As a piece of cinema, Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale was one of the most tiresome films of last year. Within minutes of its start, the story starts skidding crazily from sense to nonsense, a pattern that defines it till the very end. A silly script even by Bollywood’s brand of improbability, humour that veered from banal to barely funny with fast cars and deafening guns dashing in and out of the storyline, all the film had was a certain polished “appearance”. From a mouthwateringly delightful blue leather jacket worn by Shah Rukh Khan early on in the film when he still works with his father Vinod Khanna in Bulgaria to his funky remodeling garage for cars in Goa in the latter half where Varun Dhawan plays a tediously vain amateur, the film tries to erect a matrix of “looks”. SRK looks good as does the young and fresh Kriti Sanon. Dhawan’s effortful acting is nerve-grating but Kajol looks so fabulous throughout that her presence works as a redeeming factor in the idiotic film as well as a style bonanza.
I watched Dilwale at a multiplex in Maryland near Washington DC with family on the day after Christmas. Barring a few Americans, the audience comprised Indians living in the US. Given their reactions, most seemed to love the film. They laughed frequently and loudly which can hardly be taken as a bad sign. “Bollywood mein aur hota kya hai,” (what else can you expect from Bollywood) said someone from a group sitting next to us inadvertently fusing the banality of the film with that of the Hindi film industry. Oh-ho, so this is what they make of Bollywood: colour, chaos, unfunny humour, tired wisecracks and actors who looked better than they acted. Good for Rohit Shetty, I muttered to myself.
But the moment Kajol wafted onto the screen in a long indigo blue dress when she is hit by one of SRK’s reckless cars, I stopped and gaped. Was this the same actor who had always acted better than she looked? Who had styled her? Wasn’t 2015 unexpectedly ending on a riveting style note from a Hindi film—the land of failsafe fashion formulas?
Honey coloured hair with an undertone of dark brown, soft waves that must have taken hours to create with curlers and hairdryers, luminous eye shadows and eye pencils in grey silver, black and smoky shades with a generous use of kohl, fresh incandescent lip glosses, minimal or no accessories, except statement finger rings that denoted rock star glam, chunky and strappy high heels, skirts, shirts and gowns that flattered her curvy yet slim figure, this was Kajol at her glamourous best in a film appearance. She has looked very good in the past--in Karan Johar’s highly stylized Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, even in Fanaa or the latter half of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai but in all these roles, her performance far outsmarted her clothes.
It’s the other way round in Dilwale. Kajol carries off her role squarely, but you keep getting distracted by how she looks and what she wears.
All those lovely skirts, long swirling gowns, shirt blouses, a geometric patterned DKNY black and white dress to the very last shot where she dances in abandon in a fluorescent fuschia sari worn with a corset blouse, Kajol is a stylist’s dream come true. Full marks to Tanya Ghavri, her stylist, for turning her out like this. Her saris and flowing gowns in the scintillatingly picturised song Gerua shot in Iceland were created by Manish Malhotra—they look gorgeous too.
I had clearly missed the fuss and fancy around Kajol’s Dilwale fashion in the weeks before the film’s release. When I sat down to trace it back, I found numerous photo blogs on how gorgeous the actor looked in the trailers and the film’s promotions from UK to Dubai and Delhi. I even found an article debating her skin colour; Kajol reportedly told the writer that it was because of staying at home for years instead of working in the harsh sunlight that her formerly tanned skin had lightened.
There is an obvious fashion story here: of Kajol known for her nuanced acting becoming 2015’s most interestingly styled Hindi film actor. But what particularly intrigues me is that for someone who is now 40 years old, chose to be a stay-at-home mom for many years, who was never known for her trendsetting wardrobe or her red carpet appearances which have been bland, even rebelliously non-glamourous, at times, Kajol’s dress act raises the bar for celebrity styling. Especially for younger actresses like Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut and Anushka Sharma who avidly jog on the glamour track to keep their celeb resumes fit. Most had great roles last year, but none looked as stunning as Kajol did.
It’s a fabulously tough act to follow not just for other actresses but also for Kajol herself. Will she be able to live up to it?