Bollywood actors/actresses and Mehendi!

7 12 2008
At the biggest Indian wedding that the world has perhaps seen, the Mittal wedding, the traditional mehendi that the bride had on her hands was by

Hrithik

Hrithik proudly sports a henna tattoo by Ash Kumar (right)

Ash Kumar.

“I’ve done weddings of non-Asians too,” says the UK-based mehendi artiste, “and my clients are among the top 100 millionaires in this country.” The Indian-origin Ash isn’t really showing off. He’s just stating the facts. Here are some more: he is the only British-born Asian artiste whose work is in the Victoria and Albert museum, and they asked for it. He’s done mehendi designs for Madonna and Julia Roberts, for international brands like Austin Reed and Calvin Klein, a CD cover for Universal studios and the in-flight entertainment designs for Emirates Airlines. Bollywood is the latest to be enamoured – he’s worked with Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham (yes, he’s henna-ed their bulging biceps), Kareena Kapoor, Vidya Balan, Rani Mukerji, Shilpa Shetty…

But when Ash started out, it wasn’t easy for him, because no one in the UK knew much about mehendi. “I had a double disadvantage,” he says. “One, because of my gender – I’m a guy doing mehendi, and two, because I had to educate non-Indians about henna from scratch. Until icons like Madonna and Julia Roberts wore it, it wasn’t well known. And for a 19-year-old (Ash was 18 when he started out), that was huge. That’s when I approached Guinness, and the record became a step forward.” Ash is a double Guinness record holder, having beaten his own record of making 96 henna arm bands in an hour, by making 167 the second time!

His Indian-ness, he thinks, and the specifically Indian nature of the craft he practices, are a huge advantage for him. “Because I love being Indian,” he says emphatically. “No offense to any other community, but as an Indian, I’m the happiest I can be. I love Indian food, Indian clothes, the Indian way of life… I greet visitors to my home by saying namaste, not hello, and even my nightdress is a pair of kurta-pyjama! Which is why, when I began to be known, I attracted attention for my lifestyle too. It inspired me to do more Indian designs.”

The Hollywood celebs he worked with, he says, “were intrigued and inquisitive about henna. To be fair to them, they already had a good idea of what henna is. But when I told them more about it – that it’s a plant, that black henna is just hair dye added to the plant product, that it uses body heat to deepen the colour, that it’s actually good for you – they became really excited. It amazed them that it’s a natural product. In fact, I spoke to the UK government and had ‘black mehendi’ made illegal – I have a degree in forensic science, you know!”

Ash also has an academy in the UK that teaches henna art, and he says that while his Indian students come for the financial potential of the profession, his non-Indian students usually don’t. “They’re doing it completely as a hobby. They find it therapeutic and relaxing. They feel they’re in touch with the Indian soul. And when we get them to put together the Indian bride, the bridal dupatta setting, the make-up, etc, the two words I’ve heard from all of them are ‘creative’ and ‘colourful’.”

Ash says that Indians have a distinct edge when it comes to global success in a creative field. “We’re very inspirational; we inspire each other too, and therefore also others. We’re extremely creative, very colourful, and the way we communicate, with our tehzeeb and sabhyata, is a huge plus point.”

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