Indian fashion couturiers had often considered themselves quite a breed, apart from Bollywood designers, till just a few years ago. There was a distinct borderline between designers who dressed the stars and those who dressed the socialites and fashionistas. Then, somewhere down the line, Bollywood designers wanted to dress the fans of the stars and the haute couturiers didn’t think it was such a bad idea dressing the divas of the silver screen. So, do Indian fashion designers create images for the stars and set trends or do Bollywood designers influence the way you dress and change the way the stars look? Going by the past incidents it is apparent that images and trends are very easily created by Bollywood’s designers.
The first name that probably comes to mind is that of Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya for the film Gandhi in 1982. Her sexy cholis created a striking image for popular vamp Nadira in the 1955 hit film Shree 420 which had women rushing to their tailors for quick copies. It also gave the feisty Nadira a glamourous, memorable look. Bhanu also gave a new look to the mundane salwar and kameez when she created a wardrobe for stars Sadhana and Sharmila Tagore in the film Waqt in 1956. “Till then women wore wide salwars and baggy kameezes or kurtas with a marked floral print which I changed to solids and a moulded shape with tight churidars,” recollected Bhanu. This obviously gave the two stars a new sexy and stylish image. When it came to creating an ‘oomphy’ look for the pouty Mumtaz in the film Brahmachari in 1968, Bhanu’s creativity went into top gear when the tightly wrapped orange sari worn hipster style with a short pallu gave the star a new look as well as had women immediately moulding themselves in the same silhouette.
Helen the dancing queen of Bollywood from 1950-1970 better known as the Queen of Nautch Girls; wore the most amazing costumes. Each cabaret number outfit had an ingenious touch whether she boogied with Shammi Kapoor or Rajesh Khanna. Here the credit went to Mani Rabadi who dreamt up feathery, flouncy creations for the dazzling diva.
They may not have created trends since they were so outrageous; but they definitely created a remarkable image for Helen as the Queen of Item Girls. When Zeenat Aman acted with the Italian bombshell Gina Lollobrigida, Dharmendra and Rex Harrison in the Hollywood film Shalimar or Raiders of the Sacred Stone in 1978; she needed to create an impression that could outshine the Italian beauty’s looks at the premiere of the film. Mani Rabadi dreamt up an exotic plunge neck figure hugging, white creation studded with rhinestones and Zeenie Baby stole the limelight from under Gina’s pert nose. It was a dress that caused a sensation with women rushing to create strike offs from their corner darzis.
Leena Daru dressed Bollywood’s beauties for several years. But it was her simple white churidar and kurta with the leheriya dupatta for Sridevi in the film Chandni that gave the Southern belle an angelic image and caused the Chandni Chowk stores to hit the jackpot with thousands of copies.
When Madhuri Dixit sang Ek Do Teen and wriggled her hips the multi coloured slashed panelled skirt and shimmering bodice for this song in Tezaab in 1988, gave the sedate star a raunchy look created by Leena Daru in just 24 hours. “I was given just a few hours to create the garment for Madhuri and I used whatever materials were at hand — bits of cloth, trimmings embellishments and had the garment ready. It was a big hit with women wanting to wear the slashed panelled skirt,” recollected Leena.
Xerxes Bhathena popularly called the Bob Mackie of India in the 1980s was the first male Bollywood designer to hit the headlines with his western creations for Bollywood stars. Till then, the Bollywood fashion business was dominated by women, so it was a little tough for Xerxes to break in. He hit the big time with his slinky black shimmering gown for the late Parveen Babi for the movie, Namak Halal in 1982.
Till then it was rare to see a Bollywood actress in western formal wear but Xerxes changed it all when he put Parveen in the sexy black number giving not only the actress a new look but paving the way for western wear to enter mainline Bollywood movies. After that, it was silk and razzmatazz for gowns that was Xerxes’ characteristic touch.
When it comes to image change and setting a trend, several times national award winner Neeta Lulla’s contribution has been quite substantial. Perky Juhi Chawla known for her rustic roles and equally traditional attire was given a new glamourous look with a daring off-the-shoulder blouse in the film Aaina by Neeta Lulla. Overnight, women wanted a similar blouse that revealed their shoulders in all their appealing glory. “That off-the-shoulder style choli was a big hit and Juhi looked stunning in it,” remembered Neeta. Another very important film that had an impact on fashion was Devdas by Sanjay Leela Bhansali where Neeta changed Aishwariya Rai Bachchan into a Bengali bride. The puff sleeved cholis again created a trend, which lasted for several months. A few years after, her Tezaab triumph, Madhuri Dixit’s stylish Indian look for the film Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun in 1994 created by Anna Singh was a super hit. The purple sari with the sexy backless blouse was an immediate success and a trendsetting winner with women ordering them from Anna Singh and tailors churning out copies.
