Free Press Journal

Bollywood: Style icons if the past

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The star fashion looks we reacted to on celluloid   

The legacy of many stars extended to their sense of fashion. Who better than veteran designer, writer and expert on world costume history to analyse the trend-setters – Wendell Rodricks exclusively for Cine Blitz.

In the history of Hindi cinema, there are many moments when stars developed a style quotient with the public. It was based on an aura that the star exuded. Their clothes came under scrutiny, their mannerisms were debated and the public decided in advance how the star was going to perform on celluloid. The legacy of many stars extended to their sense of fashion. We start at the beginning …the ones that rocked and shocked, created hysteria, became icons and sent people running to their tailors to copy a look. In retrospect, a few looks leave us with the ‘What were they thinking? What were WE thinking to clone those awful looks?’ that send shudders down our spine today. Let’s enjoy a ride through nostalgia till the present day.

Devika Rani was the star who dominated the first decade of the Indian sound film and set the standard for the post-1950 Hindi film heroine. Devika will be remembered for her infamous kiss in KARMA as much as for her vaguely Rajasthani-style look, knee-length dresses, sleeveless blouses and plucked eyebrows. Her look is the birth of filmi fashion in the 1930s.c7c


Dev Anand made himself the style icon of the 1950s and ’60s with his signature scarves, mufflers, jackets. Also his ‘puff’ created from a healthy head of hair. Looking like and inspired by his childhood ideal Gregory Peck, the dashing Dev Anand was a trendsetter and an image of eternal youth in Bollywood fashion. His stylish wardrobe and on-screen romantic image portrayed in songs like ‘Abhi na jao chodkar…’, ‘Jia o…’ and ‘Khoya khoya chand…’ had girls swooning over him. Do you remember Shah Rukh Khan in MOHABBATEIN (2000) where he is seen wrapping sweaters around his shoulders? That style was introduced by Dev Anand in his 1973 movie HEERA PANNA.

Nargis will always be remembered as the lady who could be desired and deified. The charisma of Nargis lay in her effortless charm and grace, simplicity and style. In our minds she will always be Raj Kapoor’s apparition in white. While Madhubala created a subtle sensual look and Meena Kumari mesmerised us with her melancholy courtesan look bedecked with jewels, it was Nargis that stayed forever in our minds as the Earth Goddess with her MOTHER INDIA image.

c7-bEver since she wore a bikini and body hugging ’60s styles for her film AN EVENING IN PARIS in 1967, raising many eyebrows, La Tagore left a legacy of fashionable bouffant hairstyles, arched eyebrows and Cleopatra-like winged eyeliner putting her in a glamorous space to become a style-sensation among her female fans. After she married the dapper Nawab of Pataudi, her style became more refined and sophisticated.

Think Mumtaz and what pops into the mind is a young, petite, effervescent image of a girl dressed in a figure hugging orange sari in BRAHMACHARI. It was not just the happy emotion but the style in which she draped it. Mumtaz became a sensation in Indian film fashion with smiling, sparkling panache. Besides her dazzling eyes and natural beauty, Mumtaz attracted everyone with her rare combination of innocence packaged in a sexy fashion statement.

There is no need to say more about Shammi Kapoor apart from the fact that he was Elvis incarnate. There are many of his generation who copied his dressing style, slick puff, cigarette pants and painted shoes. But there were an equal number who abhorred the shimmering, pelvis rolling, ‘greased lightning’ look. Today the look would never work. But back then, many fans loved this Elvis Made in India.c7d

What Helen gave us was the stuff of dancing dreams. Between the plumes, the fishnet stockings, the oversized sequins, the shimmer, the kitten heels and the vamp body, she created a look that was uniquely Helen. We, the public, began to expect the Helen caricature that we crafted in our heads. Fact is behind the grease paint and the dance moves, Helen is a sweet, simple, beautiful soul who is a pleasure to meet today.

The dapper, ruggedly handsome Jackie Shroff created a look all his own. It comprised a leather or denim blazer, open fronted fitted shirts with a scarf loosely tied around his neck, cowboy boots and sexy black sunglasses. Later, designer Anna Singh created a more sleek Shroff. Slick, designer skinny jackets, perfect shirts, branded belts and dapper shoes.

Amitabh Bachchan has been, is, and will always be a style icon for many reasons. Like a true thespian one can paint him into any film or real personae. His chameleon-like moves in dress have seen him go from all white John Travolta style to ’80s baggy pants, from that famous hairstyle to a neo beard today. Whatever Mr B wears, he has the style and panache to pull it off effortlessly. Whether in Indian or Western, this gentleman’s style will always stay on top. Shah Rukh Khan has followed in this style; especially in Western formal suits. But leave it to Bachchan to carry off Indian shawls and humble kurtas to perfection.c7e

Rajesh Khanna’s jackets and suits of different types in PREM NAGAR, HUM DONO, RED ROSE and DHANWAN were style statements in the ’70s and ’80s. The Guru kurta, which was once worn by poor farmers and humble politicians, came into fashion when Rajesh Khanna started wearing it. The kurta continues to be in vogue both among young men and women from 1966 till date. The trend of wearing sunglasses became fashionable from 1971 in India due to the way the superstar wore them in ANDAZ. Similarly the Dhaka topi (among other hats) were made popular by the charming Rajesh Khanna.