We were only at the warehouse of Dharma Productions in a cramped industrial area of Mumbai's Goregaon East, but we wouldn't have been more overwhelmed had we walked into a venue and Shah Rukh Khan came over with a glass of champagne and Anushka Sharma ushered us to a front row seat to a fashion show of all the costumes worn by the stars in their movies. They may not be there in person, but at the enormous Dharma warehouse you can feel their presence everywhere – they are there by name, by film and most importantly by their wardrobe.
The upper floor of the 13,000 sq ft, high-ceilinged warehouse has identical glass-front metal almirahs lined up in narrow aisles – it is like entering a vault of a large bank or storage company. The process feels even more so as we pass the big, intimidating glass case of keys in the office where Vishwas reigns supreme. He is the costume manager here who can tell you exactly where Alia Bhatt's kurti from Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya is or Jaya Bachchan's sari from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham hangs. He is just a smart man because he needn't really memorise these things – there is an entire system of inventory on the computer that keeps track of every lehenga, leather jacket, slipper, sneaker or towel that passes through these doors.
It is staggering, this business of Bollywood – the enormous amounts of money, the stars, the gorgeous locations, the thronging fans and of course, the lavish costumes. People remember the movies they watch as much for the songs, the emotions, the dialogue and the stars as much as the costumes. Madhuri Dixit's purple sari was as much a conversation piece as the song Didi Tera Dewar Deewana that was played and played at weddings all around in the 90s. What would a real Bollywood fan give to lay her hands on these iconic costumes, right?
A big question on our minds has always been, what is it that happens to these fabric pieces of Bollywood history once the film is canned? And who better, we thought, to ask that question than Karan Johar – from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Ae Dil Hai Mushkil his movies have been as much about the fashion as the emotion. In an interview to Film Companion, he had said, "Clothes are my thing. I can't help it. I buy things I don't need, I buy things I can't fit into, I am crazy. I don't do drugs, I don't smoke and drink, I just shop. And I live vicariously through the clothes my characters wear."
We asked him to allow us take a peek into his film wardrobe, and what we got to see was a Bollywood archive in clothes – Katrina Kaif's lehenga from her song Chikni Chameli, Alia Bhatt's school jacket from Student of the Year, Ranbir Kapoor's Louis Vuitton backpack from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, a separate trunk just full of Anushka Sharma's beanies and boho handbags from the film, and a lot more. There is a military-style precise method to managing this madness – after the shooting is over every piece of garment used in a production is dry cleaned, packed up and sent here where it is photographed, numbered, tagged, inventoried and entered into the system along with name of movie, its colour and description. And you thought just making the film was the hard part.
Those who are concerned that the pricey designer costumes just lie around or are thrown away once they are off Kareena Kapoor or Kajol's back, needn't worry. The proper inventory is for a reason – so that the garments can easily be found in good condition for reuse. There are trunks and cupboards full of accessories too – handbags, jewellery, shoes, belts etc. from every brand that you can think of. Shah Rukh Khan is of course above labels – we found the collars of his shirts from Dear Zindagi tagged 'Specially crafted for SRK'.
The day we go there, winter coats and knitwear are lined up on a rack on the stylist's orders for the shoot of an upcoming movie. "Background dancers and actors in future productions go on to use the clothes. Deepika Padukone's lehenga from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was turned into a sharara, saris are turned into dresses and reused. This is the sari Kajol wore in the last scene of K3G. So far we have changed the border and used it in at least 10 more Dharma movies," Vishwas tells us, holding up a yellow ombre sari that looks kind of familiar – also giving us ideas on how to recycle and reuse our own wardrobe.