If you were to sit down with any costume designer for 5 minutes, here’s what your key takeaway from the conversation would be: costumes speak before the character does, and that’s what makes their job assume critical make-or-break status. Fates are sealed in a matter of minutes after the first rushes of a movie are out; after all, it isn’t entirely unusual for an iconic lehenga to drive hordes of eager fans into the theatres. On the flip side of the coin, a well-fleshed out character that lacks the right level of nuance in the wardrobe could fail to strike a connect with the audience.
As we reach the end of another glorious decade in cinema, we are turning the clock back on all the style moments that defined the passage of time, and the lesser-known tales that made the magic happen. From the cult-favourite sari that was purchased at a local railway station to the purely logistical reason behind using an iconic yellow jacket in a slasher flick, these are the standout sartorial moments that we’ll be talking about at the end of the next decade as well.
1. Aisha (2010)
Rhea Kapoor turned producer with this 2010 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, with sister Sonam Kapoor playing the lead. The movie tossed all we thought we knew about onscreen fashion into a powder keg along with a burning match. The ashes cleared on the dawn of a new era. The 21-year-old producer brokered collaborations with Christian Dior and Salvatore Ferragamo. Cue the envy-inducing parade of Princess Diana-approved handbags, luxe fascinators and frothy couture concoctions plucked straight out of your Sex and the City moodboard. Chief stylist Pernia Qureshi had said in an interview, “We had a sizeable budget to travel around the world and scout for an eclectic wardrobe for Aisha. I have picked stuff which costs thousands of dollars and stuff from flea markets too. If there’s vintage Chanel and Ayesha Depala, there’s also Zara and Aldo.”
2. Band Baaja Baaraat (2010)
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi may have been her debut vehicle, but it is her portrayal of the strong-willed Shruti in Band Baaja Baaraat that officially made Anushka Sharma a name to be reckoned with. One of the movie’s most enduring visuals is Shruti dancing in a jewel-toned patiala suit to the beats of ‘Ainvayi Ainvayi’. Featuring a merry riot of colours, including mustard, blue, neon green and red, you wouldn’t be far off the mark for proclaiming that the colour palette was designed to take cues from the vibrant personality of its wearer. When not donning her festive best for her job as a wedding planner, Shruti’s off-duty style featured all the classic hallmarks of a Delhi girl’s wardrobe — think floral scarves, short kurtis and bohemian jackets.
3. Tees Maar Khan (2010)
Fresh off the block from feel-good romcoms, the aftermath of Katrina Kaif’s stint as the temptress in ‘Sheila ki Jawaani’ served as her defining factor in the decade to come. “The first and foremost thing that came to my mind was that we had to beat ‘Kajra Re’. My brief from Farah (Khan) was only to make Katrina look never-before-seen hot,” confessed costume designer Aki Narula. He further revealed, “The headline of my storyboard was Chicago meets Bhojpuri. I knew I had to use the kashti, the Maharashtrian sari. The red bandhani sari that she has worn was bought at Khar station. We then used it with a red choli, and another red sari was twisted like a rope to make the pallu.”
4. Dabangg (2010)
There’s no role that Salman Khan plays as well as playing Salman Khan. It should come as zero surprise that the lovable Chulbul Pandey became a cult favourite in the country, and went on to inspire two sequel installments. While the moustache and black aviators may be synonymous with the character, the road to finalising the look was littered with challenges. “Arbaaz would come with different kinds and sizes of moustaches and ask me to grow one on the basis of those. This was almost six months before the Dabangg shoot commenced. On the first day of the shoot, I tried different moustaches, but nothing worked out for me, only adding to the agony. Sonakshi [Sinha] had this thing for her dad’s moustache. So, I finally got inspired with Shatruji’s style. If you see my moustache, it looks similar to his,” the star divulged.
