No Frills Please! | Verve Magazine
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Verve People
May 12, 2013

No Frills Please!

Text by Viseshika Sharma. Photographs by Amit Dey.

Jagi Panda, the woman behind Orissa’s largest broadcasting network, is a force to reckon with. The glamorous former model takes time out to chat with Viseshika Sharma about her life and style mantras

When a model and a businessman got talking during an emergency landing at the airport in Ankara in 1992, little did they know that they would soon emerge as the definitive power couple from Orissa. Now Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda is an MP for his home state and his wife, Jagi, runs the two companies that she founded, Ortel Communications, an infrastructure company, and Orissa TV, or OTV, Orissa’s first private broadcasting company, that offers news and current affairs, entertainment, music and devotional programming.

Keen to work after marriage, Jagi joined the family business – mining. “Jay said the only thing I could do with my kind of background was administration,” she says laughingly. “So I started as a manager and everyone would compliment me about how things started looking good. But it got boring after a while, so Jay suggested studying further and I went to IIM Ahmedabad to do an executive course, and I came back bursting with ideas. Jay had already started the New Projects division and I identified the Communications project as the most appropriate for me. I kind of hijacked it and moved out of his office. I was very clear that I wanted to start something of my own, without much involvement from the family company.” Starting with just three people in a dilapidated house, the company now has over 1500 employees.

The Pandas are known among Delhi’s circles for their personable nature, and Jagi especially is known for being extremely fit. Dubbed ‘the queen of Odisha airwaves’, her handsome looks and regal carriage make her a hit with the media. Walking into their Delhi home, it is obvious that the easy elegance of the Pandas extends to their home too. The living room features a vibrant bust of the Buddha and a glossy black baby grand occupies pride of place before patio doors that look out over a spacious lawn. We meet Jagi here on a warm spring afternoon, for a brief chat about her style journey….

Growing up in Secunderabad, Jagi was always enamoured of the glamour of modelling. With an interest in mostly western clothes, and a dearth of readymade garments in the market, she found herself heading to the tailor with pullouts from magazines. “Tight long skirts, bell-bottoms, the South Indian half sari – I wore them all. When I see photos of myself with my sister, the two of us dressed in identical white frocks, with all kinds of frills and bows tacked on, I cringe and always ask my mother why she did it.” The sisters shared a lot of clothes while growing up, and while Jagi loved dressing up, expensive brands never held an appeal. Nor was she interested in dressing up in her mother’s clothes, though she remembers a particular gharara of her mother’s with fondness. “It was a parrot green one with embroidery on the bottom and on the dupatta and I wanted an identical one. That wasn’t possible but my mother got a set made for me in a very similar colour, and I remember being very thrilled with it.”

Having grown up with a love of grooming, there is no false modesty or embarrassment as Jagi recounts participating in collegiate beauty contests. “I never thought I would win a beauty title in junior college, but once I did, I felt motivated to carry on,” says Jagi, who went on to model locally in Andhra Pradesh. Her parents however wanted her to become a doctor. Luckily a family friend dissuaded her from taking that route, reasoning that she was good at pretty much anything other than academia.

With the focus shifting away from studies, Jagi grew more interested in modelling, and was soon doing almost all the ads that came up in Hyderabad. “I was one of the top models of Hyderabad,” she says, laughing ironically, “whatever scene there was! But it was fun while I did it. I did everything from APCO Fabrics to Priya Pickles, to saris. But sometimes I look back at those ads and really wonder what I was doing. Jay loves them – he always laughs and threatens to frame them for the house.” Quickly outgrowing the local scene, it was only a matter of time before she took the plunge and moved to Mumbai.

After just under three years in Mumbai, Jagi moved to Paris. “I was with a very small agency called USA Paris, just for nine months – I left by the time I really got into the swing of things though.” There is no self-aggrandising when it comes to talking about her Parisian sojourn. “It wasn’t an agency full of supermodels, and I didn’t really walk for any big names. I did catalogues in Milan and walked for boutiques in Paris. The one person I got a chance to work with was Jean Paul Gaultier, but he wanted all the models to shave their heads for a show. I didn’t want to do that. Jay and I had already decided to get married and I was planning on coming back,” says Jagi.

Always slender, Jagi was into the classic early ’90s bodycon – “Everything was short and tight, with the huge shoulder pads, which we had to cut out once the fad passed,” she says. “My sister was studying in California and I would go there and shop for the whole year. I loved shopping abroad because you always knew what size you needed. I’ve never bought at an haute couture establishment, it was always more mainstream, like Calvin Klein and Diane von Furstenberg because I loved the way they fit.”

Coming back to marry Jay, Jagi took a friend along to purchase an off-white ghagra-choli at one of the department stores in South Mumbai, to wear for the reception. The simple registered marriage ceremony saw her wearing a Tanchoi sari. Orissa was also a lot more conservative than Jagi was used to, and she goes on to narrate an incident when Jay and she went to Gopalpur. “I was wearing shorts and Jay was so used to seeing me like that that he didn’t think anything of it. But we went out and I got some looks, and we both realised then that I wasn’t dressed appropriately.”

Jagi was keen to work after marriage. The initial working years saw her sporting jeans, trousers and shirts. “But when I was more settled in at work, I realised that western clothes are a bit intimidating and that’s when I started wearing more Indian outfits. I began wearing kurtas and pyjamas from Fabindia and Anokhi – I love Anokhi and have a lot of it,” she says, going on to correctly identify the origins of the kaftan top I am sporting. “Earlier the focus was so much on achieving goals that I hadn’t thought about the way I was dressed, but I noticed the way people treated me differently, and were more accepting, so I thought it was time to change. I now wear only Indian clothes to work, except on Saturdays when I allow myself to wear jeans and trousers, but again only with conservative shirts.”

For formal evenings, Jagi chooses to wear saris, mostly by Odissi designers Tarina Sen and Lali Patnaik. “They are two of the more popular designers in Orissa, both with very different styles, and I keep telling them to work with more Odissi fabrics, but unfortunately I don’t think they have the kind of clientele that appreciates that design aesthetic,” she says. “And when I buy from them, I know that nobody in Delhi will have the same thing.” Jagi also loves picking up traditional saris from the different regions she travels to, owning over a couple of hundred saris that she can only sport in winter, due to their weight.

As for jewellery, Jagi admits to loving shopping for jewellery and watches early on, but is no longer so enamoured. She likes Jay to ask before buying her a present. “I prefer that he not surprise me, because a couple of times he really surprised me. Once he bought me a pair of Chopard ‘happy diamonds’ earrings and I’m really not a ‘happy diamonds’ earrings kind of person,” she says with a laugh. He did get the engagement ring absolutely right though – he proposed with a plain gold band, the first present he chose for Jagi, with a promise that they would shop for the real ring later. Jagi now sports a suitably significant rock on an elaborate band. His last present to her were Bose headphones. “We never shop for each other for clothes – we realised early on that comfort was paramount for both of us.”

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