India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Screen + Sound + Stage
December 28, 2015

#TheHybridLife: Costume Remix

Text by Alpana Chowdhury

Bridal wear coupled with sports shoes and chiffon saris teamed with trench coats – heroines are experimenting with unconventional dressing to create unique characters

Arrey abhi toh party shuru hui hai…
Party chalegi till six in the morning…
Jimmy Choo ki noke pe rakkhi duniya saari hai….

Sonam Kapoor, dancing to this outrageous number in Khoobsurat, is unconventional, bold and bindaas. Now if that is a mash-up sentence, can it be avoided? How else can you describe a girl who wears silk dhoti pants with a crop top, jacket, orange sneakers and lots of funky roadside trinkets, breaking free with a song like this? As Mili Chakravarty, a physiotherapist in a stuffy, royal household, Sonam is a misfit, out to shake its inmates up. And, caring two hoots about what others think, she wears freaky combinations that reflect her fun-loving spirit. Karuna Laungani, who styled Sonam’s look in this 2014 film, did so with complete abandon, combining Western labels like Zara, Mango and Adidas with Indian designers like Anupama Dayal and Karishma Shahani. And, in the process, set new trends for today’s break-free generation.

In Dolly Ki Doli, Sonam once again plays an unconventional role, that of a con woman duping guys into marriage and then burgling their houses. While escaping with her loot, she teams elaborate bridal costumes with leather jackets and laced-up sports shoes. Comfort and convenience score over coyness.

Increasingly, heroines are unshackling themselves from traditional mores, and simpering leading ladies in kanjeevarams are becoming passé. Playing liberated, bold or avant-garde characters, the Sonams, Kareenas, Anushkas, Kanganas, Deepikas et al toss together clothes that project their attitudes, often opting for quirky mixes of global and Indian styles.

One of the first to assert herself as an uninhibited youngster was Kareena Kapoor, as Geet in Jab We Met. Geet literally runs away from anything that curbs her freedom, and her comfortable patiala salwar and loose T-shirt symbolise her carefree, care-a-damn attitude towards rules and regulations like nothing else could.

Anushka Sharma, on the other hand, cocks a sizzling snook at morality when she wears the skimpiest of shorts and a red bra under a transparent white blouse as Bijlee, in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. If the shorts and red bra are not cheeky enough, she has a tattoo in Hindi on her kamar, which says, “Dekho magar pyar se”. Branded shorts cross-pollinated with desi truckers’ language?!

Kangana Ranaut, too, in Tanu Weds Manu Returns, is out to shock and break rules any which way. As a bohemian export from Kanpur trying to settle down in London, she wears exquisite chiffon saris with Oxford shoes and a long trench coat! No pashmina shawls for this free-spirited wife of a sober Indian doctor. Bored to death with her English suburban life, she dumps her husband in a mental asylum and returns to India to give full vent to her freedom. Her wardrobe now becomes even more quaint… London style married to Indian ethnic. Exotic, rustic weaves with Western silhouettes, knitted jumpers with digitally-printed dhoti pants, suede and denim jackets with salwars…Tanu’s clothes reflect her pan-continent life. Reza Shariffi, who put together her hybrid wardrobe points out, “I had designed her clothes for her earlier film, Tanu Weds Manu, as well. In that film too, she enjoyed breaking rules and her clothes reflected her attitude when she combined yardage from different Indian states, like phulkari and bandhini, in an unusual manner. In the sequel, she returns to India after living in London for a few years. But being the enfant terrible that she is, she does not conform to either English dress codes or small-town Indian styles. Tanu mixes and matches clothes of both countries in a manner typically her own.”

Kangana, who has a sharp design sense when it comes to her personal wardrobe, dared to ‘dress down’ as Rani in Queen, quite unselfconsciously hip-hopping all over Paris in Lajpat Nagar kurtis and jeans, a common street-wear combination in India. Bold in her choice of films, the actress had the confidence to carry off a major part of the film dressed as a commoner from Dilli, becoming in the process a role model for middle-class girls challenging middle-class values.

Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma, new-age designers, explain how they turned Kangana into Rani. “Growing up in Delhi, we had seen many a Rani in the girls’ colleges and polytechnics of the city. While being the quintessential homely, middle-class girl who must have a college degree, Rani fits into college life by wearing misshapen kurtis and denim pedal pushers or rosette-embroidered jeans which she thinks are ‘trendy’. We enjoyed throwing denim, acid-washed jackets, and hand-knitted cardigans over the kurtis to complete the ‘Rani’ look.”

They add, “Kangana, being from a small town in Himachal Pradesh, identified with the look instantly and carried it off comfortably. When a girl like Rani defiantly goes on a single honeymoon to Paris, she doesn’t realise that she sticks out like a sore thumb in this stylish city. So, when she later buys short Parisian dresses, she naively wears them with her jeans! However, Kangana looked absolutely gorgeous in this fusion by default.”

With stories today being written around characters who dare to be different, more and more directors are going off the formula path, projecting real men and women. So, instead of just doing fashion design, costume designers are taking care to dress their actors according to character. When Deepika Padukone, playing a London-returned, conservation architect in Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal, slips out of her work overalls, she gets into comfortable jeans and ethnic bling that reflect her state of mind.

A well-travelled career woman, she lets her hair down by wearing globally-influenced, casual chic.

As early as 2004, when Farhan Akhtar made Lakshya, he cast Preity Zinta as a regular Delhi University student. Unlike the dolled-up look of earlier heroines who went to college like they were dressed for a wedding, Preity wore gathered skirts, made of cotton Indian yardage, with kurtis. Campus couture in Delhi is usually an arty mix of Western trends and Indian ethnic, and Preity dressed accordingly.

This combination was to be seen again in Fanaa where Kajol and her group of friends wore embroidered kurtis and skirts made from vibrant Indian fabrics. Aamir Khan, who played a flirtatious tourist guide in Delhi, wore bright printed Indian shirts with jeans and crushed mulmul scarves that complemented his audacious behaviour.

Quite unlike him, male students on the Delhi campus, especially those with Marxist leanings, are partial to long, khadi kurtas with well-worn, branded jeans, a combination that Saif Ali Khan sported in Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan. Wearing cotton kurtas, jeans and a rough, cotton scarf carelessly draped around his neck, Khan made for delicious eye candy, of the intellectual kind.

Two years later, designer Komal Shahani gave Akshay Kumar an interesting global-desi look in Boss. “He plays a flamboyant dada from the rough-tough terrains of Haryana, so I designed stylish, long kurtas and jeans with bright-coloured linen jackets for him. For an additional, edgy effect I engraved BOSS on his knuckle dusters,” narrates Shahani.  Who said dadas cannot make style statements?

And, of course, a film like Rockstar demanded a fusion of global fashions. When Janardhan becomes Jordan, an international singer, he combines elements of Western, Indian and Middle Eastern couture. Banging away on his guitar, bellowing the Naadaan Parindey song before hysterical fans in Europe, Ranbir Kapoor wears voluminous salwars with a gold-braided jacket, and an Air Force-style cap on shoulder-length hair. Rebellious and grungy, Jordan is a far cry from the earlier Hindi film rock stars who shone in silver pants. Jordan’s lady love, played by Nargis Fakhri, a rich girl from Kashmir, is styled in jeans teamed with gorgeous Kashmiri jackets and embroidered shawls wrapped like scarves.

With globalisation, all aspects of Hindi films have become entertaining mash-ups. From the scripts and lyrics to characters and clothes, there is a seamless combination of various languages and styles that reflect today’s multifaceted Indian. Characters mouth coarse Hindi phrases and English terminology in the same breath, youngsters swing to Yo Yo Honey Singh’s Chaar Botal Vodka, and costume departments rise to the occasion to reflect this new mishmash.

But long before Ranbir and his ilk were togged up in fusion clothing, his grandfather, Raj Kapoor, epitomised the ultimate global desi when he sang:

Mera joota hai Japani,
Yeh patloon Inglistani,
Sar pe laal topi Rusi,
Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani.

Can any designer today better tramp Raju’s iconic wardrobe, stitched in a tiny shop called Stylo, set up in the then fashionable district of Flora Fountain by a Chandu Gopalani who escaped to Bombay from Karachi just before Partition tore the country as under?

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