Can a Canadian Carry Off Bollywood Style? Justin Trudeau Finds Out

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada with his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and their children visiting Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad.

Flashy silk and gold-embroidered outfits, adorned with pointy red shoes fit for royalty, are acceptable garb for Bollywood performers.

But apparently not if you are the telegenic prime minister of Canada on a trade trip to India.

Justin Trudeau and his family have attracted some praise but also ridicule during their eight day visit for wearing elaborate traditional clothing that some insist is more appropriate for a Maharajah and his court than a visiting leader.

While admirers in the sprawling multicultural country lauded him for dressing “truly in the spirit of India,” the tut-tutting disapproval was far louder.

Some critics mocked the 46-year-old Canadian for cultural condescension, while others accused him of sartorial excess and political correctness gone too far.

The debate, which played out on social media, raised the question of where to draw the line between honoring local customs and cultural appropriation. The reaction in Canada, where Mr. Trudeau’s sheen has worn off in recent months after a series of gaffes and a conflict-of-interest scandal, was swift and merciless.

“Jai Ho? For Justin Trudeau and his India trade trip outfits, it’s more like “Jai No,” wrote the Toronto Star, alluding to the soaring anthem from the hit film “Slumdog Millionaire,” set in India. Some questioned how much the seemingly nonstop outfit changes had cost the Canadian taxpayer.

In India, the online news outlet Outlook India, wrote that the elaborate dress was “too Indian even for an Indian.” Omar Abdullah, scion of a prominent Indian political family, chided Mr. Trudeau for out-Bollywooding Bollywood.

“This isn’t multiculturalism,” Ashish Anand, an entrepreneur from Vancouver, wrote in a tweet. “It’s a desire to be popular like a rock star.”

But others defended Mr. Trudeau, noting that he and his son wore orange head coverings during a Wednesday visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a revered holy site for Sikhs, that are required for entry and a sign of respect.

After all, they asked, wasn’t he just trying to be culturally sensitive?

During the visit to the Golden Temple, the Trudeau family was pictured wearing traditional outfits, their palms held together in a Namaste greeting.

“There’s a difference between culture appreciation and culture appropriation,” one Twitter user wrote in defense of Mr. Trudeau.

But the elaborate attire was not just relegated to temples and shrines.

During one event focusing on the film industry, Mr. Trudeau was decked out in a Sherwani, a dazzling and intricately embroidered golden garment, as he met with Indian movie stars.

He was pictured standing next to the Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, who wore an understated black shirt and jacket. One Twitter user noted sardonically that the actor appeared to be teaching Mr. Trudeau about “playing the role” of a prime minister.

Mr. Trudeau topped off the week by showcasing his Bhangra moves at a dinner in Delhi on Thursday. The Indian Express wondered if the prime minister’s drum-infused arm jerking was “embarrassing” to Canadians and questioned whether his “over-Indianized clothes” were out of step with a modern India.

The rebukes came during a sometimes tense trip, intended to foster closer ties between the two countries but mired in controversy after it emerged that a militant Sikh separatist convicted of attempting to murder an Indian cabinet minister in Vancouver in 1986 had been invited to a dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi. The invitation was later withdrawn but not before it spurred anger.

Whatever the reaction to his apparel choices, they were no doubt a conscious decision for Mr. Trudeau, whose eye-catching sock selection has become global news, and who has shown an acute adeptness for stage-managing his image. In recent years, he has been photographed shirtless in a selfie with a family hiking in Quebec and posed in a wet-suit during a beach wedding in British Columbia.

The Canadian prime minister remains a beloved character abroad, feted by social democrats in Europe and beyond as a liberal counterpoint to President Donald J. Trump on everything from immigration to female reproductive rights. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Trudeau is a social media darling as adept at posing with panda bears as he is at parsing quantum computing.

But lately he has been buffeted by a series of missteps. In December he was forced to apologize after a federal ethics watchdog took him to task for taking a Christmas vacation on a private yacht owned by the Aga Khan.

More recently, he was criticized after telling a woman during a town hall meeting in Edmonton, Alberta, that she should use “peoplekind” instead of mankind.

Mr. Trudeau is not the first global figure whose wardrobe choices have come under scrutiny — although mostly the criticism is directed at women.

When she was first lady, Michelle Obama attracted both praise and criticism for not wearing a head scarf during a 2015 trip to Saudi Arabia; Queen Elizabeth II had covered her head during a 1979 trip to the kingdom. And in December 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain was chastised for being photographed in a $1,250 pair of leather pants.

But President Obama was scolded when he wore a summery, tan suit after Labor Day, and President Trump has been criticized for wearing ill-fitting suits, baggy trousers and too-long ties.

As for Mr. Trudeau, he may have gotten the message of critics on this trip. In a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India on Friday, he wore a blue business suit.

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