Silhouettes of Indian Style (II)

Key feminine fashion forms of India, inspired from Indian Cinema reimagined in a black and white bricolage.

Cinema, particularly Indian Cinema is custodian to the country’s culture, mirror to its present and alchemist of its future. It effortlessly takes the mantle of high-art, low-art, art-house, the underground, popular culture and sub-culture. An extraordinary melting pot that produces nothing less than magic with historical biopics, family dramas, multi-billion dollar sets, magnificent dance sequences, mesmerizing music, its larger-than-life Stars and their pioneering costumes. It would be no exaggeration to state that there is no pervasive influence to the hearts, minds and fashion of over 1.3 billion citizens quite like the Stars of its Silver Screen.

With its inception in the 1890s, Indian cinema has witnessed a phenomenal progression through the eras of Silent Films, the Talkies, the Golden Age, and modern and contemporary periods, functioning as a lynchpin for various decades and India’s burgeoning design language.

This two-part exhibit is an interpretative bricolage of the key fashion silhouettes from Indian cinema that have infused the Indian aesthetic with their transformative capabilities and vice –versa.

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Dress Sari (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


With the shimmer, glitz, and flash similar to that of Charleston dresses, the cocktail sari began to appear on the silver screen around the late 1920s, popularised through icons such as Seeta Devi, Devika Rani, Patience Cooper, and Zubeida.


While cinematic themes of the time revolved round social reforms, sacrifices, and liberation, the fashion encapsulated an amalgamation of Indian and Western style. The cocktail saris were made from lace, satin, cotton, and silk and were worn artfully loose - concealing,  yet revealing, at the same time.

Devika Rani in Karma (1933)Original Source: Himanshu Rai (Producer)

Fatima Begum (1920s)Museum of Design Excellence

Film still of Enakshi Rama Rao in Shiraz (1928)Original Source: Himansu Rai (Producer)

Seeta Devi (1920s)Museum of Design Excellence

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Power Suit (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


Mary Ann Evans, or more popularly known through her stage name, Fearless Nadia, was intrepid in defying gender stereotypes through both the roles she took on and the power suits she adorned for those roles. Her action oriented roles called for clothing that would support her movements and stunts - straight-cut pants, shirts, and waistcoats as seen in her box-office hit Hunterwali (1935). 


Fearless Nadia’s venture into what was originally considered to be “a man’s attire,” gave way for several women to adopt these and alter these garments to supplement their non-traditional roles. In Aan (1952), for example, Nadira wears a waist-defining shoulder-padded blazer, breaches, boots and a cravat, with short, curly hair. 

Film still of Fearless Nadia in Hunterwali (1935)Original Source: Homi Wadia (Producer)

Film still of Nadira in Aan (1952)Original Source: Mehboob Khan (Producer)

Indian Movie Queen (1963) by James BurkeLIFE Photo Collection

Silhouettes of Indian Style | Sonam Kapoor (2022) by The House of PixelsOriginal Source: The House of Pixels

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Play Suit (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


Notions of freedom, liberation, self-expression and identity showcased themselves through the playsuit - tied-up tops, cropped tops, t-shirts, or sleeveless blouses paired with fitted, high-waisted, shin-length pants. 


Popularised on screen through Nargis’ iconic role in Shree 420 (1955), the playsuit inspired women to deviate from their conventionally “feminine” wardrobe and to embrace non-traditional styles and garments.

Film still of Nargis and Raj Kapoor in Shree 420 (1955)Original Source: Raj Kapoor (Producer)

Film still of Nutan and Kishore Kumar in Dilli ka Thug (1958)Original Source: S.D Narang (Producer)

Movie Queens (1941-11) by James BurkeLIFE Photo Collection

Nargis (1950s)Museum of Design Excellence

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Handloom Sari (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


The versatility of the sari is a product of a range of traditions, conventions, beliefs and customs that arise across the Indian subcontinent. Whether it is colour, design, fabric, or drape, the sari has seen numerous iterations since its inception in the post-Mughal era. 


While the sari has supplemented a number of different narratives, amongst its most popular would be the saris in complementing nationalistic sentiments during India’s freedom struggle. In the 1940s and 1950s, hand-spun khadi - a symbol of the swadeshi movement - became the go-to material for saris.

Nargis (c.1950)Museum of Design Excellence

Nutan (1940s)Museum of Design Excellence

Indian Movie Queen (1963) by James BurkeLIFE Photo Collection

Nutan (1940s)Museum of Design Excellence

Film still of Sadhana in Parakh (1960)Original Source: Bimal Roy (Producer)

Meena Kumari in Saheb Biwi Aur Ghulam (1962)Original Source: Guru Dutt (Producer)

Eventually, actresses such as Meena Kumari, Rekha, and Sridevi embraced the sari in their own style and flair. Meena Kumari in her magnificent, silk Banarasi sari in Saheb, Biwi aur Ghulam (1962), Sridevi in her diaphanous, chiffon sari in Mr India (1987), Shabana Azmi in a simple, elegant cotton sari in Ek Din Achanak (1989), and Rekha in her opulent, silk Kanjeevaram sari in Zubeidaa (2001), have become standards for sari drapes, fashion, and styles. 

By Lisa LarsenLIFE Photo Collection

This is a typical handloom sari

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Slim Suit (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


While the churidar kameez finds its origins in Pakistan and North India, the tight-fitting churidar kameez was  made popular in the 60s by actor Sadhana. Working alongside costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, Sadhana conceptualised the body-hugging churidar suit, with shorter, tighter kurtas for her role in Yash Chopra’s film Waqt (1965).


