The recently released Bollywood movie Pathaan marks the return of superstar Shahrukh Khan to the big screens after a four-year stint. Pre-pandemic, King Khan was notorious for releasing flop film after flop film, and objectively– Pathaan wasn’t any better. But, the film was an ode to the Bollywood we knew and loved and an ode to Shahrukh Khan, who since 2019 has been the target of India’s rising anti-Muslim sentiment. Viewers flocked to screens to see the star in all his glory, but I’d argue the natural cherry on top for the blockbuster was the actors’ styling.
The Evolution of Bollywood Styling:
In the early 2000s, Bollywood was a trendsetter and hub for creativity. Some of the looks are still applauded on Tik Tok, like dupattas with mini dresses or Kareena Kapoor’s Indian-red leather set in You Are My Soniya. Generally, on-screen looks were characterized by a perfect blend of East and West with a general ethos anchored in Indian suitabilities.
For instance, let’s take Katrina Kaif’s iconic bright pink set from the song Jee Karda in the movie Singh is King. The top of her blouse has a repeating chikankari-esq blue motif embellished with traditional Indian mukaish work. Her skirt is made from a crushed bandhani fabric, typical in Rajasthan. Similarly, Zeenat Aman’s orange-tinted sunnies and bindi in Dum Maaro Dum, Aishwariya Rai’s ornate gold corset with micromini jean skirt in Dhoom 2, and Anushka Sharma’s kurti and jean combinations in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil are all stunning amalgamations of East and West.
This golden era of Bollywood styling took a turn in 2020 when outfits began to look like our social media feeds. Movies like Malang and Gehraiyaan, were supposedly creating aspirational wardrobes for characters, featuring dull colors, boring silhouettes, and cult fast-fashion pieces. Bollywood wasn’t a fashion authority or trendsetter at the time. But that changed with Pathaan.
Is She Stylish or Just Tall and Skinny?:
The age-old question, but Deepika Padukone’s looks in Pathaan affirm the former. As someone far from the tall and skinny body type, I can see myself confidently wearing all of her outfits, and I can imagine other women rocking them, too.
In all her Brown Girl Magic, we see Padukone in daring cuts, bright colors, mixed and matched prints, and elaborate jewelry. Indian maximalism was on full display, with homegrown brands such as Ritu Kumar, Radhika Agrawal Jewels, and the sustainable and artisan-focused Chicory Chai incorporated in all the titular looks from the movie.
It’s become quite rare in Bollywood to see filmmakers embrace the Indianness of it all. Even Deepika’s makeup was designed to highlight her brown skin and natural features. In an age when even our personal photos don’t see the light without a filter, the filmmakers unabashedly showed Padukone’s ingrown leg hairs, familiar to many Indian women. The authenticity and creativity of Deepika’s looks foreshadow a new era of Bollywood fashion where films will once again set trends and steal hearts.