5. Guzaarish (2010)
You could never accuse Sanjay Leela Bhansali of pursuing commercial gains over creative coherence, and in retrospect, the dismal box office performance of Guzaarish doesn’t seem surprising. What the movie did leave us with though, is a window into Bhansali’s old-world leanings, from the vintage cars to the lacey, full-skirted aesthetic favoured by women from a bygone era. Juxtaposing her role as a nurse to a quadriplegic, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s wardrobe is flowing with the finest picks from Sabyasachi’s stable — albeit doused in a moody colour palette. “The first thing I knew about Sofia was that she would have red lips. In Indian movies, all the actresses look identical — dark eyes, pale lips and ironed hair. It takes a lot of confidence to be able to pull off red lips and nails,” the designer had told The Telegraph.
6. The Dirty Picture (2011)
Long before the body positivity movement had gained traction in mainstream consciousness, a full-figured Vidya Balan was twirling with gleeful abandon in The Dirty Picture. While the movie describes itself as a biopic on the life of Southern siren Silk Smitha, it is indeed a shining ode to the South Indian film industry. Every trope, innuendo and trick that the industry is known for is covered by the camera in lingering detail, from the scintillating wet saris to the flowing lemons by the hillside. The movie fetched costume designer Niharika Khan the prestigious National Award, and with good reason. Khan recounts that the biggest challenge was making Balan’s portrayal of Southern siren, Silk Smitha look silky, rather than vulgar.
7. Ra.One (2011)
With an ambitious amount of 100 crores earmarked for the costumes alone, Shah Rukh Khan’s passion project, Ra.One had a lot to live up to. The superhero costumes may have been engineered by a team of specialists in Los Angeles but it is one particular red sari that played the trump card. The red sari Kareena Kapoor sported in ‘Chammak Challo’ achieved cult status — even inspiring a wardrobe change for her wax statue in Madame Tussauds in London. Ace designer Manish Malhotra, divulged, “The song comes right after an action sequence so we had to maintain the continuity. The choreographer thought it better we tuck in the pallu. That meant making a pre-stitched sari overnight. We did it and the sari rocked! [The blouse] is full of oomph. The sleeves are sheer, in my signature style.”
8. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara (2011)
Down the decades, Bollywood has given us many iterations of the classic bride: we’ve had coy, demure damsels and rebellious runaway brides in equal measure. However, when Katrina Kaif literally danced down the aisle in the song ‘Sooraj Ki Baahon Mein’, it was hard not to expel a breath of relief. The fuss-free wedding gown, delicate wreath in her hair and the picture-perfect floral swing in the lake soon assumed prime space on wedding moodboards across the country. But Kaif’s dreamy wedding look wasn’t the only style statement the movie is remembered for today — a certain couture bag dubbed ‘Bagwati’ enjoyed a healthy share of the spotlight as well.
9. Rockstar (2011)
From strait-laced knits and tucked-in shirts to the military-inspired grunge look, Ranbir Kapoor’s wardrobe undergoes a makeover as the adorable Janardan is reinvented into the disillusioned rockstar, Jordan. His typical onstage wardrobe includes a rotating roster of devil-may-care, ill-fitted silhouettes and military-inspired jackets — a memento of his Kashmiri background and an underlying fascination with the armed forces. His rebellion of the system reaches its peak in the angsty anthem ‘Sadda Haq’ which sees him blatantly wearing an actual policeman’s shirt. Costume designer Aki Narula said, “As each chapter progresses, little elements are added on. He has a Hard Rock Cafe badge from a performance, he has a Free Tibet badge from the Dharamshala. He picks up the saafa in the dargah and that becomes his signature style…”
10. Cocktail (2012)
One of the movie’s biggest strengths is the potent mix of Indo-Western influences that dictate the yin-and-yang style of the lead actors, Deepika Padukone (Veronica) and Diana Penty (Meera). Costume stylist Anaita Shroff Adajania had said, “Veronica is very fashion-forward, mixing high street fashion with designer wear. Meera, being a middle-class girl from Delhi, is more conservative in her dressing – so she will keep her arms and legs covered as much as possible.” Indeed, while Padukone’s character made her onscreen entry in a sheer French Connection top, suede skirt and come-hither heels, Penty’s boldest look doesn’t veer beyond the bohemian romper and white shirt in ‘Tumhi Ho Bandhu’. And between the two of them, a generation that had been brought up on a steady diet of romcoms found their own sartorial coming-of-age moment.
