On October 30, 1997, 20 years ago Bollywood’s legendary romantic Yash Chopra released what was then marketed as the country’s first ‘musical’ on the big screen – Dil To Pagal Hai. The script was flimsy, the characters sketchy, but the lavish production went on to become the highest earning film of the year and today stands to be a classic, for many good reasons – the music, the performances, the choreography and definitely the fashion. If you were born in the 70s and 80s, you know what we are talking about – Madhuri coyly seductive behind the translucency of ivory chiffon, Karisma confident and fabulous in lycra and shimmer, we all wanted to look like at least one of them. Our masterjis and tailors would attest to that.
Manish Malhotra is the man who translated Chopra’s sartorial vision on to the screen two decades ago. A trendsetter in many aspects, the film also introduced us to Bollywood styling as we know it today. Malhotra sourced the western looks in the film from various stores in India and overseas, a first for any film at that point, and continued this with his next projects Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001).
We asked the designer to take us behind the scenes on how he balanced the creamy chiffons and steamy lycras to come up with a film wardrobe that hasn’t still dated, even though every dialogue of the romantic fantasy film has.
Glamourous Sporty Wear and Minimum Styling
Yash Chopra is the one director I was waiting to work for, and with Dil To Pagal Hai he was trying a completely new kind of film, new technicalities and more youth oriented. Initially I was supposed to be doing only Karisma’s costumes, but ultimately went on to design for Madhuri as well. The film introduced glamorous sporty wear and minimalism in styling.
Yash Chopra’s Fascination with Fabric and Colours
Madhuri’s clothes got really popular, people loved the lace, sheer kurtas and beautiful chiffons but they were extremely difficult to execute and tailor. Yashji had a fascination for fabric and mixing colours, and he wanted to see everything that was being made. We had an enormous number of trials and fittings with Madhuri. In the title song, you will see Madhuri wear a simple beige kurta with pants and a printed scarf, that something very unique at the time.
Yashji was one of the coolest directors and he believed that western costumes should not be tampered with. And I imbibed that. He was the first director to pick up readymade clothes, what has today become ‘styling’ in Bollywood films.
The Story Behind Branded Sportswear
Karisma’s sporty and young look was one of the highlights of film, and Aditya Chopra was very involved with that. I remember I was in London and found myself standing at the DKNY store there. I called Aditya and asked if I could buy just two sporty outfits for Karisma from there. He said go ahead and that is what started the trend of designers picking up international brands and introducing them in movies here. In one part of the film that we had to give sporty look to Madhuri as well, and I worked to make her look different. If you see the poster of the film with both of them together, you can see the contrast.
There were so many fakes of the DKNY outfits here all over India. Even Madhuri’s style was copied heavily. Years later some fabric supplier from Surat told me, “You don’t even know how much money we made out of copying those garments.” I didn’t have my own label then, otherwise I would have made all of that money.