India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Fashion
February 15, 2011

Bollywood Style Awards 2011

Text by Sohiny Das. Photographed by Joy Datta. Styling and realisation by Nirali Mehta

With blurring boundaries between ‘fashion’ and ‘costume’ design, we have been hoping to see some spectacular sartorial statements on the silver screen. 2010 had its share of attempts, but none quite hit bullseye. The good news is that the days of the ‘conventional Bollywood’ wardrobe seem to be numbered, as chiffon and sequins lose their monopoly. Also, we appear to have stepped beyond large initials on our chests and taken to discreet brand flaunting, combining high-end and high-street, but not confusing categories. It is a good time for both cinema and fashion, and Sohiny Das seems to think that we are on to something golden in the future, though the present looks a little uncertain. She selects the films which have appealed with their distinctive costumes and styling, and also those which have had moments of impact. Verve recreates these memorable scenes with one of the most promising new faces of Bollywood, actress Sonal Chauhan

It’s all about the script”, Aki Narula, ace stylist of tinsel-town told us last year. We agree. The script is paramount – everything revolves around it. But cinema is an audiovisual medium; there are aesthetics involved. It is art reflecting life, and one of the purposes of art is to create great beauty – the definition of which may be flexed, but beauty nonetheless. And the most beautiful is always aspirational.

In Bollywood, we have had an ‘inappropriately dressed’ tradition of sorts – heroines dolled up while their college friends are shoddy, ‘poor’ village belles geared better than the wealthier characters, spangles galore in broad daylight, fluttering chiffon on snow-capped mountains…the list is inexhaustible. An indulgent smile, along with ‘fine, chalta hai’ – in true spirit of the famous Indian tolerance. We have had examples, where a film’s look was promoted as its USP, and went on to triumph while the film itself sank.  Somewhere, have we developed a fear of fashion dominating over a script? Is this why filmmakers are predominantly wary of providing free rein, or costume stylists attempting to ‘push it’, but coming up with what is at best, tepid?

‘Realistic cinema’ is a complete U-turn from the decked-up decades, and most wardrobe departments seem to be interpreting it with sloth. In real life, do we not have individuals who are taken seriously for both being sharp and dressing sharp? If by ‘realism’ we mean T-shirts over jeans with a scarf thrown on for effect then yes, it is an imitation of life. And indistinguishable. ‘The script demands it’ is a great cushion, and it is easy to get comfortable.

Characters might be getting three-dimensional; costumes – not so much. In 2010, we still had capsules such as ‘she’s a bombshell, so nothing below upper thigh’ (Pyaar Impossible), ‘it’s North India, so everyone loves gota’ (Band Baaja Baarat and Dabangg), ‘she likes retro, so Audrey Hepburn is the inspiration’ (Aisha) or a celebrity designer creating costumes, so everything must resemble his runway works (Guzaarish and Raavan). There have been great moments, undoubtedly, and some beautiful outfits which have made scenes more memorable than what they would have otherwise been, but we are still waiting for something where fashion and film will be equally powerful, and not in a period drama.

It is time to elevate.

Fantasy Mode
Guzaarish
Sabyasachi Mukherjee for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Cotton silk smocked waist full length kalidaar kurta, from Studio Virtues, Ahmedabad. Brown stone neckpiece, antique emerald earrings, ruby and pearl ring,all from Aquamarine, Mumbai. Rose hair piece, stylist’s own.

Make-up by Sarita Khatri, Elizabeth Arden, Mumbai. Hair by Harshada Bavkar, Jean Claude Biguine, Mumbai.

Until now, nurses were seen in two avatars – the demure nurse (in starched sack-uniforms, thick stockings and dowdy moccasins) and the tarty nurse (fitted, super-short dresses with most buttons undone, high heels, kitten-gazes, wanting to play doctor-doctor). Now we have the arty nurse. For all you (im)patients, presenting Sophia!

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s ethereal screen presence (as Sophia) is difficult to match. Add to that the Bengali aesthetic eye of fashion tsar Sabyasachi Mukherjee and a dash of fiery Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and you have fantasy soup in a multicultural melting pot (served of course, in old crockery, on antique tray tables, in a colonial Portuguese mansion in Goa laden with grandfather clocks, aged wood staircases et al). Kahlo has probably never received this kind of an homage on an Indian screen; minus the unibrow (if a different actress were the lead, we would probably have had that too), everything else is a continuation of the long-standing romance between her and Mukherjee.

