Because Bollywood costumes are forever

Updated: Sep 08, 2019, 08:08 IST | Shweta Shiware

A deliciously detailed new coffee table book wants to be a handy guide to iconic Hindi film costumes, but stops short of including the we-came-first veterans

Because Bollywood costumes are forever
Bhanu Athaiya: Mumtaz in Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969). Pics/All illustrations by Aparna Ram, 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes

In a decade-and-then-some career invested in writing on fashion, Bollywood film costumes have been a rich and constant reference point for this writer. Not everyone cares for fashion, but filmi wardrobes affect everyone. Manish Malhotra would agree. If the now celebrated costume and fashion designer hadn't believed that Priyanka Chopra should wear a saree in Dostana, not a dress or a gown as producer Karan Johar and director Tarun Manshukhani had wanted, the Desi Girl wouldn't have become an iconic trend.

It's insider tidbits such as this that make 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes by Roli Books, enjoyable. Stitched together in text by Sujata Assomull, and supported by Aparna Ram's illustrations, it is a dedicated directory of Bollywood's greatest wardrobe hits.

Leena Daru: Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta (1972)
Leena Daru: Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta (1972)

The range spans from the 1950s when Nadira turned into an image of empowerment in high-waist Jodhpur trousers and cravat scarves in Aan (1952) to the urbanite fashion ladies of Veere di Wedding (2018), and includes every giddy costume extravaganza that came in between.

Assomull writes in her introduction: "When I became the launch editor of Harper's Bazaar India [2009], my knowledge of Indian cinema was to deepen—our cover girls were nearly always actresses. Fashion purists often critisised this, but the fact is that in India, for many women, films remains an inspiration".

Xerxes Bhathena: Parveen Babi in Namak Halaal (1982)
Xerxes Bhathena: Parveen Babi in Namak Halaal (1982)

Printed on tint-and-bling super-matt veneer, the book's pages hold generously numbered sketches and a foreword by Malhotra himself. That the book carries a narrative structure makes it engaging. We take in the colours, lightness of tone—especially when Assomull is discussing context—and assorted morsels of sartorial information offered by a few credited costume designers.

We gather as we read on, that the title consists largely of detailed descriptions of clothing styles and their impact on a particular period. The interviews with Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Sandeep Khosla of Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Muzaffar Ali, Neeta Lulla, Anna Singh and Anju Modi are accompanied by comments from magazine editors, film critics and stylists, who help summarise the mood boards. But it rarely moves beyond the hallowed bunch.

Perhaps insights from the great geniuses of the 1970s and '80s, like Xerxes Bhathena, Leena Daru, James Ferreira who worked for Kishore Bajaj's Bada Saab, or Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya among many others, or even noted fashion journalist Meher Castelino, would have added a dash of authoritative nostalgia, which the book may perhaps have used to build on its heft as a definitive guide.

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