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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 20, Dated May 23, 2009

‘Lady-Boy: Sometimes Lady, Sometimes Boy’

That’s how stylist Sapna Bhavnani, one of Mumbai’s most watched people, describes herself

Body of work Sapna Bhavnani shows off her tattoos
Photo: Joy Datta

THE FIRST time you see 38-year-old Sapna Bhavnani at a film premier, her hair is a Warholian ash blonde and she’s wearing a little black dress (LBD) that shows off the tattoos covering her arms Japanese Yakuza style. Strangely enough, it isn’t her hair or her tattoos that intrigue you but how she manages to strip away the bimbette tag from a standard issue LBD. A quick ask-around reveals that Ms Bhavnani is a stylist, hairdresser and writer whose weekly column for Sunday Mid-day has a fan following that includes the housewives, students and Bollywood stars who throng her Bandra salon, aptly named Mad-o-Wot?

“I get people who are looking for a change and want me to tip them over,” says Bhavnani, who charges Rs 2000 per haircut, when you meet her at her Bandra flat. This time, her hair hangs down in blue-black dreadlocks.

“I don’t know if I have a particular style. Sometimes I’m Goth girl, sometimes I’m punk rock girl,” she says obligingly stripping off her top to show you the breathtaking tattoo of Tibetan goddess Tara that covers her back right down to her shapely bottom. “Nothing gives me the high of somebody sketching a piece of art onto my body,” she says.

For someone in the thick of the beauty business, Bhavnani is refreshingly nonconformist.

“I don’t like hair product companies that tell you to use f***kloads of products and I don’t endorse any products in my salon,” she says, adding, “If you spend more than five minutes on yourself a day, get a job or a life!”

Getting a life was what prompted Bhavnani’s return to India after 14 years as a stylist in the US. “At 28, I decided that by the time I hit 30, I wanted to have a house in the hills, a Cadillac and an Elvis lookalike boyfriend,” she says. Sure enough, by the time she was 30, she had all that and found it a drag. A visit to India led to a meeting with a man she had dated briefly as a teenager. “He told me he had been waiting for me and that he was in love with me. So I went back to LA, sold my house and car, dumped my Elvis lookalike boyfriend and moved here,” she says. The un-Elvis boyfriend dropped out of the narrative once he played his role as a catalyst and soon Bhavnani was reacquainting herself with the city in which she had grown up. Unsatisfying jobs as a hairdresser and as a Bollywood stylist pushed her to set up her own salon. But it was the column that talks candidly about everything from relationships to ovarian cysts that catapulted her to her current status as a Mumbai obsession.

AS IF ALL that wasn’t enough, Bhavnani is now also working on a short film, doing gigs as a dubstep DJ and considering collaborating with Kailash Kher on an album. Buddy Kher is credited with giving her an insight into the Indian male psyche. “He said he didn’t know any Indian guy who would be comfortable with me because an Indian guy always wants to be the cool one in a relationship. That seems to have been the problem with every man I’ve dated in the last seven years,” says Bhavnani who admits to having such a short attention span she only reads Dr Seuss books, and at a pinch, Roald Dahl. “Dr Seuss’ widow was really well known in LA. She was this crazy lady dressed in black wearing a high hat. I see myself exactly like that. When I grow up, I want to be that crazy tattooed lady riding an elephant on the streets of Bombay,” she laughs.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 20, Dated May 23, 2009
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