No red carpet appearance in India took our breath away, wedding couture clashed for attention becoming a fireball of fuzzy ideas, Thugs of Hindostan crashed despite its dramatic costumes, Zero got sub-zero marks for its failure to explore psycho-cultural nuances through body and gender and Padmaavat established the ornate "lehnga" as the ultimate installation of sartorial excess. These appearances define our times. The world we live in is choked by excess. If Ranveer Singh is a tuxedoed Madonna from time to time and Vidya Balan has firmly pulled herself out of the rat race of who wore what without becoming irrelevant as an actor, heroines wearing long lines of sindoor and choodas in red Banarasi saris mirror the reassurance that perhaps only tradition offers. These are compelling cultural studies in the year of #MeToo. So before Pankaj Tripathi exchanges his charm of casual-cynical machismo for the slavery of floral jackets in 2019, Radhika Apte -the girl on most fashion magazine covers this year—starts gawking at her own celebrity and Rajkummar Rao becomes a regular fashion week showstopper (that's what he did at Rajesh Pratap's Tencel show at Lakme Fashion Week this August), let's get over and done with 2018.
Eleven, reasons why.
Reckless in body language, in pursuit of the dark ecstasies of Bombay dance bars at night, lustily hoarse, with her red-maroon lips, blingy gowns, short, sticky gold hair and love for diamonds, gangster Ganesh Gaitonde's high maintenance transgender girlfriend Kukoo in the Netflix series Sacred Games burned bright. Played by Kubra Sait, Kukoo waltzed around, drunk on love and loss. In her sequined clothes with cleavage-happy necklines, she was wrapped sometimes in faux fur stoles but mostly in the naked realization that she was at the centre of the heat and the flash and the noise. If briefly. That nakedness of knowing too much too well made her sexy, never mind if you didn't want to have sex with her. That's what illicit fantasies are about. Quirky, volatile, risqué. Costume designers—Ashima Belapurkar and Prakriti Rajpurohit take a bow for Kukoo's blingy badass looks, boobs on show and all.
Reams were written about Deepika Padukone's bridal clothes—for the undeclared yet valiantly fought Bride of the Year Award—in her wedding to actor Ranveer Singh. So she looked "ethereal" as some will insist in her Kanjeevarams and brocade dupattas. But if our tall, slender, elegant Mangalorean beauty really kicked ass, it was in May at Cannes in a purple Mao pant suit. Wow for Mao and Three Wows for Deepika herself. Slick open hair with a side parting, the wide flare of her pants, the height of her heels, the gritty glitter of her gold accessories and under-eye black eyeliner with lots of (L'Oreal?!) mascara. Shaleena Nathani, her stylist got it right. By far the best look from an Indian cine star in 2018. Hit me baby…one more time.
In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat, this year's unchallenged study in excess, was a gem that was more sapphire than ruby, a texture that was more mulmul than velvet, a wardrobe that was layered yet seductively minimalistic. Played with witty nuance by Jim Sarbh, Malik Kafur the eunuch slave-general and confidante of Alauddin Khilji was given a suave appearance by costume designer Maxima Basu. If you didn't pay enough attention to the diaphanous white mulmul drapes (with thin silver borders) of Malik Kafur, the soft prints on his turbans that sat on his unruly hair, his barely-embroidered Angarkhas, their strings untied to reveal not only his chiseled chest but also his fired ambitions, see the film again. Every single time Kafur said "Sehib" to the monstrous Khilji, something fluttered. Exactly how androgyny should look and feel in clothes.
When the colour black is co-opted to push a narrative, it locks horns with noir tales in intriguing ways. It didn't work out as seamlessly as that in Kaala, Pa Ranjith's saga of the slumdog savior from Dharavi starring the 67-year-old Tamil superstar Rajnikanth. Nevertheless, the "untouchable" ex gangster Kaala's costumes – a dark life which he tries to redeem by bringing light to the residents of Dharavi – did tell their own story. His black dhotis with white selvedge borders had the texture of handwoven textiles, the kurtas fitted rather well, unbuttoned on top, they revealed collars with concealed plackets, the black vests embraced the hero with unrelenting loyalty and the aviators gave him swagger. Stitched and unstitched garments joined hands and the clothes stood as much for honour as for power, an interesting flip. Black works best when you know where to position it between your brain and brawn.
It is such a fashionable film…it's a film with such fabulous styling …oh you must see Neena Gupta's block prints … Swara Bhaskar's dresses are so sexy…Kareena Kapoor Khan looks so ravishing…there is plus size chic and luxury brands, high-waisted pants, white shirts, cropped tops…even a dildo that you can't see. All that may well be. But could anyone really get out of Veere Di Wedding without being whacked by the hair-raisingly tacky costumes, saris bathed in bling, Karol Bagh synthetics embellished by family politics, righteous polyesters with button-shutton, zari-vari, worn with fake polka-kundan jewellery, and the hai tauba, kitty club of aunties and mummies? Exactly. Lesson of the year: whenever there is a Bimbo Summit (a New York Post headline in 2006 about Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in one photograph), let's not be too quick to say who the bimbos are.
