An excerpt from the book 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes by Sujata Assomull and Aparna Ram.

INTRODUCTION by Sujata Assomull

When two forms of art, one visual and the other applied, come together, they create a seamless moment that is remembered forever. This is how film and fashion complement each other.

Kareena Kapoor’s iconic costume from the film Jab We Met.

What began as a book of fashion illustrations from Hindi cinema with London-based Aparna Ram (a former investment banker turned illustrator) transformed into a nostalgic journey through the most iconic fashion moments of Indian cinema. With illustration, fashion’s oldest form of visual documentation, presently going through a renaissance, it is the perfect medium to take one through some of the most stylish looks worn by women in the Hindi film industry (or Bollywood, as it is fondly called). We hope to show how clothes, as costumes, play an integral role in cinematic language and how fashion, when crafted well, can help flesh out a film character and give birth to wider trends. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Bollywood. We decided to start with Aan (1952), India’s first Technicolor film, and to close with Veere Di Wedding (2018), a film wherein fashion almost serves as one of the lead characters.

What began as a book of fashion illustrations from Hindi cinema with London-based Aparna Ram (a former investment banker turned illustrator) transformed into a nostalgic journey through the most iconic fashion moments of Indian cinema.

Fashion, as seen in films, tells a story in a similar way fashion on the catwalk does. It interacts with the aesthetics and norms of the times. But films in India reach an audience no runway or fashion magazine could dream of. That is how Kareena Kapoor’s Patiala salwars worn with T-shirts in Jab We Met and Deepika Padukone‘s knotted off-shoulder T-shirts in Cocktail became every college girl’s must-have. These looks went from the screen to the street instantly – even red-carpet looks do not command such an instant appeal.

Deepika Padukone’s costume from the film Bajirao Mastani

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How and why has fashion become so central to Bollywood? Clothing can help define a character and add to his or her personality, even if it is through a detail you may not even immediately notice. An iconic look that is a product of the Bhanu Athaiya–Mumtaz collaboration is the flaming orange sari of Brahmachari. Moulded around Mumtaz’s body, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that it was the predecessor to the ‘concept sari’, now a staple in every couturier’s collection. The way that sari was made gave Mumtaz the freedom to move effortlessly in the song ‘Aajkal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche’.

The films chosen are ones that everyone involved had a strong recall for, had on-screen looks that inspired trends or were later copied in other movies.

There is ultimately no question that films impact the way many Indian women dress, and this is what we raise a toast to in 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes. In picking out some of fashion’s most iconic moments in film, this book traces the cultural history of both cinema and costume design in India, and will be of interest to fashion students, art historians and anyone who enjoys Bollywood. Though we did begin this project by also including men and red carpet looks, we soon realized that we were covering far too wide of a scope. Perhaps this book will spin off its own sequels.

Madhubala’s famous costume from the film Mughal-E- Azam

As part of our research, we spoke to a number of professionals in the industry, including editors, critics and directors, to add expert commentary on the films we looked at. The films chosen are ones that everyone involved had a strong recall for, had on-screen looks that inspired trends or were later copied in other movies. While this is not a definitive list, it represents how Indian fashion has changed through the years, how it always reflects the aesthetics of the time and how it impacts everyday style.

Image Credit: Sujata Assomull, Roli Books and Aparna Ram

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Excerpted with permission from 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes by Sujata Assomull and Aparna Ram, Roli Books.

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