Saturday, December 16, 2006

A cut above the rest

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Master tailor, Madhav Agasti, has the Who's Who of Indian politics as
his customers, not forgetting his clients in Bollywood

Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in 1985, director Shekhar Kapoor and producer Boney Kapoor
went to a tailoring shop in Bandra. They asked Madhav Agasti, the
owner, whether he could make an outfit for 'Mogambo', an international
crime lord, played by Amrish Puri, in Mr India. "They promised they
would pay me Rs 1000 extra if I could make a good costume," says
Agasti, 57, with a smile. "Shekhar Kapoor told me the story and
explained to me what type of villain he had in mind."
In order to give Puri a foreigner's look, Agasti studied pictures of
Lord Clive and some other lords of the British period. "I made a black
suit with a golden monogram," he says. Both producer and director
loved the costume, they gave him the Rs 1000, and when Puri wore the
costume, he immediately said, "Mogambo khush hua."
The shop, Madhav's Men's Modes, is nondescript: glass-paned doors, a
modest air-conditioned interior and fabrics in rolls placed on shelves
alongside one wall. You might not look twice when you walk past but
what is most amazing is that India's Who's Who among politicians,
ranging from L.K. Advani to Bal Thackeray have been his customers (see
list), apart from Bollywood notables and santoor exponent Pandit Shiv
Kumar Sharma.
Inventive skills
Sharma tells me he has been Agasti's customer for the past twenty
years. "Agasti stitches two types of clothes for me," he says. "On the
stage I wear silk kurtas with special embroidery. I leave it to him to
invent different styles of embroidery and designs, which look good on
the stage. His strength lies in the combination of colours and the cut
of the kurta." For normal wear, Agasti makes simple cotton or silk
kurta pyjamas. "He is a great designer," says Sharma. "After seeing my
clothes, people always ask me who my designer is and some of my
friends from abroad have got their clothes stitched by Agasti."
Another customer is State Finance Minister Jayant Patil. Just before
he was going to present the budget in 2000, his ministerial colleagues
told him he should get a nice suit and they suggested the name of
Agasti. "So I went to him and got a suit stitched," he says. "And I
must say, the fit was perfect." He has remained a regular customer.
Politicians have become very stylish these days. Praful Patil, says
Agasti, wears all kinds of clothes: suits, sherwanis and dhotis.
Sharad Pawar wears kurta pyjamas, as well as jackets or suits.
Nowadays, if they wear dhotis, they like to wear stylish ones. "The
reason is that they have to appear in front of television cameras and
need to look good," says the master tailor. "Society has changed.
People no longer want to see their leaders only wearing khadi."
For Agasti, what really makes him court politicians as customers is
that all of them are good paymasters and are polite and friendly. But
when I remind him the public has a negative impression of them, he
replies, "Look, I have nothing to say about what the public thinks. My
interactions with them have always been good."
So, how did it happen that so many powerful people have become his
customers? He says it was word of mouth. The first politicians he
stitched clothes for were N.K.P. Salve and Jawaharlal Darda, both of
whom were from Nagpur. They then spread the word and Agasti's customer
base grew slowly. "I also have a deep belief in God," says Agasti.
"And that helps."
His wife Mrunal says that it has a lot to do with his nature. "Madhav
is a friendly and down-to-earth person," she says. "And, one must not
forget, he is a skilful tailor."
Making his name
Agasti was born in Nagpur, the son of an impoverished temple priest.
When he was in college, he developed a passion for tailoring. He came
to Mumbai in 1974 and became an assistant in a shop, Super, where most
of the Bollywood stars would come to get their clothes stitched.
There, he met many actors including Sunil Dutt. "He was a favourite,"
says Agasti. "He helped me a lot."
It was a hard time, remembers Mrunal. Agasti would go by 8am and
return only at 10 pm on most days. "We were in economic difficulties,"
she says.
The next year, Agasti opened his own shop in Dadar and began stitching
the clothes of many character artistes and villains like Gulshan
Grover. After ten years in Dadar, he moved to Bandra, where he has
been ever since.
Interestingly, nobody of the second generation comes to Agasti's shop.
"It is a generation gap," says Agasti's son Shantanu, 25, who runs a
designer store, with elder brother, Rahul, in Juhu. "Quite a few of
the sons have studied or travelled abroad, therefore, they are aware
of the latest fashions." He mentions the names of Vishwajit Kadam, son
of Minister for Co-operation, Relief and Rehabilitation Patangrao
Kadam and Amit Deshmukh, son of Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
But it does not matter at all for Agasti. "I am happy with whatever I
have got so far," he says. "No complaints at all."

The political crowd
L.K. Advani
Bal Thackeray
Uddhav Thackeray
Gopinath Munde
Yashwant Sinha

Five chief ministers
Sushil Kumar Shinde
Sharad Pawar
Vilasrao Deshmukh
Narayan Munde
Manohar Joshi

Om Puri
Nana Patekar
Paresh Rawal
Gulshan Grover
Johnny Lever


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