Rewind a decade, or more. To a time of celluloid innocence, a time of histrionics and performance but little style. A time when a teenaged Karisma Kapoor, daughter of the first family of stardom, broke through familial taboos of girls joining the industry and stepped into roles that belied her age. Albeit with the carelessness of the very young, guided by the lack of aesthetics of directors and bushy eyebrows to boot! This was not a time when Bollywood would score brownie points for style! And remember, the girl who was churning out films then, had more energy and gumption than pizzazz, being all of 16 years old.
Today, I am looking at the picture perfect image in front of me, sitting demurely in an armchair too large for her, and thinking, boy, has Karisma come a long way. Like a sartorial shooting star, blazing a fashion statement all her own. Earlier, she had bustled into the room, immediately upping the energy quotient, her frail shoulders hung with a huge Chanel day bag. Her Victoria Beckham jeans moulded a perfect derriere while the black Gap T-shirt remained her statement against a head-to-toe designer look. Fendi leather encircled her perfect waist. She glanced at the brilliant Dior dresses laid out on the bed and stated matter of factly, “Kalyani (Chawla) will be so happy if I wear Dior. She wants me to wear a dress anywhere, to any event. But, their sizes are too big for Bebo (sister and Bollywood star, Kareena Kapoor) and me.” Kalyani has obviously recognized innate style.
Rewind half a decade or so to Yash Chopra’s super-hit, Dil To Pagal Hai. “It all started with that, where designerwear became the trend for films. And with Raja Hindustani, the whole look became important.” While DTPH put fitness inspired sports looks on the fashion radar, the commercially successful, Raja Hindustani, had young moviegoers begging for the straight hair look that Karisma sported. A look that, may we add, has somehow remained in the audiences’ psyche even today. “Yes, Karisma has been iconic in changing the look in Hindi films,” says designer, Manish Malhotra, style Higgins to Karisma’s Eliza Doolittle. He recalls the sincerity and hard work that the young actor put into her makeover. “When we put the brown lenses on her for Raja Hindustani, her eyes had gone completely red but she faced the camera with confidence. My whole aggression she supported. Together, we completely changed the style of Hindi cinema.”
Back to that oversized armchair. The straight hair is momentarily dispelled by a wave of our stylist’s electric tongs. She shudders in her black and white Moschino blouse with the big bow under her chin and re-crosses her French manicured feet clad in impeccable Louis Vuitton limited edition sandals with the big silver and black butterflies. Her black Birkin bag will complete the look – all from her own two-and-a-half cupboard large, wardrobe. (Though she does admit to a Delhi wardrobe and a Mumbai wardrobe, with key pieces often flying up and down with hubby, businessman, Sunjay Kapur). Oh yes, the shudder is because she recalls the times she has had to wear outfits on screen that she would not go near in real life. “I remember many instances where I would be in a really heavy outfit and they would say, ‘gale mein kuch lagao’. I would be cringing. Nobody understood then that less is more!”
While the young actor endeavoured to bring fashion realism to Bollywood, there have been roles that she completely enjoyed portraying. “For me it was a gradual growth as an actor and my style growth and growth as a woman all happened together. In Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge, I liked my clothes, in Haseena Maan Jaayegi, I had worn baggy jeans, which was unheard of for an actress in those days.” Her favourite looks were in Fiza and Zubeidaa which were perhaps also her finest performances, meriting Best Actress Awards. “In Zubeidaa, my look was very ’50s, glamorous and authentic. I wore real jewellery from Gem Palace and some of the outfits were also genuine antique pieces. While, in Fiza, I was in Lucknowi outfits off the road and no make-up.” While these real life portrayals did not inspire her personal look in any way, bringing an actual character to life took a toll of her emotionally, Karisma admits now. “I was being myself and yet a character. It was very haunting, emotional. By then, I had just had it. In Hollywood, you find this kind of thing – like Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich but not in Bollywood.”
Who would have imagined that so many years after Karisma vanished from the silver screen, a veteran of 75 films, almost as many looks and several awards, she would continue to capture the imagination of the public and an aggressive press. This, after all, is the era of communication, knowledge and Karisma is a child, actually, of this digital generation, as evident in the fact that she was on her phone, texting messages right through this interview. This is the age of multi-taskers and she is one of them. Her pictures waft around the elecronic highway, even as she continues to make her private style statements. This works for her. The images on line stand out. Karisma in designer denims with a one-shouldered black top; Karisma in a white silver spangled one shouldered white sari (both by designer and protégé, Karishma Trehan). A neat black dress, avant-garde yet eternal. At a polo match, cheering her husband on in designer glares and Gucci bag, her long hair held up in a trademark high ponytail. These are potraits that are clean, clear, sharp, in a Bollywood over-laden with bling and spangle. She has a model’s figure that she puts down to good luck though she insists that she has (and probably controls) the Kapoor trait of love of good food. “The power yoga that Kareena goes, is too much for me. I prefer Pilates.”
