India is a melting pot of fashion and style owing to the various cultures that thrive here. And cinema is one of the key fashion trendsetters in our country with people religiously following the latest styles and designs worn by their favorite celebrities on screen. This makes the role of the Costume Designer very pivotal.

Designing contemporary costumes is a tough job but the pressure mounts when a designer has to create costumes for a period film. This genre of films recreate a past era, one that may have little or no reference. So one of the most significant aspects of portraying this different period in time is the way people dressed and their costumes. The style of clothes, the fabrics, the embellishments and more, help us create a connection to the past. Hence costumes form the crux of period films.

We take a look at the some of the renowned period films that have had a major influence and inspired fashion trends.


Mughal-E-Azam (1960)

Madhubala's Anarkali style costume in Mughal-E-Azam

Madhubala’s Anarkali style costume in Mughal-E-Azam

Mughal-E-Azam was made in the 60’s and depicted the Mughal era; the reign of the great King Akbar. The beautiful costumes were designed by Jaggi with intricate embroidery that was done by Habib Mirza. The zardozi on the costumes was stitched by specialized tailors from Surat. A lot of work went into the creation of these costumes and the result was spectacular. Madhubala’s gorgeous outfit in the song ‘Pyar kiya toh darna kya’ became a fashion staple for women across ages. The costume style worn by the legendary actress is now addressed as the ‘Anarkali’ pattern and is in vogue even today. The movie created a style of its own owing to its unique designing.

Asoka (2001)

Shah Rukh Khan in Asoka

Shah Rukh Khan in Asoka

Asoka depicts a time period that we have mainly read about or heard – the period of 269 to 232 BCE. This historical drama shows the early life of emperor Asoka, played by Shah Rukh Khan and the costumes were designed keeping that era in mind. Manish Malhotra and Anu Vardhan, a newcomer then, designed the costumes for the film. While researching, Anu Vardhan discovered that Body Art was big at that time and hence Kareena Kapoor’s character had various tattoos.The costumes were made of raw silk and raw cotton and most of the jewellery in the film was specially designed by the designers. Being a warrior film, many metal jackets that were exclusively made in Madras formed a crucial part of the costumes.

Om Shanti Om (2007)

Om Shanti Om

Om Shanti Om

Farah Khan’s blockbuster film traversed between two time periods with actors donning a retro look on one hand and contemporary look on the other. The authentic costumes were designed by Manish Malhotra, Sanjeev Mulchadani and Karan Johar. The first half of the film depicted the popular fashion trends prevalent in Hindi cinema in the 60s. From puffy hair do’s to bell bottoms, polka dots and more, Om Shanti Om brought alive the cult styles. The designers were also honored with an IIFA award in 2008 for their impeccable costumes. The song ‘Dhoom Tana’ was much appreciated for integrating different looks from the 60’s and 70’s in a very tasteful manner.

Jodhaa Akbar (2008)

A comparison between Aishwarya Rai as Jodha and the real Jodha Bai

A comparison between Aishwarya Rai as Jodha and the real Jodha Bai

Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar was a historic romance set in the 1600’s. Though a very long film, Jodhaa Akbar was a visual treat, the credit for which largely goes to designer Neeta Lulla for her magnificent costumes. It has been one of the designer’s most challenging projects where she designed all the clothes herself. If one were to compare Aishwarya Rai’s look to a portrait of the real Jodha Bai, one could actually see that Lulla did an amazing job at recreating the style and fashion. Hrithik Roshan’s sherwanis had detailed work and symbolized the royal look beautifully. Keeping the Mughal era in mind, the costumes were grand and in warm colors with a lot of zardozi, kundan and stones embedded in the embroidery. Lulla won the ‘Best Costume Design’ award for the film at IIFA in 2009. The elegant jewellery and costumes of this movie became a timeless inspiration for Indian weddings.


Bombay Velvet (2015)

Anushka's gown in Bombay Velvet

Anushka’s gown in Bombay Velvet

Set in the period between the 40s to the 60s, the costumes in Bombay Velvet were very character-specific. Each character’s costumes helped us understand their act. Award-winning designer Niharika Khan designed the costumes while several other noted designers were also roped in to create the clothes. Anushka Sharma’s character goes through a transformation which is beautifully depicted through her costumes. In order to stay true to the period, the designer also worked with a lot of velvet and other authentic fabrics. Embroidery ranging from subtle to flamboyant was a key part of the costumes. From authentic headgear to customized shoes and elaborate gowns, every aspect of the character’s look was taken into consideration and the outcome is for all to see. Niharika even went on record saying that ‘Bombay Velvet was her biggest challenge’ because of the versatile characters and changing time periods.


Bajirao Mastani (2015)

A comparison between Deepika Padukone as Mastani and the real Mastani

A comparison between Deepika Padukone as Mastani and the real Mastani

A very recent visit to the past is visible in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Bajirao Mastani. The film depicts the Maratha empire of the 1700’s with elan. Be it Ranveer Singh playing Bajirao, Deepika as Mastani or Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai, every character’s costumes have been designed with attention to the minutest of details. Deepika’s look in the film is a perfect replica of the real Mastani’s appearance and style. And the credit of it all goes to designers Anju Modi and Maxima Basu.The designers had to heavily rely on paintings, books and other research material to create the right looks for the characters. The costumes have influences from the Peshwa and Mughal kingdoms and incorporate a varied range of fabrics, including old-style designs that were used to stay true to the period. Bajirao’s costumes use a lot of metal embroidery while over 40 sarees were created for Kashibai. Bejeweled head gears, traditional Puneri jewellery and specific color palettes have given each character in this film a truly royal look.


-Savera Hota

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