Changemakers: Twenty Women Transforming Bollywood Behind the Scenes tells the story of twenty incredible women, many with no prior connections in the industry, who have carved successful careers despite significant challenges. An excerpt from the chapter on Anaita Shroff Adjania:

Anaita’s rise from stylist to style guru is a testimony to talent and grit. Over two decades, she’s parlayed an abiding devotion to fashion into an impressive career. Moviemakers clamour for her to dress talent, brands chase her to publicize their wares on social media, and corporations hire her to provide employees style tips. Each year since its inception, she has been on the influential and widely read fashion website Business of Fashion’s index of 500 professionals shaping the global fashion industry. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the International Indian Film Academy’s (IIFA) Best Fashion Stylist of the Year award twice.

Not everyone works with Kim Kardashian West and Pharell Williams in the span of a few months, and certainly not many Indians. Yet Anaita is at ease, whether she’s with the hottest Bollywood superstar or a major global fashion icon. Even though she’s a big fashion player, her own attire is simple and dressed down. She loves jeans and boyfriend shirts that are three sizes too big. In a room, she is usually the most underdressed person. Dark, thick, long hair and large black Dior eyeglasses, which she converted from a favourite pair of sunglasses, frame her face when she’s reading or looking at a screen. She gives off an air of friendliness and approachability, a far cry from the stereotype of an intimidating, dour fashion editor. Her shoes are always comfortable and padded in anticipation of the many hours she knows she’s going to be on her feet.

In a room, she is usually the most underdressed person. Dark, thick, long hair and large black Dior eyeglasses, which she converted from a favourite pair of sunglasses, frame her face when she’s reading or looking at a screen.

That’s not to say she never does edgy or sexy. She loves lacey slip dresses. Once she and Deepika Padukone went out dressed identically— in a black lace top and torn jeans. ‘Of course Deepika looked 100 times better!’ Anaita jokes.

Historically, stars have always impacted the public’s clothing choices. In the early days of Hindi cinema, costuming was dominated by tailors and dresswallas, all of whom were men, writes Claire M. Wilkinson-Weber in her book, Fashioning Bollywood. ‘Prior to the mid-twentieth century, costume design was the prerogative of dressmen, dresswalas and personal tailors, all of them men,’ she explains.

Later, women like the celebrated Bhanu Athaiya, who won an Oscar for her work in the movie Gandhi; Leena Daru, Shalini Shah and Mani Rabadi forged a new way in costume design. As Wilkinson-Weber notes, these designers, who came to the fore in the 1960s, never aspired to head a costume department with a team under them. Instead, they worked for individual stars in a film that might have multiple designers. In fact, it was quite common for actors and actresses to wear their own clothes in films.

Prior to liberalization, things were different. Moviemakers didn’t pay as much attention to the clothes their characters wore. Gaudy sequins and mismatched prints ruled the roost. Anyone who recalls 1980s costumes will remember how ashy they could be. In fact, the word Filmy was used as a pejorative. There were notable exceptions, however. Umrao Jaan, a period film which tells the story of a Lucknow courtesan, caught the public’s imagination with its lavish costumes and elaborate jewellery.

Prior to liberalization, things were different. Moviemakers didn’t pay as much attention to the clothes their characters wore. Gaudy sequins and mismatched prints ruled the roost.

In the 1990s, films began to reflect a more contemporary, urban aesthetic. As advertising and fashion gained momentum, post-liberalization, India’s fashion landscape underwent a sea change as multiple luxury and high-street brands, both domestic and foreign, invaded the market.

The country’s tastes were evolving. People looked Westward in a way they never had before. Cable TV boomed and with that, a plethora of outside influences hit the nation’s shores. The way films looked began to change as young film-makers like Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar burst on the scene. They made films about people they could relate to—young, urban, contemporary, a fluent characters who were Indian at heart but global in their outlook. Their movies’ costumes had to reflect trendy and cool dressing that was relatable to Gen Next.

Today, the importance of attire in the look, feel and mood of a film is a given.

As Deepika says, ‘Styling is an equally important part of filmmaking. It is as important as your visual effects. It’s as important as the sound and what your DoP brings to the table. For me, as an actor, 50 per cent of the battle is won when you look the part. You look at yourself every morning in the mirror before you give your shot and as much as it’s important to feel the character, to go through the process emotionally, the physical transformation is the other half of the battle. I think we have done that very successfully in films like Love Aaj Kal or Cocktail.’

‘Anaita’s styling me in Cocktail was a huge turning point for cinema, not just for me and my career,’ continues Deepika. ‘From a fashion point of view, every now and then you will have that one film that will sort of set the benchmark. Cocktail was that. It was a combination of the character I was playing and the way she visualized and helped me bring Veronica to life. The look became aspirational. When clothes like that become available in the market from the tiniest stores to the biggest stores, when girls want to start looking and dressing like certain characters, you know you have created something iconic.’

Even as film directors started paying more attention to the look and feel of a film, very few films were adding stylists to their crew. Styling was still a nascent concept. It was pioneered by the late designer Rohit Khosla in the late eighties and nineties, when he notably worked on tasteful ads for the sari brand Garden Vareli. In 1995, designer Manish Malhotra memorably transformed actor Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela. At that time there were only two strong fashion voices in film, says Karan Johar. ‘Manish changed the fashion game and Anaita brought in her own fashion syntax,’ he says.

Excerpted with permission from Changemakers: Twenty Women Transforming Bollywood Behind the Scenes by Gayatri Rangachari Shah and Mallika Kapur published by Penguin. Pages – 304, Price – Rs 399

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