Every day, in a small village in northeast India’s Tripura, 26-year-old Neel Ranaut fashions a garment from scratch — using earthly materials available to him, like leaves, sticks, stones, flowers, etc. And almost every day, he puts up a new post on Instagram, detailing the look, striking a pose and telling the world what sustainability in fashion means.
In his bio, he calls himself a “village fashion influencer”. “I am proud of myself and don’t care [what] people think about me,” he writes.
Indianexpress.com reached out to Ranaut recently, after a few of his posts went viral — most of which are rip-offs of celebrity looks — to understand if his uniqueness is intentional and if he has been enjoying this celebrity.
“I did not grow up on a steady diet of fashion, and didn’t really have a love, per se, for it. Initially, I lacked knowledge, too. In 2018, I started making TikTok videos. That’s when I made an account on Instagram, too. I would rehash advertisements with whatever resources I could find in my village,” he said.
Then one day, actor Deepika Padukone’s outfit made news, and people could not decide if they loved or loathed her green dress which she wore to an awards function in 2019.
“When I saw that she was getting trolled online, I decided to make my own version of the outfit with banana leaves. I clicked a few pictures and then casually uploaded them on Instagram and Facebook. It received a lot of attention; but I did not think much of it,” Ranaut told this outlet.
He did, however, begin to consider working on more such looks with whatever material available to him. “One day, [social media content creator and actor] Kusha Kapila took notice of my work and reached out. She must have shared my Instagram handle with [designer] Sandeep Khosla (of the designer duo Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla), for he, too, reached out to me, appreciating my work. I wondered if it was a fake account, for why would such a celebrated designer be messaging me?” he laughed over the phone.
Ranaut said it eventually led to an epiphany of sorts. “These ideas come to me naturally; I do not think much. But the fact that someone from Mumbai liked my work was huge. It motivated me to do better.”
Today, Ranaut is mighty confident he can rehash any celebrity look.
There was a time in his life when he wanted to study fashion. “But I cannot do that in Tripura. I also dreamt of making it big in Mumbai, working there. But, I cannot afford it. So, in the interim, these things have been keeping me busy and happy.”
Ranaut explained that he usually works on one outfit, and then modifies it to make it look like another. He mostly chooses looks which he thinks would stand out.
“I always keep an adhesive with me, coloured tapes, paper, etc. Besides, I also sometimes use my mother’s petticoat and grandmother’s saree! When I had started out, my parents found it odd. They would scold me, saying these things will not fetch me a future. But after my work gained recognition, their support grew.”
Even the village folk would call Ranaut a rotten apple, forbidding other kids from mingling with him, fearing he would “corrupt” them. “It is strange that they think like this, but it is their mindset, which will only change if I take great strides in my career.”
During the course of the interview, Ranaut also revealed that his real name is, in fact, “Sarbajit Sarkar”. “‘Neel Ranaut’ is not my name at all. I call myself that because I love the colour ‘blue’ (neel), and am a fan of actor Kangana Ranaut.
“But, if I had to choose a celebrity purely based on their fashion sense, I would pick Priyanka Chopra Jonas. She dresses pretty normally and all of her outfits still manage to stand out.”
Despite all his efforts, Ranaut is also often met with sharp criticism on social media. He remains unfazed. “Earlier, I would reply to hate comments, but now I have come to the realisation that I cannot change everyone’s thinking. Ignoring, therefore, is the best strategy.”