Do not expect a connect with reality here. Cinema is art. And also, Sophia is a private nurse, so no hospital uniforms; she is free to deck-up for her bedpan duties, though she must be spending a fortune on dry cleaning. A Mexican-Portuguese-Indian crafts’ mélange is presented through kantha embroidered aprons, panelled ghaghra-skirts, choli tops with tie-up backs (with peek-a-boo lace bras), lantern sleeves with zari borders and dupatta-scarves. Rich red, maroon, navy, indigo, forest green and brown make a jewelled palette – Mukherjee’s usual shade card (no matter how oft repeated, always a visual treat). Cotton, velvet, net and silk complete the rich, decadent vision that he seems to share with director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. A dream union; a preciously preservable piece in the costume chronicles?

Cinema treasure in vintage gold and jaded – not if we compare this with 2010 film costumes, but if we look at each person’s work individually. Bhansali’s romantic frames and Mukherjee’s unchanging shapes, colours and styling – much-rehashed aces. Maybe Sophia is Mukherjee’s interpretation of Dickens’ Miss Havisham – she wears the same styles throughout and conveys a pathos-laden romantic hangover. A tendency towards Amish, but every outfit is superbly detailed – the variety of motifs, colour tones, layers – and Rai is a vision in burgundy lipstick (that particular YSL shade has been my friend for years, if I may brag), a rose in her braided hair and some lovely jewellery.

But the Sabya touch does not stop here. Shernaz Patel, Nafisa Ali and other members of the female cast don the famous block bootas, earthy cottons and velvet in empire shapes and muted rich colours. This even extends to Aditya Roy Kapoor’s slightly ’70s wardrobe. Monikangana Dutta, with her bronze skin and doe-eyed gaze, is a detour in minimalist maxi dresses sans jewellery, and smoulders in a different way.

Fantasy is great – we are all for creative freedom. It is a step in the right direction, and somewhat pathbreaking in a mostly mediocre year. But ‘singular branding’ is a mould that film costume needs to break out of, which a runway showmaker is accustomed to. Next time….

Urban Sass
Aisha
Pernia Qureshi for Sonam Kapoor

Lavender silk polka dotted dress, from Christian Dior, New Delhi. Purple high waist silk belt, by Puja Arya, Jaipur. Fuchsia sling bag with gold chain, from Jimmy Choo, Mumbai. Heart-shaped sunglasses, stylist’s own.

Make-up by Charmaine Rao, YSL, Mumbai. Hair by Kaynaz Dadina, Jean Claude Biguine, Mumbai.

The Emporio’s new clothes. Pursed lips, loosened purse strings. The three C-s of the capital’s ‘swish’ set – Cash, Credit and no Control. Youth on a roll.

Pernia Qureshi comes pedigreed. With couture blood in her veins and hailing from Capital City, she could very well be Aisha Kapoor (Sonam Kapoor’s character), and she confesses that she herself (along with Audrey Hepburn, who else?) was the inspiration behind Aisha’s wardrobe and styling. A retro bent and classic-quirk sum up the label-laden closet of the affluent belle – the lead protagonist. And with fashion’s sweetheart Kapoor (Sonam) in the team, it was always going to be – sartorially speaking – a win-win situation.

But was it? Well, almost.  Qureshi opted for pretty rather than sexy (a real girl knows just how much skin to show – she says; we agree). The first-timer also showcased a rounded approach to dressing – separate styles for the races, brunches, philanthropy, nights out and ethnic occasions (Anamika Khanna once more). Duchess satin replaced clingy jersey; a break from a sequin overdose made us almost weep with joy. Young does not mean Technicolor teenybopper – sombre shades and restrained silhouettes were proof of that. This is also a rare Bollywood film that was well-timed with international runway trends; the slight 1950s styling is still current. Even the designer labels selected were the obvious ones; Aisha did not seem to be the type to venture beyond Dior (she and her Lady Dior handbags were surgically attached throughout the film), Chanel, YSL and Givenchy (the Hepburn factor). Vandevorst who?

It was somewhat safe (yet non-conventional Bollywood), with slight tweaks. A black bow-tie on a white, halter-shirt was a nice touch; hats at the races were thankfully more Phillip Treacy than Little Bo-Peep. But certain styles do not suit Kapoor’s body structure. She has a tricky figure – the printed swimsuit with jeans in the volleyball scene looked rather dowdy, and halters did not work for those broad-ish shoulders. Also, the black mini-suit and skyscraper heels in the hospital sequence (not that she had to rush unprepared) was a little too ‘forced airhead’. The Sex and the City references were excessively obvious.