11. Student of the Year (2012)
‘India’s answer to Gossip Girl chic’ would be the easiest way to sum up Karan Johar’s 2012 offering, Student of the Year. Even as the battle for the titular trophy waged on, Alia Bhatt’s Shanaya was bowling the competition over with her highly stylised looks. You’d be forgiven for imagining that Blair Waldorf occupied prime real estate on her moodboard — the penchant for statement headbands is just one of the many things that Shanaya shared with the wide-eyed ingénue.
12. English Vinglish (2012)
One of the shining stars of the late Sridevi’s cinematic legacy, English Vinglish is the kind of movie that stays with you long after the screen has faded to black. There’s a poetic poignancy to Shashi Godbole’s role as a housewife and dutiful mother, and a lilting sadness in her perceived inadequacy to face a world dominated by a language alien to her. True to her role as a Maharashtrian housewife, you’ll find the lovely Shashi clad in unassuming Nauvari saris, with minimal jewellery or embellishments, as she navigates the unfamiliar terrain of Manhattan. The tonal shift in the second half of the movie stems more from within than any fairy godmother-esque wardrobe makeover — she flips the pallu of her understated Sabyasachi sari over the shoulder, belts her trench coat and joins the throng of Manhattanites marching towards a new destiny.
13. Gangs of Wasseypur 2 (2012)
It would be a mistake to simply file Anurag Kashyap’s searing gangster drama in the town of Wasseypur as just another vendetta saga. The character Faizal Khan, portrayed to perfection by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, stands out. In between hostile takedowns and murderous outbursts, he delivered iconic punchlines (“Sabka badla lega” went on to assume cult status at the recently concluded World Cup) and made the humble gamcha a sartorial success. The instant popularity of his style statement meant that the movie’s marketing team handed out red gamchas at the Cannes Film Festival, which were then styled by Europe’s elite in attendance for the day.
14. Bombay Talkies (2013)
Capturing the essence of 100 years of Indian cinema isn’t a task for the faint-hearted, but directors Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar were clearly up for the challenge. Through their lens, we are introduced to the everyday, real-life people who consume Indian cinema, including one eight-year-old, Vicky. Enraptured by Katrina Kaif’s dance moves in ‘Sheila Ki Jawaani’ but corralled by his father into playing soccer, Akhtar gently follows along as he blurs the arbitrary boundaries of gender at a time when gender fluidity wasn’t the buzzword du jour. His forbidden fascination with fashion finds him sneakily dressing up in his mother’s and sister’s clothes and jewels — the sheer elation on his face on breaking free from gender binary will stay with you long after the end credits have rolled.
15. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)
The self-professed bookworm clad in her signature spectacles… and flirty mini dresses designed to flaunt those perfectly toned pins? It is fair to say that Deepika Padukone’s wardrobe in the first half of the Ayan Mukerji directorial beggared belief for the average first-bencher. However, there’s no denying the visceral pleasure in seeing her reunite with her former crush in slinky cocktail saris, itsy-bitsy cholis and glamorous blowouts. Definitive proof of the movie’s sartorial success can be found in the fact that the cobalt blue sari from ‘Badtameez Dil’ sold out within the first 24 hours of going live on Pernia’s Pop Up Shop, giving new meaning to the phrase overnight sensation.
