Next Change


Next Change

New Delhi : Bollywood fashion has been about chiffon saris and hot leather skirts. But the gorgeous decadence of Guzaarish’s costumes hints at a different sartorial sensibility.

Thirty-seven long frocks, four dumpy shoes, a shawl with owls and talking parrots embroidered in bronzed thread, red YSL lipstick, goth Chanel nail paint, dull vintage jewellery and Nana Mouskouri glasses. That’s the wardrobe of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Sofia in Guzaarish. She is, as we know, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan playing a neurotically committed nurse in Spanish ghaghras, aprons with cutlery motifs and red-rust flowers in her braided hair. It is a tasteful assimilation of art as clothing that Bollywood hasn’t seen in a long time. Styled by Sabyasachi (in the credits, he is costume designer, not fashion director), Sofia lives perpetually in autumn even as seasons change.

However, for Sonali, Monali, Divya, Devendra, Rosy and Rumaan, faceless characters and sections of the audience, the lavishness of Sofia’s look is a problem. A nurse wearing red lipstick, they wonder on social networking sites. A Goan lady in dark, gara-embroidered ensembles? Isn’t she too decked-up around a patient with a death wish? Come on, they crib, who wears precious jewellery to serve soup?

This is a different set of questions from those bandied around when Kareena Kapoor, as surgeon by the day and a model by the moonlight, wore Aki Narula’s itsy-bitsy bikinis in Kambakkht Ishq, when Manish Malhotra turned everyone — Karisma Kapoor, Rani Mukerji, Urmila Matondkar, Kajol and their contemporaries — into chiffon damsels. Oomph is okay in any context, people seem to suggest, but covered-up ardour is misplaced. Guzaarish brings us some beautiful clothes, including Shernaz Patel’s woven saris and Nafisa Ali’s dresses, even if they do not fall into the realm of current fashion. Could it be that it is time to debate costumes versus fashion in Hindi cinema, to recognise that with designers of a different ilk taking to film styling, an alternative clothing movement has begun to emerge? To hell with fashion and leather, feather, fuchsia, gold, silver and neon, it says.

It is 6.30 in the morning and Sabyasachi is fuming when I call him at his Kolkata home. “Bhansali never claims that his characters live in real time. Isn’t everyone tired of the monotonous mess of hot leather skirts, tack and pink, and pelvic thrusts that define Bollywood?” Some are. So if we have Suneet Varma’s floral shirts and backless dresses for Barbara Mori in Kites, we also have Malaika Shenoy playing a TV anchor in handloom kurtas for Peepli . If there is a brand-besotted Sonam Kapoor in Aisha, there is Vidya Balan in organic saris and kalamkari blouses in Paa.

Filmdom is crowded with designers who create populist fashion. But there are others who interpret dreams and nightmares through clothing, the kind that becomes popular with those who want to swim against the tide. Some make commercial films, others art cinema. To judge art by appropriateness — in this case, a nurse must be minimally dressed — may be missing the wood for the trees. “Designing a wardrobe of contemporary costumes goes beyond just creating beautiful dresses for beautiful people. It requires an understanding of the character and the story one is creating for,” writes the celebrated Bhanu Athaiya in The Art of Costume Design. She too made a Spanish dress for Helen’s character Ruby in Teesri Manzil, for the cabaret O haseena zulfonwalli. A sexy, coquettish, flurry of a dress in red sequins and black net frill, worn with a red rose in the bouffant.

Sabyasachi’s layered Spanish maxis are in red and black with net sleeves, which, in his own words, are “a longer version of Anarkalis that reveal nothing”. He too styles them with dark-hued flowers in long hair. Athaiya created a seductress; Sabyasachi a lady in visceral mourning. Two interpretations of the Spanish costume for two different lives, the visions of different directors.

“I interpreted Sofia as a borderline depressed woman who had a Seventies hangover from her growing-up years,” says Sabyasachi. “She is stuck in a time warp, has a miserable personal life and work is her only redemption. She is from a Frida Kahlo painting, friendless and melancholic. For her, elaborate dresses, whimsical hairdos and red lipstick are weapons of defiance. Her clothes disrobe her character,” he says. Since the film’s release, Sabyasachi stores are ringing with queries for Guzaarish clothes and the vintage jewellery Aishwarya wears in the film. Just as Aki Narula was flooded with orders for the ties Shah Rukh Khan wore in Don 2, for Kareena’s churidars in Kurbaan and, as everyone and their neighbours know, for Rani’s kurtis in Bunty aur Babli. Manish Malhotra’s Bollywood saris are perpetually sold out from fashion stores.

Demand may do what Bollywood hasn’t managed so far. It may turn art into fashion.