Thought Box



by Aparajita Krishna December 9 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins, 30 secs

Aparajita Krishna tours the Hindi cinema fashion world of the 1970s and places it in context to the way we interpret fashion in India.

Drishyam 2 is Cine-India 2022’s latest fashionable Hit. Hindi films of the present wear their own fashion. Still, even from today’s gaze Indian film-fashion of the 1970s had an ‘eye’ for scenes and visuals that were fashioned, very updated and futuristic. Retro seems contemporary!

The 1970s Hindi films impacted the sartorial fashion-taste of the Indian audience-citizens. They wore traditional and upbeat-modern. A Purab aur Paschim combo! A Pakeezah mix-matched with Jawani Diwani and Chetna! Doubt if in today’s globalized, free-market, multi-platform fashion-world our Indian films enjoy that yesteryears’ monopoly. Back then this impact was definitively social, cultural and penetrating. Indian films and film stars were the only popular and fashionable icons for India at large; be it in the cities, towns, or the mufassil. Indians looked up to their film stars as the first point of fashionable reference.   

Today’s gaze tells us that the more things change the more they remain the same. Fashion is also rotational. It comes back. The Hindi film-fashion of the 1970s has been majorly re-packaged in a new avatar in the cinema of the later decades. Om Shanti Om! As in, this film of 2007 dealing with reincarnation, had its past living in the times and on the sets of the 1970s. So, it donned the flashback-fashion and gear of the 1970s. Many films in the future would also go back to their fashionable past.

The idea herein is to specifically examine Hindi cinema’s fashion scene as portrayed in the films of the 1970s, and recall the reel and real actors therein; also the people who designed them. Just as the Hindi cinema of the 1970s lived in different demography, so did its looks.

This takes me back to my own young avatar in the decade of the late 1960s and ‘70s. My flashback tells me that though I was born in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur to teacher parents, academics, who were CPI comrades, I was a very film-fixated child and a young girl. My parents had no problem with that. Indian film magazines were my generation’s cine-syllabus. Back in the 1960s, 1970s I took my gazing and reading of film magazines more seriously than studies. Filmfare, Mayapuri, Madhuri, Screen, Film World, Film Mirror, Super, Stardust, Movie, Rang-Bhumi and the likes occupied space amidst a home library mounted with Marxist literature, Link, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Simone de Beauvoir, Premchand, Sharat Chandra, Tagore.

I am told that to cajole me as a child to address my daily routines, a spread of film magazines would be laid out. Films on screen and the film magazines in hand were our window to the fashion-world. That India of the 1970s lived majorly away from Bombay and in different pockets. For a mufassil child-girl BOMBAY was a very far-away land. That little one believed film stars to be Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are! The breathtaking photographs of the stars in film magazines and the insider point-of-view of the journalists enticed and awed readers. Actress Sadhana was my favourite. The Sadhana-cut in clothing (churidar-kurta), hair-fringe-style, jewellery, her persona, walked the roads and homes of Muzaffarpur. I recall the tailors and jewellers of Muzaffarpur being forwarded film magazines and taken to watch her on screen just to copy her style. In the decade of the 1970s, her mystique and persona was no doubt entering its last leg. Hyperthyroidism affliction had surfaced to cut short her iconic presence on screen.

The established stars were still around. Dev Anand was fashionably so in Johny Mera Naam, Manoj Kumar traditionally so as Mr Bharat, Saira Bano so modern in Purab Aur Paschim, Dilip Kumar so native in Gopi and Raj Kapoor was the tragic icon in Mera Naam Joker. Actress Waheeda Rehman was, in this decade, making the transition from heroine to the senior category. Their film-fashion was largely character driven.

And then there was Helen! She in her own fashion, fashionably carried on her acts in the films of this decade. Among the noted ones are The Train, Caravan, Hulchul, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Dil Daulat Duniya, Apradh, Anamika, Sholay, Bairaag, Inkaar, Don, The Great Gambler. Helen carried the wigs, the short dresses, the furs, the contact lenses, the false-eyelashes, the make-up like only she could. Not many Indian women would have worn Helen on their person, but they admired the way she looked on the screen.   

The start of the decade of 1970s had Shashi Kapoor as the established handsome hero and one of the first Indian actors to cross-over to international shores. Through the decade he would go on to serenade beautiful heroines in a style of song-rendering that was his own. Actor Shashi Kapoor wore tasteful fashion on-screen and in real life. He appeared as comfortable in a three-piece-suit as in a churidar-kurta. In later years he would also fashion off-beat films as a producer. Jennifer Kapoor, his wife and a formidable actor herself, is also credited as a costume designer. She may well have designed his wardrobe.