16. Queen (2014)
Before she was embodying the role of a fierce warrior on the battlefield in Manikarnika, Kangana Ranaut was playing the (literal) queen of hearts. Rani’s physical and philosophical journey as she comes into her own is underscored by a wealth of nuance — including the gradual fading of her bridal mehendi over the course of the movie. Rani played her own knight in shining armour as she took on the unknown landscape of Europe in an intentionally ill-fitted blue kurta and wide-legged jeans. Manoshi Nath, who conceptualised the character’s wardrobe along with Rushi Sharma, explains, “Her ill-fitting, printed blue kurta epitomised her clumsy, fearful running in Paris, which transitioned to free-flowing, sunlit, gauzy and transparent-like Rani. And finally the peaches and lace dress in which Queen walks away from Vijay to her freedom. Her hair, her bag, her footwear, all of these subtly transforms Rani to Queen.”
17. NH10 (2015)
A crazed Anushka Sharma exacting vengeance while dressed in a statement yellow jacket — if you were reminded of a certain Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, you weren’t the only one. However, costume designer Eka Lakhani would like you to know that the colour palette was purely driven by logistical purposes. “Anushka had a lot of running in the dark and in the forest. It wasn’t lit up and we didn’t want to lose her, so we used this particular yellow. It is a colour that can scream, so we used an earthy shade of yellow for her hoodie. But we were still worried it will get lost. So that’s when the stripes (on the t-shirt) came in to play,” she decoded in an interview. The emphasis on keeping the styling close to reality was the motivating force for Sharma’s real girl wardrobe for the duration of the movie. “Throughout the film, she is wearing normal jeans, Puma shoes, a t-shirt and cardigan with a hoodie. That’s what you and I would wear on a road trip as opposed to a stylised look where you will see a leather jacket and leather boots. We wanted to keep it very real,” she added.
18. Bombay Velvet (2015)
Much has been said and written about Anurag Kashyap’s exploration of the criminal underworld of Bombay in the ‘60s, but storytelling flaws aside, there’s no denying that the proceedings are packed with style. As jazz singer Rosie, Anushka Sharma’s wardrobe included as many as 140 designer dresses, specially designed for the movie. Amongst the flurry of Gatsby-approved flapper dresses and mysterious fascinators, you’ll find costume designer Niharika Khan’s discerning eye for detail. “We researched everywhere. We got photographs, the library, the internet… we spent 3-4 months, if not more, on putting it together. Everyone brought in photographs from that era, which we then chose from, and designer Urvashi Joneja helped us with the costumes,” she revealed in an interview.
19. Bajirao Mastani (2015)
Such was the styling prowess of this magnum opus that the mere mention of the movie’s name instantly conjures up the visual of Deepika Padukone — standing tall and poised as the famed Mastani in an exquisite golden lehenga with an embellished turban perched atop her head. Despite being conceived in the early 1990s, the movie only saw the light of the day in 2015, giving director Sanjay Leela Bhansali adequate time to flesh out every last detail. When designer Anju Modi stepped in to bring his painstaking vision to life, she took cues from historical archives to create the movie’s now-iconic looks. “When they [Ranveer Singh and Padukone] are in a romantic mood, I have used soft colours. When he is in the war, I have used dark shades like bottle green, indigo blue and browns. Mastani was introduced to me as mystical and fearless. That’s how the ‘Deewani Mastani’ costume came into place, where she is dancing and proclaiming her love for Bajirao. There was a huge effort involved to make it [the turban] sit pretty on her head. We embellished it with jewellery, uncut diamonds and pearls. For her earrings, we took references from Nur Jahan and the eras gone by,” she told The Telegraph.
20. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015)
While edge-of-the-seats whodunnits are a dime a dozen in Bollywood, this Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer stands out from the pack. The inspiration from graphic novels is underscored by Dibakar Banerjee’s noir filmography to offer a fantastically styled take on Calcutta circa 1942. While Banerjee admitted in a previous interview with Film Companion that the highly stylised treatment of the source material may have alienated the masses who weren’t familiar with these stylistic devices, there is no denying the gorgeous visuals that the movie gifted us with. Years after its release, the movie is best remembered by the immaculate folds of its titular character’s dhoti as well as the omnipresent frown furrowing his forehead. In keeping with the fashion influences of the era, Nehru jackets were aplenty in Bakshy’s everyday wardrobe, as were the humble Kolhapuri chappals.
