All of us have seen Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movies, from ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ to ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’, the man has a way of telling his story not just through the dialogue but also through the costume worn by the actors. The extravagant (and heavy) Indian clothing, regal jewellery, and royal attire are the signature of his movies and make them even more unforgettable even after decades of release. Let’s discuss some of his movies that changed costume design in Bollywood forever:
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam:
These two ensembles are remembered still after 2 decades after the movie’s release
Between dancing on ‘Nimbooda Nimboooda’ to wanting to own one of Nandini’s sarees, we all grew up. Designed by Neeta Lulla and Shabina Khan, the costumes in ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ were a milestone for the Hindi Film Industry, from the first scene itself the costumes set a tone for the region the movie is based in, Gujarat. The characters are mostly seen wearing Gujarati sarees and ghagra-choli during the first half of the movie, and even as the plot shifts from India to Italy, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali never lets the movie lose its grand Bollywood feel.
These three stills from the movie showcase the development of Nandini
From the childlike and playful Nandini in ‘Manmohini’, wearing a flowy and colorful ghagra-choli, the young and romantic Nandini in ‘Chand Chhupa Badal Mein’, wearing a lavender lehenga and crystal jewellery and finally the sad and matured Nandini during the second half of the movie, wearing silk, georgette and organza sarees teamed with shawls or a long trench coat for the winter, Nandini’s costumes indicate her mood and character development very well throughout the film.
The ‘Lal Paard’ wore in the song “Dole Re Dola’
Considered the most expensive movie to costume in its decade, ‘Devdas’, is set in Bengal as evidenced by the red and white Bengali sarees aka ‘Lal Paard’ in the song ‘Dola Re Dola’. The costumes were designed by four seasoned designers, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Neeta Lulla and Reza Shariffi. This level of glamour, extravagance, and beauty in all colours possible was unparalleled and never seen before on the big screen, in fact, Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla won the National Award for Best Costumes for the film.
Paro’s sarees were 8-9 meters long and draped in complex draping styles for a grand look
The movie was nothing if, over the top, it was popular news back in the day that 600 sarees were bought from Kolkata for Paro’s wardrobe. Multiple sarees were used for just one look and new draping styles were created just for Paro, and the draping reportedly took 3 hours at a time sometimes. In addition to that, Paro’s sarees were 8-9 metres long as compared to the traditional 6 metres saree, for a grander look.
Dixit’s costumes weighed 10-15 kgs and had intricate zardozi and mirror work
Chandramukhi can be seen wearing Banarasi brocade and silk sarees and ghagras with zardozi embroidery and real mirrors, it was widely said at the time that every ensemble worn by Dixit cost Rs. 15 lakh on average. A ghaghra worn by the actor in the song ‘Kahe Chhed Chhed Mohe’ weighed around 16 kgs and it was meant to be danced in, another costume worn by Dixit cost around 10 kgs and was completed in two months by artisans.
Devdas’s two looks were in stark contrast with each other
As for the protagonist, Devdas, during the initial shots of the movie, has just returned to India after 10 years of studying abroad, which can be seen in his vintage, western, and sophisticated clothing which was brought over from London; oversized suits, vintage handkerchiefs and hats, and derby shoes gave Devdas a suave, sophisticated, and ‘James Bond’ look. In stark contrast to that, for his alcoholic avatar, Devdas is seen looking absolutely messy and depressed in his white or beige dhotis and chikan kurtas, along with angvastaras (shawls) demonstrating his melancholia but also how he could never let go of his sophistication.
Different from the two last movies, ‘Guzaarish’ was not a ‘regional film’ per se, but that doesn’t mean that it was any less grand than the two. The movie’s costumes, designed by the world-famous Sabyasachi Mukherji, had it all, apart from the realism of course as those outfits were far from practical for a nurse. Although based in current and urban times, ‘Guzaarish’ still reflected director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s and designer Sabyasachi Mukheriji’s old-world styles as is evident from the setting of old Goa, ornate and carved wooden furniture, even vintage cars, and of course, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s costumes.
Sophia’s costumes were a beautiful blend of European and Indian aesthetics
Kantha embroidered aprons, panelled ghagra-skirts, European style tops and maxi dresses, brocade cholis with tie-up backs (with peek-a-boo lace bras), lantern sleeves with zari borders and dupatta scarves in cotton, velvet, net and silk, boho or gypsy jewellery, and of course, the rose in the hair, Mukherji presented a perfect romance of Spanish and Indian aesthetics through Sophia.
Now talking about the wave of Ranveer-Deepika films directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, these movies not only started the Ranveer-Deepika romance but also became landmark period and “Indian” movies that have left an imprint on our hearts, so now let’s look at the grand, regal and royal ensembles that were featured in these movies:
The characters’ emotions and the setting of the scene are reflected in their clothes
Designed by Anju Modi and Maxima Basu, the costumes in this movie were nothing short of ‘goals’ for girls of all ages during that time. ‘Ram-Leela’ is set in a village in Gujarat and the cast looks just the part, decked in traditional yet modern ensembles of cotton, mulmul, and velvet in colours of red, white, black, and sometimes blues and purples, filled with mirror and go to work, worn along with silver oxidised jewellery and heavily kohl-rimmed eyes. Just like in ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, the wardrobe in the film depicts the mood of the film and its characters, with the two protagonists wearing layered and generally jovial attires featuring some vibrant colours during the initial and romance-filled half of the film, then moving to more subdued and mature colours and accessories during the latter and more melancholic half of the film.