Writer-director Sharat Katariya's Sui Dhaaga about the life and times of a tailor and his astute wife was high on cloth metaphors. It had scenes that showed the distribution of Usha sewing machines to enable rural livelihoods, the unfair goings-on in large cloth manufacturing units and how fashion design competitions are won or lost. Amongst its top takeaways was the "maxi" that Mauji (Varun Dhawan, playing the tailor protagonist) and his wife Mamta (Anushka Sharma) make for his hospitalized mother. A functional hospital gown made from recycled fabric, it was a statement on sustainability. But the memorable costume highlight were Mamta's printed synthetic saris. And the way Anushka wore them without fuss, almost like drudgery jeans. Wash and wear fabrics from Surat, the world's second largest synthetic textiles centre, these affordable polyester saris need no ironing and represent the closet truths of Indian working classes. The ubiquitous wear of Bharat after Khadi became elite.
Boring, boorish, loud and garish. There would be many such adjectives to describe the clothes of centenarian Dattatreya Vakharia played by Big Bachchan in 102 Not Out, Umesh Shukla's flabby comedy. But no argument for the ordinary Gujju's cultural lack of style that supposedly inspired this characterization can excuse the sloppy, multi-coloured, collared T-shirts, peach coats, fabric jholas, silly caps, sunglasses and assorted paraphernalia of Datta-dadaji. A disarray of colours and cheerful combinations is too pat a way to show plus sized optimism in a film. That's formulaic. Senior citizen resilience is much needed in our society but the easiest way to make it a caricature is to ruin it with clothing stereotypes.
There is no one like Katrina Kaif when she dances. Chikni Chameli, Sheila, Kamli, Kala Chashma, Mashallah or Suraiya. More. Encore. She is not woman; she is snake goddess. She is not diva; she is a bomb. She is awe-inspiringly goddamn good in the way she moves mixing Bollywood jhatkas with the jazz of her body. But what's with those clothes—same kind of itsy bitsy cholis with plunging necklines, same pulled-below-the-belly button ghaghra-skirts and drapes with long slits. Same glossy lips, nude makeup, loose, wavy hair. Same, same, same. You can shut your eyes and imagine Katrina in song and dance—Suraiya, Sheila and Kamli will leap into your imagination—but what did she wear in which film and which song? For the record, she wore a black-red brocade and sequined ghaghra with a slit and choli in Thugs of Hindostan. But if Kaif must be the desi rockstar, pop-star, item star inside Hindi films, then her stylists need to stop thugging style.
Maximalism! Did someone use that word for this season of super- sized, look-at-me, ostentatious weddings? Well, for Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a cross over star now qualified to teach a masters course on how to monetize weddings, mixing charity with magazine covers, statements of style that skid all over, launching a dating app after wearing her bridal chooda, tying business and pleasure in knots that could live happily ever after, the 75-foot bridal veil worn with a beautiful Ralph Lauren hand beaded and embroidered white dress was the story headline. Question is: how should we read this story? As the love story of two celebs who spent a fortune to say I-Do? As a style story with some peaks but a bunch of troughs too—count her turquoise blue sari at Udaipur airport, the tons of Sabyasachi diamond jewellery worn with the red lehnga choli among them. Was it a business story where smart, celeb strategy soared above all else? The only way to make sense of Priyanka's bridal veil -pretty, lacy and embroidered with sentiments, the longest in the world as she said in an interview and spectacular too, would be to understand what the Quantico star was really trying to convey. And that won't be a short story.
It's easy to criticize Karan Johar's whimsical wardrobe on his formerly entertaining and currently fun-less show Koffee with Karan. But that's not the point. For an intelligent man who makes films that tug at the heart strings of large sections of Indian filmgoers, a person who stands for who he is, a candid host who talks about fluid sexuality on a popular TV show, a single man who turned father through surrogacy, Karan is not someone whose wardrobe can be just called an eyesore and shrugged away. The thing is that Karan Johar styles himself like a "24×7 celebrity", he wants to look like his films and the man he claims to be. Presumably, he dresses like the perception people have of him, a perception that has been directed by him. How can he stray too far from it? Unlike let's say Aamir Khan who doesn't speak like a star, dress like a star or arrive like a star, KJo wants to unmistakably be a celebrity. His velvet coats, floral blazers and belted jackets must then be assessed within that matrix. So who do you like? Karan the celebrity with his loud wardrobe? Or Karan the smart director-anchor who voices his beliefs in life and style? It is the same difference.
Appearances last when they are tested to their core. If you stay out there too long to look the way you always did, you end up looking like a freak. But if you accept the way life mutes and promise to mirror what you feel, you look beautiful. Coy words these but may describe a bit of Sonali Bendre after her cancer diagnosis. She fought but not angrily with the disheveled asides of cancer. She photographed her bald head before and after chemotherapy, she also photographed her dark circles. She documented her new wigs and hair pieces, she also told us of the books, friends, food, faith and fight that helped her keep the light in her eyes. We saw her in fitness gear but she didn't hit the other extreme by appearing in gowns and glittering lehngas to portray her wellness. Folks, applaud Sonali Bendre, cancer fighter, for The Look of the Year. A portrait in balance and acceptance. A middle path warrior. This is what victory looks like.
This story is in partnership with The Voice Of Fashion. To read more stories like this, visit www.thevoiceoffashion.com