One designer who has probably created the most image changes for stars and set trends is Bollywood’s darling, Manish Malhotra. From popular model to stylish and designer, Manish’s career graph started soaring when he gave Urmila Matondkar an image change with flirty, frothy minis for the film Rangeela in 1995. It was a look that every young girl could identify with and the swinging skirts and cropped tops were an instant hit; while Urmila’s image changed from a hesitant child artist actress to an impressive, talented but very stylish star. Setting trends with his creations for various stars comes easily to Manish Malhotra. Who can forget the gorgeous lehenga, choli and dupatta which he created for Kajol in the record breaking film Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge in 1995, which got him orders for dozens more in the same colour and style. The look Manish created for Shahrukh Khan in the film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in 1998 was a great styling achievement. It was probably the first time that foreign brands were introduced into a Bollywood film and it gave Shahrukh Khan a dashing, debonair, lover boy image and boosted the sales of international brands like DKNY, Polo Sport and Tommy Hilfiger in India. In fact, the last brand became so popular that fake tee-shirts of the same flooded the market and surprised Tommy Hilfiger about the potential of the Indian market, thus prompting the label to enter the country in 2004 with Arvind Murjani Brands.
Manish’s biggest triumph was probably the image change of Karishma Kapoor for the film Raja Hindustani in 1996. From gawky, curly haired, bushy eyebrows with an atrocious dress sense, the Bollywood entrant was transformed by Manish as he remodeled Karishma’s image into an elegant beauty with sleek hair, perfectly arched brows, subdued makeup and elegant attire. The effect was so dramatic that Karishma’s career soared to new heights with actors clamouring to star with her. Manish also worked on sister Kareena’s look, matching his styling perfectly to create the mood of the character as well as giving an image change to the actress. He teamed a draped salwar with a tee-shirt for the film Jab We Met in 2007, which became an instant hit with teen followers and also gave Kareena a rustic yet contemporary young, peppy image. Another look that Manish created earlier for Kareena was for the film Khabi Khushi Khabi Gham in 2001 when the dazzling red jumpsuit was the ideal look for an NRI; thus giving this one-piece outfit a new lease of life on the fashion charts.
Aki Narula made an impact on the Bollywood scene with his styling and designs for Rani Mukherjee’s film Bunty aur Babli in 2005. This Kolkata designer was known for his very crazy offering at fashion weeks. Tiffin boxes as handbags, rubber flip-flops with soft toys as embellishments — his collections caught the eye of the press.
So when this Indian version of the Bonny and Clyde film was produced by Aditya Chopra, the first choice of a designer was Aki. The wide salwars with the short shirt kurta teamed with an embroidered jhola; gave Rani a rustic yet contemporary look, which appealed to the collegian and set a colourful trend. The wildly colourful wardrobe for Abhishek was a look that set the trend for colourful shirts
Rocky S was a favourite designer of stars like Shilpa Shetty and Akshay Kumar. A leopard skin mini skirt with a cropped top was the perfect outfit and knee high boots added to the leggy Shilpa’s charms as she cavorted with Akshay Kumar in the film Main Khiladi Tu Anari in 1994. The look immediately caught the fancy of the stylish women in India and brought the sultry Shilpa into the limelight after her initial appearance in Baazigar in 1993, which had been overshadowed by Kajol’s impressive acting. Akshay Kumar’s macho image was probably created by Rocky S in most of the films where ‘Khiladi’ Kumar acted and the stylish masculine attire created for him further enhanced the star’s persona, which appealed to young Indian males who wanted to impress their partners.
Vidya Balan the current heartthrob of millions after her award winning performances in The Dirty Picture and Kahaani had gone through some trying times earlier as far as her sartorial tastes were concerned. Remember those embarrassing Hey Baby days when she was panned for her dress sense? Well all that changed when Kolkata’s superstar designer, Sabyasachi Mukherjee took her under his wing and soon everyone was thrilled with the way Vidhya looked in the film Paa as well as in Kahaani. Vidya’s image changed into that of a trendsetting diva as women wanted to dress in those Sabyasachi block prints, rustic Anarkalis and dual toned saris. Soon there was a lineup of stars who wanted to be dressed by the fashion genius from Bengal.
(Meher Castelino is a well-known fashion consultant and writer)