Deepika’s ensembles had multiple layers and sometimes even weighed 30 kg
Deepika Padukone’s costumes take a completely and archaically traditional route, extensively featuring heavy embroidery, placement motifs, rich bandhani details and embellishments. Alluding to the romantic theme of the film and the region it was set in, the designer used a rich colour palette of reds, and pinks, adding a bit of neutrality with white and black to tie it all together; the layers and flowy-ness of the clothes worn by Deepika’s character, along with huge earrings depict her carefree and fun nature. The palette of her clothes later shifted to darker tones with more usage of black to signify her mood and maturity, with her wearing smaller and lighter jewellery and lining her eyes with kohl even more heavily. Along with that, Leela wore a lot of custom, backless cholis, layering her outfits with long and heavy dupattas to give her some personal style which became a staple for girls. All of this made Deepika’s outfits especially heavy, with one weighing 30 kg which she is seen sporting on the poster of the film.
Ranveer is seen sporting a combination of traditional and modern styles
With loud prints, bright colours ripped jeans, turbans and heavy jewellery, the street and play boyish look Ranveer Singh wore in the film had become a fashion inspiration for many boys in the country. The inspiration for the look designer Maxima shared in an interview was the Rabari tribesmen. “Ram is a character who is exposed to the world but he lives in his village in Kutch, so his clothes had to reflect that duality,” she explained. During the first half of the film, you can see Ranveer’s character sport vibrant and funky shirts with almost all the buttons undone teamed with ripped jeans and chunky belts showing his character’s eccentric personality, later exchanging jeans for dhotis and shirts for embroidered jackets or blazers paired with turbans to reflect his character arc from a boy to a man.
A contrast can be seen in the costumes of the three characters,
owing to differences in gender, religion, status and culture
Anju Modi and Maxima Basu returned for the next Bhansali film, ‘Bajirao Mastani’, and along with newcomers Salvi Chandrashekhar and Chandrakant Sonawane won the national award for best costume design that year. Set in Maharashtra in the 18th century, this region was untapped by Bhansali yet, but nonetheless, he executed it with perfection, with the costumes not only reflecting the complexities of the characters being portrayed, but also representing the grandiose of that period in our history and the traditions of that region through the three vastly different characters of Bajirao, Kashibai and Mastani.
Mastani’s outfits have Persian influences
Deepika Padukone’s character in the movie is part Muslim, which is reflected in her wardrobe as she is seen decked in warm-coloured, floor-length anarkalis and angrakhas paired with polki, pearl, and kundan jewellery alluding to her Islamic roots. Mastani is not only a dancer but also a warrior which can be seen when she dons an iron armour, then when she moves to Maharashtra to be with her love, the romantic theme can be seen in her clothes as she starts wearing colours such as red, pastel pinks and blues, finally moving on to a deep red Maharashtrian saree in the song ‘Pinga’, later on when taken captive, her sorry state is evident in her clothes which are dull and solid.
Kashibai can be seen wearing Maharashtrian-style pink and purple sarees
Now coming to Kashibai, Priyanka wore light and soft silhouettes to prevent looking bulky and seem like a softer presence when compared to Deepika’s character, Mastani. She mostly wore cotton and silk ensembles in colours that Marathi women wore at that time which were onion pink and purple that were obviously draped in the Maharashtrian style. To reflect the modest and shy nature of Kashibai in contrast to Mastani’s bold nature, she is seen wearing minimal jewellery made of pearls, stone and diamonds paired with the traditional Marathi nathni. Even during the despairing period of her life and the movie, she continues wearing the same kind of attire to depict the pride of being a Peshwa’s legitimate wife even though he has brought home a mistress, and to show the world that everything is the same as it was.
Bajirao’s ensembles change in color and grandeur according to the mood of the scene
Dressing up Bajirao would have been the most challenging, as he is the king and has to look the most regal and authentic to the time period. The designer seems to have learnt the authentic way of tying a Maharashtrian dhoti, and researched the war dress codes of the time as Ranveer Singh’s character is seen wearing a lot of angarkhas which were a staple of that time’s Maharashtra, the dhoti and angarkha was also the perfect attire for war as it didn’t restrict any movement. With Bajirao, the perfect equilibrium is achieved in his styling by dressing him in opulent and regal ensembles in reds, oranges and blues, teamed with the exact replicas of headgear worn by the ‘peshwas’ during that time in court scenes, and him wearing solid and subtle colors in scenes that were more emotional or that showcased his private life.
While talking about a few films from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s vast filmography doesn’t do his craft justice, it sure does present a solid case as to how he pioneered positive change when it comes to costume design in India, with his films setting an example on how to stay authentic and still not lose that grand Bollywood feel.