A new book illustrates Bollywood's deep influence on the way we dress

Topics Hindi cinema | cinemas | Bollywood

Bajirao Mastani | Worn by Deepika Padukone
A perfectly tailored white t-shirt and blue jeans is the groomed man’s staple today. Loosen it up a little, add to it a check shirt, a leather jacket and perhaps throw in a hat for good measure and turn back the clock to 1995. It’s the year we met a casually flamboyant Shah Rukh Khan chasing Kajol in Zurich in the film Top Gun a decade ago — influenced how us boys growing up in the 1990s looked at fashion. And if you observe the spectacular outfits the leading ladies of Bollywood wore at the time, there’s no doubt that women were equally enchanted.

Fashion journalist Sujata Assomull, for instance, found a store in Southall, London, which sold her a purple sari similar to the one Madhuri Dixit wore in the song “Didi Tera Devar Deewana” in the film Costumes, a book that eulogises the most loved Bollywood characters through the clothes they wore.

The fact that the book looks strictly at women’s costumes causes me some conflictedness. “I believe it is important for a product to have a focus to have an impact,” explains Assomull, who’s written the text for the book. She says she has her male favourites too. Like Shah Rukh Khan’s sweaters and scarves in Heera Panna (1973). Thus, a man’s-only version may well follow. Ram, who beautifully illustrates the costumes that Assomull talks about in the book, says that she had even thought of collating runway and red carpet looks along with bikinis, but the scope seemed too wide. So they simply went gaga over Bollywood ladies.

It’s telling that illustrations of costumes, drawn without even the faces, have such an instant recall, irrespective of the era. Think of the costume of courtesan Anarkali played by Madhubala in the song “Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya” in the film Mughal-e-Azam (1960). The book breaks down Bollywood’s most impactful looks in four categories: ’50s to ’60s, 70s to ’80s, ’90s to 2000s and 2010 onwards. It also talks about the designers behind the looks, the fabric and embellishments used and how these costumes accentuated the characters.

“For fashion in a film to have an impact, the clothes chosen need to be true to the character,” says Assomull. Ram gives the example of how Kangana Ranaut’s character in Queen (2014) evolves through her costumes as she slowly comes into her own.

The co-authors of 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes, Sujata Assomull (left) and Aparna Ram

Portraying close to real-life characters, such as Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013). “It’s imperative for any costume designer to understand the environment and the anthropology behind the character,” says Manish Malhotra, who dressed her for the role and has also written the foreword for the book.

Devdas | Worn by Madhuri Dixit Aishwarya Rai
Costumes reflect a character outline — think Kareena Kapoor’s t-shirt and 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes is a collection of unspoken stories behind the drapes. And like the book, I’ll let pictures do the rest of the talking.

100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes (written by Sujata Assomull and illustrated by Aparna Ram) is published by Roli Books

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