But what is commendable is that Qureshi already has the eye to create separate sensibilities for different characters. Ira Dubey’s brash and eccentric Manish Arora and boots combo was hardly a fashion moment, but here, the character-brand blend was somewhat endearingly comic, instead of ‘what in the Lord’s name!!’ Amrita Puri’s simple, ‘small-town’ ethnic ensembles (Khanna again) were actually quite classy, rather than taking the usual prints-on-poly-georgette way. And Lisa Haydon – what can we say…. She stole the show – simple, assertive, sexy. And very, very classy.

We also have to mention the ‘Mitthi Mitthi Bol’ song sequence. White, gold and red Malayali weddings are a refreshing antidote to the bling lehenga choli ones.

If we had more print space, we could have analysed further in detail. But for a novice (albeit genetically programmed) with an ensemble cast, the work deserves a couple of ‘Kudos!’

Ethnic Appeal
Raavan
Sabyasachi Mukherjee for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Saffron gherdaar salwar kameez, by Nikasha, Mumbai.

Make-up by Charmaine Rao, YSL, Mumbai. Hair by Kaynaz Dadina, Jean Claude Biguine, Mumbai.

With the combined creative forces of some of the industry’s most respected stalwarts, this was slated to be 2010’s Goliath. But when giants fall, they come down crashing. The blame game then starts.

Let us not elaborate on the mammoth mess in the aftermath of Raavan’s release. An experimental interpretation of mythology is always tricky; there is creative freedom, which can go either way. Some things work, while others do not. This being a Sabyasachi Mukherjee project, the fashion critics were waiting eagerly, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s costumes received much flak for being ‘inappropriate’. True, it was another anarkali-gherdaar feast all the way, but with Mukherjee, chances of things going 100 per cent awry are slim.

No one anticipates being kidnapped. Classical dance teacher Ragini (Rai) was not blessed with the foresight of her abduction; else she probably would have donned track-pants, sneakers, a waterproof jacket and carried a hack-knife and torch. Better still, she would have not stepped out of the house. Blissfully ignorant, she went for a boat-ride wearing a turmeric anarkali, when disaster struck. Mukherjee’s biggest strength is his colour sensibility. The introductory shot of Ragini in a black boat gliding through grey waters reflecting an overcast sky had that one magic spot of just the right hue, which shone through in the subsequent jungle sequences – bright enough, but not jarring.

The mini-oasis of fashion in a song depicting the romance between Ragini and her husband was a show of all things Sabya – jewel shades, volume, luxe-earthy fabrics and an Indo-arty ethos. Sleeveless cholis worn with saris and accessorised with a simple long braid – Indian beauty epitomised.Mukherjee never made any attempt to step beyond his comfort territory; he chose a film where he could play his safe cards. Anyone familiar with his runway shows and rail merchandise would know that.

A black sari, bandage-wrapped and almost falling off the shoulder but miraculously staying put was the only step towards a sexier, darker side. Other than that, Ragini was given block-printed six yards and boota blouses – like all the other village women. Priyamani, who played Abhishek Bachchan’s ill-fated sister Jamuni, was clothed in backless cholis with printed jersey sleeves and low-waisted, full skirts – a village belle who was fiery and confident of her youth and sexuality.

A beautifully embroidered kalidar set in white was Mukherjee’s ironic statement for the part where Ragini’s husband questioned her virtue and fidelity, upon her return. Like we said, reactions to the film and its wardrobe are open to individual interpretation, but very few can read and present colour like Sabya. It is always spot-on.

Desi Fun
Band Baaja Baraat
Niharika Khan for Anushka Sharma

Orange T-shirt, skinny jeans, black belt, floral printed scarf, mojris, all courtesy Yash Raj Studios, Mumbai. Hat, stylist’s own.

Make-up by Sarita Khatri, Elizabeth Arden, Mumbai. Hair by Harshada Bavkar, Jean Claude Biguine, Mumbai. Assisted by Nazneen Harianawala and Pearl Mendonça.

Sometimes, when a film appeals as a whole, everything about it seems to work. All elements fall into place; they meld seamlessly. Such is the case of a not-too-hyped, non-mega-budget, not-claiming-to-be-pathbreaking but well-made cine piece. The underdog has had its day.

This was no multi-starrer. Relative newbie Anushka Sharma was, until now, a pretty face in the foreground, but with no pivotal responsibilities. Niharika Khan is always about being somewhat understated and ‘keeping it real’. So there was not much band baaja about a groundbreaking wardrobe before the film’s release. No big fashion fever.

Tough-as-nails Shruti Kakkar is a Delhi belle who is accustomed to the capital’s ‘macho men’ and ‘cool dudes with attitude’, and having to get things done the hard way. Pretty as she is, the youngster is also a no-nonsense, fuss-free femme. Therefore practicality stands foremost in her sartorial requirements. A contrasting combination of girly wishful romanticism and sharp, rooted practicality – as are her ‘wedding book’ collages of feathers and bows, but which mean absolute, hard-math business. She knows what works, she is about what people want and she makes no pretenses of being ‘avant-garde’ – in work or thought.

