For almost three decades, Manish Malhotra has played a key part in making fashion an integral part of visual storytelling and today one can say, he has undoubtedly stood the test of time. Looking back at a middle-class Punjabi boy, considering his roots, Manish nostalgically recollects, “I loved sketching since I was young. I was never jaded by the opinions of others. I was fearless and that really helped shape my work ethic”. And there could be nothing that could have been a better training ground to feed his passion for fashion.
But mind you, it wasn’t all hunky dory, just like the films he worked on. “I wish I could say that the early years were fun,” admits the costume stylist, not having a formal education in design only meant that he was painting a blank canvas.
“It was incessant hard work. I remember, during my first few assignments, I used to keep requesting directors to give me a script in advance. I was not simply there to go shop for clothes. The reason I was fascinated by costumes was that they are such a subtle, yet important part of the visual story-telling process,” he shares.
“Rangeela changed the way the film industry saw costume design. Filmfare instituted the Award for Costume Design for the first time ever, which I won. It was a big moment for me,” he adds. Malhotra later met a lot of other younger directors like Dharmesh Darshan, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and that’s when films changed.
My work started getting recognition. From never having travelled before, I was on a flight every week. In the 90s, the actress was in a chiffon sari and the hero was in a muffler and coat. There you’d be, altering the clothes in the Alps, without even an assistant. It was an unheard of profession.Manish Malhotra, Fashion designer & costume stylist
‘Manish Malhotra’s lehenga’ has become a catch-phrase today. Our man dresses up almost all of Bollywood.
And why not? There is clearly something magical about the fine marriage of craftsmanship and heritage, “and the new age brides strive to achieve this perfect combination of then meets now on their big day. The balance is in embracing tradition while letting their personality shine through,” says the ace couturier.
To meet these demands, “I am constantly working towards crafting the outfit in a way that appeals to the bride and depends on the bride’s personal style aesthetic and her requirement and footprint. It also depends on the season, as the requirements for fabric and design depend on when the wedding is taking place.”
Malhotra’s shows are big on showstoppers, it’s pretty much as if he is casting for a film and bringing a beautiful story alive through his fashion shows. One can even say that he introduced the concept of Bollywood celebrities as showstoppers and making front rows full of style icons in India.
Telling us the backstory of this trend he shares, “I did my first fashion show purely out of emotion, I asked Urmila (Matondkar) to walk for my show as we had just done this super successful movie, Rangeela. And that’s how the trend of showstoppers in the industry began. Because I was from the movies, I had a front row full of my actor friends, which has now become a norm.”
Last night, once again, designer Manish Malhotra floored audiences with his revolutionising contemporary fashion as showstoppers, Salman Khan adorned in a printed black sherwani, walked the ramp with the stunning Katrina Kaif by his side, wearing an olive green embroidered lehenga. “When it came to selecting my showstoppers – my instant choices were Salman and Katrina. Kartrina embodies soft femininity and grace making her the perfect muse for a middle eastern look. While Salman has always been a man of free will and with his charm and élan he makes a magnetic presence among audience,” he shares.
Celebrity names are woven into almost all of his stories. Malhotra not just dresses up celebrities, he is friends with them, too. When asked about this affiliation with Bollywood and its stars, he humbly adds, “Each of them is super talented and stylish and incredibly professional. Rather than any one actor being my muse, it has been their confidence, grace and femininity that have inspired my work.” Malhotra indeed has a unique bond with each one, “and now I’m thrilled to work with the third-generation actors matching to their energy,” says the designer who has now even turned tutor.
Manish pretty much began his career with late Sridevi in 1990, who was a superstar then. Malhotra nostalgically recollects how he was in college when “I first watched Himmatwala (1983) and I was instantly enamoured, by those twinkling eyes and her poise.” He confesses having loved everything about her, “I finally met her a few years later, when Rakesh Shrestha, legendary photographer of the time, introduced us at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studio,” as he anxiously waited for Sridevi, “who wrapped up a song sequence and appeared in a striking red Amrapali costume alongside Vinod Khanna.”
The two made (still do and always will) for an iconic ‘Designer-Muse Duo’. But it was only in 1993, with Gumrah, “that our work relationship really took flight,” says Malhotra recalling a time when Sridevi tried on an outfit, and it didn’t look quite right. At the time, still new to the industry, he refrained from commenting
By the time Judaai (1997) happened, “she went from an iconic actor to being a dear friend. During that 15-year-gap, from Judaai to when she returned to the silver screen in English Vinglish (2012), we remained in touch,” says the designer who became particularly close to the actor in the last seven years.
I learnt much from her, whether a simple sartorial trick — she taught me that sleeves sans lining were more flattering on screen — or giving a task your unwavering focus.
“In fact, some of the best relationships in my life are a result of my friendship with Sridevi ma’am. It was through her that I met Yash Johar (my favourite producer) and his son Karan, who is now my closest friend, and also began longstanding associations with Ram Gopal Varma and Boney Kapoor’s production houses” admits Malhotra.
It’s interesting how Malhotra’s last film was Dhadak where he styled the iconic Sridevi’s daughter Janhvi Kapoor. And he elaborates, “It’s funny how life comes a full circle. I used to make little cholis and ghagras for the girls when they were younger. Much like her mother, she’s a bundle of talent and discipline. I have seen Janhvi since her growing up years and it brings me great joy to see her on the silver screen. Her expressive eyes, interesting voice and with being a fabulous dancer - Janhvi is going to be an incredible actor, making her mother and all of us very proud.”
Having worked with almost all generations, today he is styling the third generation of actors like Ananya Pandey, Sara Ali Khan, Alia Bhatt and Janhvi Kapoor for their upcoming projects like Student of the Year 2, Simbaa, Kalank and Dhadak. One wonders if there is more that this man would want to even pursue, but he insists, “2018 marks a milestone year for me, I stand in my 28th year in the film industry, and it’s been 13 years to my label”.
Brides or Bollywood?
MM: Kareena Kapoor as a bride
A must-have colour?
Your go-to outfit?
A black bandhgala or sherwani
Most fashionable film?
Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham or Student of the Year?
Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham
An evergreen style icon?
A trend you completely diss?
Over layered balloon clothes
A standalone boutique or E-stores?
Lehengas or Saris?
Key Bridal Trends this Season?
Hand-woven gold embroidery and intricate heritage detailing meandering over sheer and velvet fabrics. Lehengas paired with sheer tops are big this season.
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)