Dharmendra was anointed as the He-Man. He also styled his roles such that it added to his persona. He was a very handsome man on screen. His physique wore most fittingly the shirt-trousers, kurta-pyjama, dhoti-kurta. It also grabbed celluloid moments to bare-chest his muscular look. Jeetendra gets counted in the list of the 1970s more so because in this decade, the star of formulaic films like Caravan, Banphool. He also did a Parichay, a Khushboo, a Kinara that had him wear a very different, sober look. A running whisper said that Gulzar moulded him in his own Gulzar-persona, complete with a pencil-thin moustache.  

The decade of the 1970s saw Rajesh Khanna’s super-stardom continue to thrive. In terms of fashion what he bequeathed to the hero was a reality-check, a naturalness of bearing in his quintessential Rajesh Khanna guru-kurta with round-neck collars, dhoti-kurta, safari-suit. Check out Anand, Amar-Prem and the likes. Baldev Pathak (husband of Dina Pathak and father of Ratna Pathak and Supriya Pathak) had been the dress-designer and contributor to Rajesh Khanna’s sartorial look. He owned a tailoring shop in Bombay called ‘Shriman Costumes’. Rajesh Khanna was not a handsome man, but his roles were handsome.

Sharmila Tagore’s fashion was settled into a very individualistic and refined groove. Don’t forget that this Satyajit Ray actor of Devi went on to don swim-suit and modern wear in the late 1960s and continued with it in the 1970s. She looked exquisite in both the incarnations. Hers was a magical mix of beautiful traditional-Indian look and modern wear-fit.

Mumtaz fashioned her own image and very distinctly so. She carried the oomph fashion and the churidar-kameez, saree-drape fashion in her Mumu style. Rakhee, the beautiful wine-eyed beauty, fashioned her own imprint on her sarees. She wore them exquisitely. Hema Malini was the emerging superstar among the female actors. Her beauty, bearing and carriage carried an in-born stardom. Even from today’s exacting gaze she looks beautiful in every dress, wig and style she adorns. These actresses carried in their roles the Anarkali-wear fashion, the saree-fashion and the modern-western too. And, Vinod Khanna was getting marked as a handsome man on-screen.    

Speaking of international fashion, the 1970s was the decade of the hippies too and of rock and roll. Bell-bottom, bell-sleeves, flared pants, knotted tops, mini-skirts, platform-shoes, satin, glitter and bright colours ruled.  It is said that international designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Halston observed and embraced the sartorial changes happening in society. Casual-chic, anti-conformist attire was speaking loud. Sociologically speaking women’s rights, youth’s counter-culture, were movements impacting the world and so did its fashion. The Hippie cult of the 1960s also continued in the 1970s.  Our film industry was impacted. Zeenat Aman as Janice in the quintessential hippie look in Hare Rama Hare Krishna was very impactful. The dresses, the hat, the sun-glasses she wore as the westernized hippie, was a first of a kind for us as natives to stare at. I was 10 years old in 1971 and I recall the look with complete memory clarity.

Parveen Babi brought in her own modern look. Her on-screen smoking and drinking got accepted as part of her act and role. On both Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, the on-screen modern-wear fitted perfectly because they were in person wearing the same. They brought in what is now called the chic-quotient. Neither of them was an actor of substantial calibre, but who cared?

Amidst it all, Jaya Bhaduri re-fashioned the image of the heroines of the 1970s with Guddi and after which she stamped her own persona on the face of the Indian heroine. Her minimalist Indian look and wear, the long plait, the unfashionable, including crumpled sarees, became as much of a cult as the coiffured styles of her predecessors and contemporaries. She was middle-class India’s daughter-sister-girl friend-wife-bahu. She played very well in her acts with her long tresses. I have seen young girls not only wear their Jaya Bhaduri look, but also carry in them her mannerisms and laughter.

Bobby came in 1973 and became a rage of a kind that my generation had not seen. There was no hyperventilating media construct to back it and take it to every home, and yet I swear that the Bobby fashion reverberated in the interiors of India. Dimple Kapadia’s polka-dotted and knotted blouse in Bobby and the other wears and accessories became a national rage. As did this plump beautiful young girl with a remarkable young Nargis resemblance. The screen-women of the 1970s chimed and rocked in bell-sleeves, bell-bottoms and the Bobby look.

The infectiously youthful lad Rishi Kapoor fashioned his own trajectory as a very fine young actor whose height or the lack of it did not come in the way of his tall versatile talent. He wore clothes that seemed to fit his youthful characters well. I recall the jackets and sweaters he would wear in his films. I also know of some ladies who were very fond of knitting and would try to grasp the sweater and pull-over design so as to knit them. Actually, this knitting fad of women cine-goers targeted a lot many actors whose woollen wear appeared on screen, or, in the film magazines. Neetu Singh wore her teenager look and clothes in a very endearing and also daring way. 

