Keep it stylish

A film stylist's contribution to cinema and public consciousness is often underrated

Two films that have made a lot of noise lately (one for the right reason—its commercial success—while the other for its controversy-courting director) have one thing in common: their heroines are salwar kameez clad desis. While Aarakshan 's Deepika Padukone has jettisoned her glamorous frocks in favour of Indian ensembles at every public event to promote her film, Singham 's Kajal Aggarwal was utterly cute in her silk kurta-brocade border uniform in the movie. Interestingly, none of these films' stylists are known, or the Internet searches aren't helping.

The so-beautiful-you-want-to-bite-it Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara 's unsung hero is its stylist, the tour de force that is Arjun Bhasin ( Monsoon Wedding, Namesake, Rang De Basanti, Luck by Chance and John Woo's upcoming Life of Pi ), who has not only fashioned the movie with the latest from luxury labels, but also given each character a personality profile. Bhasin's only competition comes from his own sibling, the mightily talented Niharika Khan ( Rock On, Rocket Singh, Delhi Belly ). I thought her Band Baaja Baraat was the most perfectly styled film I've watched: right from the actors' clothes to the sets to the mood. Celebrity or unknown, a film's stylist is often its hidden hero. It's only in the last handful of years that filmmakers and film stars have understood this. A decade or so ago, a movement to prettify films was started by Manish Malhotra. His aesthetic was so soft and tasteful, even if a tad filmi, it made his predecessor Neeta Lulla tone up her act. Malhotra spawned many me-toos, but now styling—films, advertisements or fashion shoots, is one of the most sought-after careers by the young and trendy. Even Kangana Ranaut wants to be the stylist for her next film, and commends the effort that goes into it. Like Khan in Band Baaja , a good stylist doesn't just glamourise actors and the film, she considers the personality and economics of the character as well as the socio-cultural installation of the film.

Historically, film styling began in 1930s Hollywood when studios which apologetically copied Paris fashions had no idea what to do when hemlines changed before their movies were released. Thousands of reels of film were rendered outmoded. It was Samuel Goldwyn, the 'G' in MGM, who invited Parisian couture to Hollywood. He took Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel as her classic appeal would last a year or so it took to make a film. Chanel was offered a million dollars a year to design on- and off-screen wardrobes for Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Marlene Dietrich. She also worked on three films: Tonight or Never (1931), Palmy Days (1932) and The Greeks Had A Word For Them (1932). Sadly, her work was overlooked and criticised for not being flamboyant enough. Many European designers partook of the Hollywood pie, but it soon became evident that film costumes and elite fashion took different skills. In India too, Priyadarshini Rao and Malini Ramani were ostracised for not giving in to the whims of actors. And poor Suneet Varma was booed for rightly pointing out that one of Aki Narula-sourced outfits was a direct rip-off from Varma's older collection. A film stylist must have two passions-- street fashion and films—in equal measure. The first is to obviously conjure up something that has mass appeal. The second is to understand cinema and its unique, if unfair, workings. Stylists are paid pennies and are made to work very hard. Most respected award functions don't have a costume category even though every film has a stylist these days. Actors often have personal stylists and the red carpet is finally so attractive. I even know of a socialite or two who have their own to revamp their rich-wife avatars: Stylists are clearly the new must-haves.

Since movies and their trends are so widespread in their allure, better times are hoped for the fashion folk who make it happen.


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