Bollywood's dress designers, no more unsung heroes

Feb 17, 2008 Priyanka Khanna


New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) Gone are the days when no one remembered the person behind Amitabh Bachchan's knotted shirt in "Deewar" or Neetu Singh's bell-bottoms.

For funds-flush Bollywood, getting the look of the actors right has evolved into a fine art and designers are now walking away with accolades and applause.

Wake-up at 2 a.m. to look the part for the first shot at 11 a.m. is what the cast of "Jodhaa Akbar" went through during the making of Ahsutosh Gowariker's just released historical romance inspired by the opulent Mughal era.

Neeta Lulla, who designed for the entire cast of "Jodhaa Akbar" - from Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai, to a commoner walking on the road, is raking in as much applause as the actors of the film that released Friday.

Neeta is not new to costume dramas, having won a National Award for her designs in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas".

"Everything was well researched. Even then, I worked on this project for a year and half because there was very little information available about the costumes and jewellery worn during that period," says Neeta.

While she designed the clothes and the armour, which was crafted in Jodhpur, production designer Nitin Desai designed the weapons. The breathtaking jewellery was designed by leading jewellery brand Tanishq with inputs by Neeta and Gowariker.

The tie-up with Tanishq not only helped Gowariker recreate the grandiosity of the Mughal era but also got the film a lot of on-air publicity.

Ads of Tanishq's "Jodhaa Akbar" collection designed in gold, cut diamond, ruby, kundan and jade far out-number ads of the film itself.

Unlike the classic "Mughal-E-Azam", Neeta used a lot of warm tones in the film and designed clothes that are ornate but not completely un-wearable.

"I was aiming at a blend of both bringing back the grandness of those days in today's time zone," says Neeta.

Bollywood has come a long way from the days when the concept of a costume designer did not exist. The person handling the clothes department was for long known as merely a 'dresswallah'.

This, in spite of the fact that the only Indian to have won an Oscar so far is costume designer Bhanu Aitheya for her work in Richard Attenbourgh's "Gandhi". She got the coveted statue for Costume Design.

It took a true-blue commercial hit film like "Rangeela", in which Manish Malhotra designed Urmila Matondkar's costumes, to announce the arrival of costume designers in Bollywood.

The short dresses worn by Urmila catapulted her career and opened the floodgates for fashion designers to enter films.

Manish showed that designing for Hindi films was the best way to influence fashion across the country and designers stopped being snooty about associating with Bollywood.

"When I started, the industry used to work like five dresses for songs, three for romantic scenes, two for family sequences. I started designing according to characters," says Manish.

In the 80s it was always felt that commercial cinema sold dreams and dreams could never portray status of abjectness. But now with realism starting to make its presence felt in Bollywood, costumes have now come to form an integral part of the whole set up and become a vital cog in providing authenticity to the films.

Alas, commercial Hindi filmmakers are realising that clothes maketh the man.


The trend towards realism in Hindi cinema may well be welcomed by most, but it does make one long for outrageous get-ups that Bollywood was once known for. Remember Amrish Puri's Mogambo or Gulshan Grover's Bad Man? Then there are times when an actor grossly miscalculates a look and ends up being the butt of all jokes.

Even the big and the mighty have give audiences plenty of reasons to double over laughing with their sartorial disasters.

As Bollywood goes real, Aamir Khan's act as a small-time performer in a drama troupe in "Mela", Sanjay Dutt and Suniel Shetty in "Rudraksh", which made a sci-fi film look like a vampire movie, and Govinda's affinity for dressing up like he is in a fancy dress competition are some of the things that are surely missed.

However, Amitabh Bachchan's ostentatious get-up in "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom" drew considerable flak from critics and audiences alike, especially since the script didn't back his presence in the film

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