The one and only long-legged actor of late 1960s, Amitabh Bachchan, carried on him in the initial years of the 1970s the traditional bhadralok look. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Amitabh Bachchan (Anand, Namak Haram, Mili) wore most fittingly the look of kurta-pyjama and dhoti. Now he broke his fashion as he broke the archetypal look of the Hero with Zanjeer-Sholay-Deewar-Trishul and the films of the same league. Bachchan went on to improvise the knotted shirt-pant and the suit-boot, bow-tie look most effectively. Yet, Amitabh Bachchan is perhaps not really considered a fashion-icon. Beyond the sartorial fashion of the 1970s it was his acts that made him so attractive and perplexing to me. The Hrishikesh Mukherjee school of AB was far more fashionably layered than the Salim-Javed construct.  

Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi’s glam-quotient continued to give a high to the films. Just watching Don of 1978, the original one, and then Don of 2006 and 2011 gives one a Zeenat Aman nostalgia kick. Roma wore cool clothes including trousers-shirts, a scarf, short hair and walked the talk in her own inimitable style. As did Parveen Babi in Deewar. Decades later I find it difficult to say cheers to our present-day actresses cast, either literally or figuratively, in the roles of Zeenat Aman-Parveen Babi.        

The middle of the road cinema of the 1970s, championed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and their likes, introduced an understated no-fashion. Watch Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha, Zarina Wahab to assess the real-life middle class India’s look. Amol Palekar was no fashion icon, but his acts made him one. The kurta-pyjama, shirt-trouser, cotton sarees even crumpled, defined the acts.    

The new-wave, art-house Hindi cinema movement of the 1970s, set in majorly with the films of Shyam Benegal. Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Girish Karnad, Anant Nag, Om Puri were not in the least fashion-aficionados, but instead characters on-screen. They carried their own individuality on their bearing. Naturalism worked. In person too they looked best when they carried a real-life look. Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil wore the Indian ethnic look and an aesthetic choice of sarees. I read somewhere that early on in their career, in the course of their visit as delegates to some foreign film festivals along with their films, they were well-advised to don beautiful Indian sarees and await the welcoming of the foreign guest audience. They would get marked in saree attire.

The audience in us read the global fashion influences only through the lens of our films. International fashion or foreign magazines were accessed by the very few. Among the film magazines, Filmfare stood apart. It had glamorous photos and serious film features too. Screen was a content-rich film paper. Even an Illustrated Weekly of India, Blitz (with the Krishna column) and Debonaire seriously carried a film-tit-bit feature and wrote about cinema fashion. Devyani Chaubal of Star & Style, captivated readers with her column Frankly Speaking. Calendars with film stars as models beautified Indian homes. An issue of Film Mirror back in the 1970s had Rekha’s photograph give the impression of her being nude with her bare legs covering her bare upper body. The caption read, Rekha Exposed. This one exposed Rekha, a girl who had debuted in Hindi films in 1970 with Sawan Bhadon as a gawky, fat, unfashionable person, staking her claim as an actor of reckoning in the world of fashion and makeover after headlining films like Ghar and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar by 1978. The transformation would be of a kind that the likes of Indian cinema may well have not witnessed. Much has been written about her transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly: The metamorphosis. That apart she has fashioned her persona with such skill and strokes that she could give a run for the money to any haute-couture or fashion brand in the world. While the Indian look sat beautifully on her, replete with kanjeevaram sarees, heavy jewellery and gajaras in the locks, she also painstakingly built a formidable western-fashionista wardrobe and style. The make-up skill that she adopted gave her a whole new face. The lady or the media went on to add a cultivated aura of a mystic and a recluse to her persona.    

In this decade androgyny, or, gender-neutrality also came into fashion. Flared sleeves and bell-bottom pants became a trend with men and women.

As for the costume-designers in the Hindi films of the 1970s, the names that get marked are that of Shama Zaidi (for her work in art films including Garam Hawa, Shatranj Ke Khiladi), Bhanu Athaiya (later day Oscar winner-for- Gandhi) and Leena Daru. Bhanu Athaiya started experimenting with film fashion in the 1960s. Among her earlier assignments are period costumes in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam (1962) and Amrapali (1966) as also a new trend in Teesri Manzil (1966).

Maganlal Dresswala & Co. is heritage. As a noted costume-designer-supplier for Hindi films and serials the company started off in 1926 as a small shop in Kalbadevi, Bombay. It is the oldest costume-supplier to Indian cinema having the great honour of being the ‘costumer’ for first Indian talkie Alam Ara (1931). Today Madhav’s Men’s Modes (MMM) is a most established brand and outlet in Mumbai, but Madhav Agasti’s journey is akin to a film script itself. His website says, ‘Once upon a time Bollywood needed a costume designer. The rest is history.’ In 1969 a young Madhav boarded a train with a few hundred rupees in his pocket and a dream in his heart. He embarked on a journey to travel across various Indian cities and mastered the nuances and the stitches of the art of tailoring from Aligarhi pyjama and achkans of Lucknow to draping lungis in Madras style. His journey ended in Bombay in 1973.

