It’s a rare Indian bride who doesn’t waltz into a designer’s studio with a reference or 10 to an on-screen look that she wants replicated for her D-day. From classic references like Rekha’s gold kanjeevaram, gajras and red lippie look to modern contemporary references for sangeets and bachelorette parties, there’s a beeline for every half-decent costume on screen, never mind the sighs over a truly spectacular one. We list our favourite B-town couturiers who’s set the screen alight with stunning and memorable costumes:
Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya is the mother lode for every serious costume designer today, 20-something wannabe ‘stylists’ included. The daughter of a painter from Kolhapur and a Fine Arts gold medalist, Athaiya started her career as a freelance fashion illustrator for women’s magazines like Eve’s Weekly, before moving to films and creating history in 1983, by winning an Oscar for Best Costume Design for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, one of the five Indians to do so.
She had a successful career much before Gandhi though, having designed costumes for under a hundred films. She got her first break with the great auteur Guru Dutt, designing the simple, realistic and elegant costumes for his films like C.I.D (1956) and Pyaasa (1957). It was of course the sublime Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) that had her gorgeous traditional saris score on the marquee. Meena Kumari’s look as the desperately lonely and alcoholic chhoti bahu with her trademark bindis and resplendent silk saris was the original precursor of the ‘styled’ look that’s de rigueur today.
Post-Gandhi, Athaiya continued her winning streak, with a National Film Award for Lekin (1991) and Lagaan (2002). It’s reported that Athaiya returned her Academy Award to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because she felt that her family would not be able to take care of the trophy after her demise. A tribute was paid to her body of work at the opening of the South Asian International Film Festival, New York in November 2005.
For someone who launched her ‘career’ with one sewing machine, one kaarigar and only Rs 500 as capital, Neeta Lulla — the high priestess of Instagram worthy wedding lehengas — has come a long, long way. Her label now has four verticals, Nisshk, Neeta Lulla, Little Nisshk and N Bride, serving over 10 lakh clients including B-town denizens.
Lulla’s breakthrough was with Sridevi’s monotone chiffon saris and sleeveless blouses in Chandni (1989). That urbane, easy breezy style was followed up with the blitzkrieg of Devdas (2002) where Lulla’s everyday glam went OTT in line with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s vision. Be it Madhuri Dixit’s 30-kg mujra outfit or Aishwarya Rai’s never-ending white and red sari pallu dragging through a haveli, Lulla created a threatrical — but easily replicated for fearless brides in real life — storm, of yards of silks, brocades, velvet and bling that could blind the unsuspecting. She won a National Award for the film, also bagging awards for Lamhe (1991), Jodha Akbar (2009) and the Marathi musical Balgandharva (2012)
The middle-class Bengali boy from NIFT who redefined Indian wear for the world at large and specifically every Indian bride with a television set, Sabya is known and adored amongst both the classes and masses, never mind if you can’t afford even a dupatta from his classical, vintage-inspired dreamy ensembles.
Making a rebellious statement in neutrals like blacks, wines and browns — when Indian wear was and is all about the rani pinks, oranges and turquoises — Sabya’s earthy Indian princess-meets-prim Russian czarina aesthetic didn’t find many fans when he sent Vidya Balan and Aishwarya Rai to Cannes, togged out in heavy black, gold and khaki velvets. The couturier found his celluloid soulmate in — no prizes for guessing — Sanjay Leela’s Bhansali. His costumes for the somber Black (2005) won him a National Award. Following this up, he dressed Aishwarya Rai in school marm’y but sensuous frocks with risqué necklines in his favourite black, wine and red colour palette. As the youngest board member of the National Museum of Indian Cinema, his styling is eagerly looked forward to in another artistic epic on screen.
Rimple and Harpreet Narula
Guess whose troika of stores in Ludhiana, Delhi and Chennai are going to see a spurt in footfalls post-December? Ludhiana-born Harpreet and his Delhi wife Rimple are no greenhorns on the fashion scene. Apart from their standalone stores, they’ve been retailing their intricately embroidered lehengas, sarees, kurtas, blazers and sherwanis from Aza, Kimaya, Aara fashions in Dubai, Beautiful Phulkari in London and Sanskrit in Hong Kong. They’ve been designing for Bollywood celebrities for a while, but it’s probably their Amazon Fashion Week collection inspired by the Maharajas from the British Raj era that set the stone rolling for a ‘princely’ debut on screen. They went one extravagant step further with ‘Hiraeth’ — their collection for India Couture Week 2016. A medley of inspirations — from Amrita Pritam’s Punjabi poetry to the weaves of Uzbekistan and Baluchistan, to paisley and bird motifs — the resplendent cloaks, jackets and robes in ivory, gold, marsala, and midnight blue made magic on the runway. Where else would these theatrical couturiers head but to the sets of the costume drama of the year — Padmavati!