“I think she is a true style diva. Whatever she wears, just comes across as class,” claims Bollywood star and younger sister, Kareena Kapoor, whose own mien is definitely bolder, more in your face. “She has always been very fashion conscious, even as a child she knew exactly what she wanted. After all, she has been born in a blue-blooded home.” The sisters share everything from confidences to clothes and shop together whenever they travel. Karisma admits to being distressed by the ‘size zero’ controversy that hung around her sister’s new trim silhouette. “What is size zero? Does it even exist? We are the same size and Bebo is not anorexic. She eats healthier than I do.” Their demeanours differ and while Karisma tries to tone down her sibling, Kareena jokes about adding more colour to Karisma’s wardrobe. And yet, Kareena claims that the kind of dresses her sister wears today, “people have a long way to go to understand that. But, she does it so naturally.”
Kareena has understood her sister best of all, I realise. Decoding Karisma’s dress sense has proved a bit of a problem for style enthusiasts who claim that she had little or none of it. The simple truth is that Karisma has been way ahead of her time. Her working years encompassed a time in Bollywood when actresses were seen and heard only on the screen. They did not make the appearances of today’s brasher era. And when she did emerge from her cocoon, Karisma suddenly appeared at a film premier in an Armani suit. Delicious, in today’s terms. Disastrous, ten years ago! “You are a heroine,” people told her. “You cannot dress like a guy!”
I am drawn yet again to that over-stuffed armchair with the sliver of poise, ensconced within, sipping green tea. She describes her own style as ‘classic chic’, stating that she loves to “dress very elegant with a twist”. Her pedigreed style shows in her carriage, her quiet poise. She loves black and white and disdains colour in her wardrobe. “Like me as a person,” she quips. “I have no grey areas.” Her grandfather (Raj Kapoor) “who made such classic movies”, loved white, she asserts, and so does she. (If you are seeing clingy wet and wild saris on voluptuous leading ladies here, you are on cue!) Chanel, YSL, Prada, Hermès, are her first choice of designers but she has never been into trends. “I go with what I like. The Birkin bag is so in today but I have had a Birkin for 10 years.” She dresses up-to-the-moment but is ensconced in a vibe that hails from another era. “I love the classic look and the elegance that came out of the ’50s and ’60s. Kareena would be more ’70s.”
Cine stylist, Rita Dhody can appreciate Karisma’s dress sense. “Of late, her look has become extremely chic – not chic and old but chic and sharp,” she maintains. “She is so toned and so fit, she can carry anything but she keeps it simple.” Malhotra asserts, ”With each day, Karisma looks better and better and better. Her style is simple and chic, like what a celebrity should do…. Like a Catherine Zeta-Jones who I saw in a New York boutique recently, shopping in blue jeans and a simple T-shirt.”
No surprise then that she is inspired by the classical looks epitomised by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Onassis. In today’s timeframe, she veers towards Jennifer Aniston’s clean silhouette, as well as the contemporary chic of Carla Bruni and the toned down elegance of Princess Rania of Jordan. And she looks to inspiration also within her own family. “My co-ordination has come from my Mum (yesteryear actress, Babita) and my mother’s mother who always said that we should be impeccable and coordinated but never totally matched.” And the fashion legacy continues as Karisma dresses her three-year-old daughter, Samaira, in look- alike clothes. “She is already becoming fashion conscious.”
And so we loop around to the question that must be asked. That everyone is asking. Will Karisma return to films, and when? “She will always be successful…. I keep telling her to come back to films,” Malhotra asserts. But the actress demurs: “When other young girls and boys were partying, I was making a life. There were days when I would do four shifts a day, jumping from set to set. It has literally been my sweat and blood in every film.” For her, it has been a much-needed break and that too when she was at the very top! “I am just being lazy,” she admits with a gleam in her eye, “I am looking for a great script. After all, it is in my blood.” In the same way that style and pizzazz unfailingly are!
Signature Style Sharp, clean, classic chic.
Designer Element Manish Malhotra, Karishma Trehan, Chanel, YSL, Prada, Hermès.
Style Secret “I can dance in a sari and high heels but I have only recently learnt how to drape a sari. For my films, I would just put my hands up and stand and my hairdresser would do it for me! I was so spoilt.”
Feels An Affinity To Designer jeans, tailored shirts and jackets, little black dresses, one shoulder sari blouses.
Colour Code Black and white. “I just can’t wear bright colours, except in films.”
Addictive Accents Sunglasses but “only in black”.
Fashion Mantra “Less is more.”
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