indian woman has won a gold. But when she lost, the story didn’t pan out as planned. That’s when we realised the real story was about hope and about continuing the fight,” says a content Shaana who, before venturing into production, acted in films like Namastey London (2007), Bhoothnath (2008) and off-Broadway shows in New York.
Through Deepika’s story, the couple has tried to posit a perfectible future for girls whose potentials are unfairly overlooked. “Imagine what our girls can accomplish if given the opportunity. Talent is evenly distributed amongst genders, it’s just the opportunities that are not, and I want Deepika’s story to shine a light on that.”
The multi-hyphenate is all about all work and more play and expounds on the role of fashion in her work and life. “Your clothes are your armour; it is what you are projecting to the world. For me, dressing up is very instinctual…if I want to look strong and powerful for a meeting, for instance, I slip into a crisp white shirt and tailored pants.” Comfort-chic best defines her personal style and being curvaceous, she declares she has an affinity towards silhouettes that flatter the body and fit right at the waist.
Hoodies and haute couture may be at the opposite ends of the fashion spectrum but one can trust Shaana to bring them together in one look, being the experimentalist that she is. Not one to kowtow to fashionable cliches, she can transform her look and persona to boot, by masterfully styling all her ensembles; think a maangtika paired with a gown for a black-tie event or a crisp white shirt with an over-the-top lehnga. But if there’s one garment she unreservedly admires in its original avatar, it has to be the humble sari. “I find it the most elegant and stunning piece of work. I tell my husband that when I’m older, I hope to wear cotton saris every single day of my life. I absolutely love them!”