RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The graceful, colorful saris worn by Indian women are among the symbols of their nation, but fewer and fewer women are wearing them. Commentator Sandip Roy found some designers are trying to reverse that trend.
SANDIP ROY: My parents were married for over 40 years, happily. But my mother says her greatest joy is stacked in her closet - her saris, or as Bengalis say it, shaaris.
REBA ROY: Because shaari is my passion. Maybe my first love is shaari.
S. ROY: There are about 200 saris in there, many older than me. My mother danced on stage in a sari. She went to college in a sari and wherever she went on holiday, she found the sari shop.
R. ROY: When I went to Paris, I got French chiffon. I must look for a sari first thing.
S. ROY: But in recent years, Indian women have been buying fewer saris. Instead, they wear jeans and business suits, even nighties. Pavement stalls selling nighties do roaring business, sometimes cheekily right next to a sari shop. My mother finds it shocking that Indians go out in their nighties. In her day, Bollywood stars sang coy love songs as the hero tugged at the heroine's sari.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHHOD DO AANCHAL")
NUTAN BEHL: (Singing in Hindi) Chhod do aanchal zamana kya kahega. Oh, chhod do aanchal zamana kya kahega.
S. ROY: It's a different Bollywood would now. Malavika Banerjee, who runs the boutique Byloom in Kolkata, was appalled when a famous Bollywood actress and designer said this...
MALAVIKA BANERJEE: I will wear a sari when I'm feeling fat. It's a deathblow to the garment.
S. ROY: So Banerjee and other retailers are trying to breathe new life into saris. The design duo Dev r Nil showcases them with pop-art prints.
NIL: Sunglasses, taxis, Che Guevara, butterflies, the roses.
S. ROY: Nil, who goes by one name, shows me a whole boudoir for elaborate bridal saris.
NIL: This is gold, metallic gold, and then the metallic - the glass beads, and zari, gold zari. The embroidery can be starting from 500 hours to 2,000-3,000 hours of human labor of embroidery. So they, of course, they come out to be some humongously, obnoxiously expensive.
S. ROY: The big, fat Indian wedding, says Nil, provides work for hundreds. He recently dressed one of India's hottest actresses in a sari.
NIL: Inspired from the war camouflage, but we have used roses to make the camouflage pattern.
S. ROY: But if the sari's obituary is premature, its Renaissance isn't complete either. Banerjee worries that weavers would rather their children pick up computer skills than old weaving techniques.
BANERJEE: If we don't make weaving, you know, accepted, modern and something to be proud of, then I am afraid that, you know - may not be in our lifetimes, but weaving - hand weaving - will die.
S. ROY: And we will be left only with carefully folded saris like those in my mother's closet. Her latest pastime is choosing the right sari for her final outfit someday.
R. ROY: I can wear those things on my last journey.
S. ROY: It has to be nice, but not one she loves too much.
R. ROY: I told my daughter don't use those new saris. Rather you will wear it (laughter), that's much better.
S. ROY: My mother wants her favorite saris to live on beyond her because sometimes, love is all about saying sari.
MONTAGNE: Commentator Sandip Roy's new book is "Don't Let Him Know."
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