Sadhana paired this variation of the churidar-kameez with mojiris and her eponymous haircut, a look that eventually established itself as a hallmark in Bollywood fashion in the 1960s. 

Film still of Sadhana and Sunil Dutt in Mera Saaya (1966)Original Source: Premji (Producer)

Mumtaz (1960s)Museum of Design Excellence

Film still of Minoo Mumtaz (1960s)Museum of Design Excellence

Hema Malini (c.1960s) (1960s)Museum of Design Excellence

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Lungi (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


In its simplest form, the lungi is a seamless piece of fabric, draped around the waist of the wearer. Originating in South India, the formless, loose lungi provides the much needed relief from hot and humid weather conditions. Usually sewn in cotton or silk, lungis were generally worn by men, until actress Zeenat Aman transformed it into a bohemian staple through her box-office hit, Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971).

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Lungi (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


 Worn with a large, oversized shirt and glasses, her look set the precedent for the hippie and free-flowing trend in India and showcased a successful deviation from the garments traditionally associated with women in Bollywood. 

Film still of Zeenat Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971)Original Source: Dev Anand (Procuer)

Film poster of Deepika Padukone in Chennai Express (2013)Original Source: Ronnie Screwvala, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Gauri Khan & Karim Morani (Producers)

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Disco Dress (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


The 1980s marked the active participation of women in the Indian fashion industry, and the adoption of a multicultural attitude by the film industry. Shimmer, glitter, and glam defined the 1980s Disco era of Bollywood - the turn of the decade into that of bling, ornamentation,  shoulder pads, and metallic fitted dresses was marked by Zeenat Aman in Qurbani (1980).


Zeenat Aman’s gold, metallic dress brought about a deluge of similarly glamorous outfits such as that of Parveen Babi in Shaan (1980), Rekha in Jaanbaaz (1986) and Sridevi in Mr India (1987). 

Parveen Babi (1980s)Museum of Design Excellence

Zeenat Aman in Qurbani (1980) (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE

Film still of Sridevi in Mr India (1987)Original Source: Boney Kapoor & Surinder Kapoor (Producers)

Film still of Rekha in Khoon Bhari Maang (1988)Original Source: Rakesh Roshan (Producer)

Fill still of Rekha in Khoon Bhari Maang (1988)Original Source: Rakesh Roshan (Producer)

Priyanka Chopra (2022)Museum of Design Excellence

Film still of Rekha in Khoon Bhari Maang (1988)Original Source: Rakesh Roshan (Producer)

Film still of Zeenat Aman in Qurbani (1980)Original Source: Feroz Khan (Producer)

Parveen Babi (2022)Museum of Design Excellence

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Flareed Skirt (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


While the straight-cut skirt does not have the tight, sensual fit of a mermaid-cut skirt, or the voluminous, structured cut of a traditional Indian lehenga, it loosely contours to the waist and legs providing ample freedom for movement. 


The straight-line skirt -  a silhouette that borrows the A-line flare from Western fashion - first appeared on Begum Para in the 1940s, however,  Urmila Matondkar’s monochrome red top and skirt in Rangeela (1995) is considered to be one of the most sought after straight-cut skirt styles in Bollywood. Made from a cotton blend, Urmila’s red skirt conceals a slit that flows down the length of her legs, surreptitiously concealing and revealing her legs with every moment.

Begum Para (1940s)Museum of Design Excellence

Film still of Urmila Matondakar in Rangeela (1995)Original Source: Jhamu Sughand & Ram Gopal Varma (Producers)

Zeenat Aman (2022)Museum of Design Excellence

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Split Skirt (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


First introduced to the Indian wardrobe during the Mughal rule, the sharara made brief reappearances in during the 18th and 19th centuries, and finally found its [permanent] place on the silver screen in the 1940s and 1950s. A billowy pant, the sharara falls with an open and unrestrained flair from the waist. Made from materials such as silk, chiffon, velvet and cotton blends, the sharara also tells stories of cultural and artisanal specificities through beadwork and traditional embroidery methods and patterns.


 Often paired with kurtas of changing lengths (as per the decision of stylists and designers), the sharara is seen on actors such as Juhi Chawla, Deepika Padukone, and Kareena Kapoor.

Katrina Kaif in Tees Maar Khan (2010)Original Source: Twinkle Khanna, Shirish Kunder & Ronnie Screwvala (Producers)

Film still of Kareena Kapoor in Kabhi Khushi Khabie Gham (2001)Museum of Design Excellence

Silhouettes of Indian Style | The Cocktail Sari (2022) by MoDEOriginal Source: MoDE


Sheer, low-waist saris paired with baroque, bralette-like blouses - are finding favour with leading ladies for song sequences and item numbers. After the 1920's, exposure to global fashion during the economic liberalisation of India resulted in a blend of traditional styles with contemporary elements creating this risqué, sensual silhouette that successfully captures a liberal sense of sexuality.


With the growth of the Indian film industry in the late 80s and 90s, fashion designers and stylists from leading fashion houses gained designated responsibilities in dressing actors.

Film still of Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (2013)Original Source: Hiroo Yash Johar & Karan Johar (Producers)

Film still of Deepika Padukone in Cocktail (2012)Original Source: Saif Ali Khan & Dinesh Vijan (Producers)

Film still of Sonam Kapoor in I Hate Luv Stories (2010)Original Source: Hiroo Yash Johar, Karan Johar & Ronnie Screwvala

Film still of Jacqueline Fernandez in Housefull 2 (2012)Original Source: Sajid Nadiadwala (Producer)

Credits: Story

Art Director: Divya Thakur
Photographer: Rid Burman 
Designer & Stylist: Amrita Thakur 

Hair Stylist: Adhuna Bhabani
Make-Up Artist: Clint Fernandes

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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