There used to be a time when when it was a usual sight to see Asian women dressed in a sari on a daily basis doing their usual day-to-day activities, such as shopping for groceries or household chores. As time has passed, it is more than likely that you'll see an Asian woman in the UK dressed in a more “comfortable” western attire, only choosing to drape a sari on special occasions such as attending a wedding. Mostly the older generation of South-Asian women still continue to wear a sari as their preferred choice for daily wear.
In 1977, Alankar House of Sarees first opened in Manchester in 1977 by Gokuldas Modha, who later went on to open another store in Leicester, Anokhi House of Sarees. His granddaughter, Poonam Modha, 34, has been dedicated in running the family business.
These two sari shops have become the set for a new play called Handlooms, by writer Rani Moorthy and her company Rasa Theatre, made in collaboration with Manchester's Contact theatre. Rani Moorthy said, “People will think it's a gimmick, because site-specific [theatre] is the thing now. But really it's completely germane to the themes of the play. When you enter the space immediately you are sensing this is slightly different. You can't really recreate the smells and the sounds elsewhere.”
The play, Handlooms, directed by Alan Lane, tells a tale of a mother and son who disagree about the way to deal with downfall in their sari business.
The play also looks into the authentic style of selling and buying saris which has come under threat in today's contemporary era. Moorthy shares, “A lot of the sari shops are becoming more boutique style, looking aesthetically un-Indian and more westernised. I wanted people to experience that chaos of colour you encounter in these traditional shops. In my memory there are about 20 sari shops on this road, but there aren't any more. You struggle to find one person walking around and doing her everyday chores in a sari, whereas when I first came here in 1996 there were women in saris everywhere, doing daily chores, doing shopping, going to the post office.”
One can experience the play Handlooms at Alankar House Sarees in Manchester until 24th March, and then at Anokhi House of Sarees in Leicester, from 10th- 22nd April.