Whip tease —1935
In 1935, stunt actor Nadia, or Fearless Nadia, brandished her whip as she posed in her knee-high boots and mask. The Hunterwali’s accessories—boots, whips and shoes—soon appeared in the market.
Curling up — 1936
The love curl or kiss curl perhaps remains unique to Indian film stars, seen on Devika Rani in ‘Achhut Kanya’ (1936), Vyjayanthimala in ‘Madhumati’ (1958), Madhubala in ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ (1960) and Asha Parekh in ‘Teesri Manzil’ (1966). A lock of hair stuck down and fashioned into a shapely curl hanging on the forehead or turning into the cheek is an instant reminder of yesteryear films.
Fringe benefits — 1961
Remember Sadhana and you can’t help but think of her Audrey Hepburn-like hairstyle, known as the ‘Sadhana cut’—a kind of fringe first seen in ‘Hum Dono’ (1961) and still referred to by that name over 45 years later.
Fittingly fashionable — 1965
The sari was paralleled by the ‘churidar-kurta’, which provided a unique fashion influence. The short, fitted ‘kurta’ remains synonymous with Sadhana in ‘Waqt’ and Asha Parekh in ‘Teesri Manzil’ from the 1960s. Many years later, in 1996, the style was revived by Karisma Kapoor in ‘Raja Hindustani’.
Long live the sari
The sari has morphed to suit the heroine’s character, whether a coy bride, a simple middle-class woman, an aristocrat or a sensual, confident woman. Some leading ladies, such as Vyjayanthimala, Rekha, Hema Malini and Jaya Prada, remain loyal to the more traditional variations such as the ‘Kanjeevaram’. Sridevi carried off a modern, sexier version as she sang ‘Kaate nahin kat te’ in a bright blue sari in Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Mr India’ (1987).
Cabaret queen —1966
Helen’s bold outfits were a match for her sensual moves in hit songs such as ‘O Haseena Zulfon Wali’ ( ‘Teesri Manzil’ , 1966), ‘Piya Tu Ab To Aa Ja ’ ( ‘Caravan’ , 1971) and ‘Mehbooba mehbooba’ ( ‘S holay’ , 1975). She remains the ultimate Bollywood cabaret queen whose energetic dances and westernized look formed the fantasy sequence within the film. Though her ornate and minimal costumes were admired, Western fashion and accessories were hard to come by in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Shape of things to come — 1967-present
In the late 2000s, an actor’s ability to carry off a bikini makes headlines. Sharmila Tagore glamourized the one-piece as early as 1967 in ‘An Evening in Paris’ but Zeenat Aman showed how it was done when she wore a bikini in ‘Heera Panna’ and later, in ‘Qurbani’ . Recent movies from ‘Dhoom’ to ‘Kidnap' have heroines confidently parading two-pieces. Will this change with Priyanka Chopra’s sexy gold one-piece in ‘Dostana ’?
Hair raising —1969
The bouffant, or bird’s nest hairdo, is unforgettable as seen on Sharmila Tagore and Sadhana in the late 1960s. It remained in vogue into the 1970s until the new glamour heroines, such as Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, opted instead to wear their hair down. Farah Khan reintroduced the beehive look on Deepika Padukone in her 2007 homage to the 1970s, ‘Om Shanti Om’, complete with heavy eye make-up and pale lipstick.
C is for chiffon—1980-2000s
Chiffon saris in pastel shades were draped snugly around the heroine’s voluptuous figure right from Yash Chopra’s ‘Chandni’ (1989) until they became Manish Malhotra’s preference for Kajol in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ . We can’t forget Kajol’s saris in the ‘Suraj Hua Maddham’ song in ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ . Malhotra resurrected the chiffon sari for Sushmita Sen in ‘Main Hoon Na’ .
Cut above the rest—1993
If the sari transformed, the ‘choli’ was not to be left behind. It came out of hiding when Madhuri Dixit suggestively asked ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai’ in ‘Khalnayak’ (1993). As sensuality came out of the closet, the blouse too became a sexy garment. Aishwarya Rai’s snug and short choli from ‘Kajra re’ in ‘Bunty Aur Babli’ (2005) had the Bachchan men swooning and women rushing to their tailors for replicas of the magenta and blue polka-dotted brocade outfit.
Mad about Madhuri—1995
The biggest fashion phenomenon of the mid-1990s must be credited to designer Anna Singh. Her purple and gold sari for Madhuri Dixit in ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?’, though not worn in a wedding scene, became quite the rage and the most coveted garment in a bride-to-be’s trousseau.
Courtesy Rajshri Productions
If the Bollywood lover is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve, circa 1998, the lead actors in Hindi films also started wearing their designer labels on their chests. In ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, Kajol sported DKNY and Guess leisurewear, Karisma Kapoor publicized DKNY in Yash Chopra’s ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ (1997), while Polo Sport was seen in ‘Mohabbatein’ (2000), and Preity Zinta’s skirt screamed Von Dutch in ‘Salaam Namaste’ (2005). Now, as we step into luxe label designer terrain, film stars carry Pucci, Gucci, Christian Dior and Herve Leger.
Hips don’t lie—2000s
As the shape of the Bollywood heroine went from a size 2 to a size 0, the hipster sari was crafted and after the curvaceous figure of Mumtaz, found respectable mannequins in Shilpa Shetty (‘Dhadkan’ and ‘Metro’) and Aishwarya Rai (‘Shabd’).
The classic Indian woman and her demure disposition was revisited by Vidya Balan. The tones and elegance of a period look were seen in her costumes in ‘Parineeta’ (2005) and ‘Eklavya’. Earlier, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Devdas’ had more opulent styling and the saris worn by Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai became such a rage that a Devdas clothing line could be found in city malls and Devdas saris were remodelled as salwar suits to capitalize on the retail demand.
The ‘kurti’ became the garment of choice for working women and students in the 2000s, looking smart and versatile whether teamed with jeans or a long skirt. Movies such as ‘Yuva’ , ‘Fanaa’ , ‘Metro’ , ‘Rang De Basanti’ and ‘Pyar Ke Side Effects’ mixed and matched the look for Kareena Kapoor, Kajol, Shilpa Shetty and Mallika Sherawat, in which they were dressed in gypsy skirts, with a short top or singlet and accessorized with chunky jewellery and a cross-shoulder sling bag. The costumes worked because they looked like they had come straight out of the character’s closet.
Nice and easy—2005-present
In 2005, when Rani Mukherji saluted from the posters of ‘Bunty Aur Babli’, dressed in a sheer, striped Pathani and a bright mini ‘kurta’ with a cotton sack slung across her shoulder, there was widespread enthusiasm to replicate the look. Kareena Kapoor pulled off a similar look in ‘Jab We Met’. Its popularity had a lot to do with how fun, Indian, flattering and easy the look was.