Khan kept it conventional and true to character. The college years were spent in jeans, jersey tops and printed stoles – typically middle-class Delhi. Work attires comprised variations of the college garb and sometimes, kurtis and tunics. Even at weddings, Shruti was practical enough to remember the importance of mobility, therefore she donned kalidar kurta sets rather than lehngas or saris to facilitate easy movement. The make-up was simple; she was no walking jewellery showroom. This was her work arena, not a social meet and greet.

Khan managed to pick a few pretty sets in ‘off’ colour combinations. The electric blue fitted kurti with orange patialas and chutney-lime dupatta from the ‘Ainvayi’ song sequence will surely find variations at every ‘boutique’. The antique gota embellished sari in the concluding scene, worn simply, minus jewellery – as she rushed out in an emotional state – was rather beautiful. Most outfits were peppered with sequins and shimmer, in vibrant (but not jazzy) colours and were conventionally pretty. Just like Shruti, they were as per her rule book of philosophies.

There was nothing exceptional. Had the film not been a surprise success, we probably would have not paid as much attention. Khan is never about making announcements, but this time particularly, what works in her favour her is a lukewarm year with few contenders, rather than a great cine-wardrobe.

Pleasing, rather than exciting. But electric blue is the new fuchsia.

Screen style moments
2010 was a year filled with notable fashion in selected sequences of particular films. The wardrobes of these cine-pieces were not fashionably assertive on the whole, but certain outfits deserve a mention

Pyaar Impossible
Manish Malhotra for Priyanka Chopra
Nothing is sexier than a yummy mummy! Outfits of new-age bombshell mum Alisha comprises dresses, skirts, shorts and rompers which showcase her perfect pins in every scene. Our favourite is a silver grey draped dress in a home dinner sequence. A youthful bob and a minimalist take on accessories (as well as clothes) work well.

Raajneeti
Priyanka Mundada for Katrina Kaif
Katrina Kaif, as Indu, was clearly modelled on the matriarch of India’s first family – both in terms of appearance and dress. Razor-pleated tussar silks, handloom cottons with strong borders and printed crépes were part of a sombre sari collection, worn with well-fitted, high-back blouses and a sleek ponytail. All hitches and creases in the way of power must be ironed out.

Dabangg
Ashley Rebello for Sonakshi Sinha
The most memorable outfit is a maroon skirt-choli set, as Rajo (Sonakshi Sinha) walks past some fountains in a song sequence, seductively drenched. A fringe (side-parted) hairstyle adds a modern touch.

Tees Maar Khan
Aki Narula for Katrina Kaif
When a woman dons a man’s shirt and not much else, temperatures are bound to rise. Katrina Kaif was the end-of-the-year phenomenon in the song Sheela ki Jawaani. A glam take on the Maharashtrian kashti (sari worn dhoti style) and knotted-choli proved to be the perfect garb to seductively gyrate in.

Housefull
Aki Narula for Deepika Padukone and Lara Dutta
Padukone in a military bikini set with mustard sarong – gorgeous. Dutta’s black bikini top with denim mini skirt show off the bronzed tan to perfection. Thankfully, the belles shed the ‘come hither’ gazes and there is no raunchy undertone in the swimwear sequence.

Once Upon a Time in Mumbai
Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma for Kangna Ranaut
An attempt at interpreting the semi-flashy ’70s, where polyester, nylon and rayon were the new, ‘high-tech’ fabrics – more ‘in’ than silk. But there is some confusion between decades. The bouffant with the yellow Jackie-O day dress and go-go glasses in a lunch scene – more ’60s than ’70s, but still the best moment.

Action Replayy
Manish Malhotra for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s sari song sequence will probably have Satya Paul digging into their archives and re-introducing their bestselling design. Polka dots and bell bottoms seem to be all that we remember from that decade.

Knockout
Rick Roy for Kangna Ranaut
It is great that the existence of well-dressed journalists is finally acknowledged, but how do we follow suit when reporting from the field? The function of a jacket is to primarily substitute a handbag – our new fashion lesson. Cleavage and business make for the viewers’ pleasure. Nice outfit, but a tad too Sarah Palin.

Karthik Calling Karthik
Niharika Khan for Deepika Padukone
Sharp can also be feminine; one need not look like a man to be perceived as efficient. Pussy-bow blouses and Edwardian yoke shirts teamed with pencil skirts and cigarette trousers are smart, elegant and quite sexy, though the fashion only comes alive in those few office scenes.

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