He started working as an assistant to a Bollywood designer. Within a year, in 1975, he opened his first shop, Madhav’s Men’s Modes, in Dadar’s Shivaji Park. His first VIP customer was Jawaharlal Darda (senior Congress leader and minister) back in 1977. A flow of politician-clients followed. His first Bollywood film break came in 1979 with the film Apne Parai. The turning point would be Mr India in which he would go on to design Amrish Puri’s legendary Mogambo costume. In the present the count-down of MMM film work would be around 400 films with top Bollywood stars and politicians. Today MMM also has an outlet in Mumbai’s Bandra as well as one in Delhi. Rahul Agasti, his son, is a noted fashion and apparel designer with his own outlet in Juhu, Mumbai.  His younger son Shantanu Agasti also partners with contemporary designers.  

Back in the 1970s, among the film magazine photographers who became fashionable legends in their own right, were the late Jitendra Arya and Dhiraj Chawda. The stars looked gorgeous on covers and inside the pages. As compared to the present the biggest of Hindi film stars back then did not have even one-fourth of the entourage beautifying them. 

Decades later in 2008 Madhur Bhandakar’s film, Fashion, showcased the story of a small-town girl, Meghna Mathur, who sets out to fulfil her dream of becoming a glamourous supermodel. But she soon discovers that in the corrupt world of haute-couture, success comes at a price. Typical of Bhandarkar’s brand of expose-films, this one too was a superficial take on young India’s glamour aspirations and fall-outs, what to say of feminism! In the real India of the 21st century fashion is a profession driven industry with a large global footprint.  

To end on the note of Sadhana. In 2014 this 73-year-old most reclusive actress, living a challenged health and life, made a rare public appearance. She walked the ramp in a pink sari at a fashion show to support the cause for cancer and AIDS patients.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.

Aparajita Krishna Hindi Cinema Fashion Cinema Films Bollywood Film Industry Hollywood India Indian Fashion Drishyam 2 Futuristic Purab aur Paschim Pakeezah Jawani Diwani Chetna Film Stars Flashback Om Shanti Om Demographics Bihar Muzaffarpur Academics CPI Comrades Filmfare Mayapuri Madhuri Screen Film World Film Mirror Super Stardust Movie Rang-Bhumi Marxist Literature William Shakespeare Dostoevsky Simone de Beauvoir Munshi Premchand Sharat Chandra Rabindranath Tagore Film magazines Bombay Photographs Photography Sadhana Journalists Jewellery Dev Anand Johny Mera Naam Manoj Kumar Dilip Kumar Raj Kapoor Mera Naam Joker Waheeda Rehman Helen The Train Caravan Hulchul Mere Jeevan Saathi Dil Daulat Duniya Apradh Anamika Sholay Bairaag Inkaar Don The Great Gambler Shashi Kapoor Actors Filmmaker Jennifer Kapoor Costume Designer Dharmendra Caravan Banphool Formula Films Parichay Khushboo Kinara Gulzar Rajesh Khanna Super Star Anand Amar Prem Baldev Pathak Dina Pathak Ratna Pathak Shah Supriya Pathak Shriman Costumes Sharmila Tagore Satyajit Ray Mumtaz Rakhee Hema Malini Vinod Khanna Yves Saint Laurent Sociology Culture Counter Culture Zeenat Aman Hare Rama Hare Krishna Hippies Parveen Babi Jaya Bhaduri Hero Heroine Predecessors Contempories Fashionable Mainstream Art Parallel Cinema Bobby Dimple Kapadia Nargis Rishi Kapoor Neetu Singh Amitabh Bachchan Hrishikesh Mukherjee Namak Haram Zanjeer Sholay Deewar Trishul Basu Chatterjee Amol Palekar Vidya Sinha Zarina Wahab Art House Cinema New Wave Cinema Shyam Benegal Shabana Azmi Smita Patil Naseeruddin Shah Girish Karnad Anant Nag Om Puri Shabana Azmi Smita Patil Film Festivals Illustrated Weekly of India Blitz Debonaire Devyani Chaubal Star & Style Frankly Speaking Rekha Sawan Bhadon Androgyny Shama Zaidi Garam Hawa Shatranj Ke Khiladi Bhanu Athaiya Leena Daru Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam (1962) Amrapali (1966) Teesri Manzil (1966) Maganlal Dresswala & Co. Kalbadevi Alam Ara (1931) Madhav Agasti Aligarhi Pyjama Achkans Lucknow Madras Jawaharlal Darda Rahul Agasti Shantanu Agasti Jitendra Arya Dhiraj Chawda Madhur Bhandakar