21. Dear Zindagi (2016)
Beyond cementing Alia Bhatt’s status as a certifiable force to be reckoned with, Dear Zindagi’s legacy today lives on as an unflinching mirror of the highs and lows faced by millennials in everyday life. The key to bringing Kyra’s character to life was in ensuring that her wardrobe was something that young girls could identify with — this translated into guilt-free street shopping for costume stylist Anaita Shroff Adajania. “I have purchased a lot of outfits from Mumbai’s street markets like Bandra and Colaba Causeway. I also picked up outfits from several high street brands, like H&M and Zara, but it wasn’t expensive at all. The details are in the eye makeup, the kajal, and the messy hair. I’ve played with the kind of eye makeup she does as someone who’d wake up with the previous day’s kohl-ed eyes,” she elaborated in an interview.
22. Simmba (2018)
Hindi cinema has played host to many memorable cops in the past decade, but it can be said that Ranveer Singh’s flamboyance makes him stand out from his predecessors. While Bajirao Singham’s grim-faced fight against the system was expressed in muted colours, Singh’s technicolour persona adds richer hues to the screen. The word ‘police’ is inked in Devanagri script on his forearm, and likely tattooed on his heart as well, as he proceeds to brave all odds and protect the integrity of his job. While the black aviators and twirly moustache may be flagbearers of the genre, costume stylist Naveen Shetty imbued some real-life touches to the wardrobe. “Rohit [Shetty] wanted Ranveer to bring his flamboyance to this character. So, he dresses in a specific way when not in uniform. Also, Rohit sir was clear that the character will not wear denims,” he explained in an interview.
23. Manikarnika (2019)
A queen is only as strong as her armour, and when Kangana Ranaut’s character stormed the battlefield — both in the political and militarian sphere — it was with the backing of strategic as well as sartorial armour. “All epic magnum-opuses require a lot of research of the era, characterisation, using the right fabrics to create the look and creating a style which the contemporary audiences identify with,” explains costume designer Neeta Lulla. The process of depicting Ranaut as the warrior bride saw her seeking subtext in colour — while the initial period of her reign sees rich jewel tones and greens as a symbol of prosperity, the colour palette quickly progresses to sombre neutrals in the latter half of the movie.
24. Gully Boy (2019)
After following the lives of the rich and the beautiful in Dil Dhadakne Do, director Zoya Akhtar pulls a neat 180-degree switch to the other end of the spectrum with Gully Boy. Shot on location in Dharavi, within sets created on a parking lot, the presence in the largest slums in the city affords the movie an additional layer of authenticity. Costume designer Poornamrita Singh admitted that none of the cast received specially designed clothes. The styling team took to the streets to source clothes from Chor Bazaar in Mumbai, where they picked up hordes of clothes for every character and later assigned them. Yes, the music is good, but one of the movie’s biggest strengths is the fidelity that it maintains to the world inhabited by its namesake gully boy — from Safeena’s omnipresent hijab to the rags-to-riches Murad’s pared-down take on street style.
25. War (2019)
After playing a Bihari math teacher in Super 30, the father-of-two pulled another volte-face by opting for the opposite end of the spectrum — a rogue special agent with statement-making streaks of grey punctuating his lush mane in War. Needless to say, the maturation of his onscreen persona instantly made headlines in an industry that prizes men who hang on to their youth, whether it’s with a starlet half their age or the addition of gravity-defying biceps. Make no mistake, Roshan has plenty of the latter, all of which he plans to use as he faces off against his one-time protégé, Tiger Shroff.