When discussing female iconic characters in Indian cinema, it's impossible to overlook the profound impact of their costumes, particularly the timeless sarees that have become synonymous with their personas. The saree, a quintessential symbol of Indian tradition, the bounds of fashion trends, standing tall like a queen among other attires. Each saree worn by these legendary characters has contributed significantly to their portrayal, shaping their identities and leaving an enduring impression on audiences.
From Aishwarya Rai's stunning portrayal in ‘Devdas’ to Sushmita Sen's glamorous ensembles in ‘Main Hoon Na,’ and Alia Bhatt's portrayal ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani’ is of strength and freedom in various saree avatars, these characters have etched themselves into the fabric of Indian cinema lore.
Aishwarya Rai as Paro in ‘Devdas’
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus "Devdas" remains a cinematic masterpiece, and at the heart of its visual splendour is the character of Paro, portrayed by the ethereal Aishwarya Rai. Paro's journey from a simple village girl to a majestic Thakurian lady is epitomized through her sarees, each meticulously chosen to reflect her evolving character arc.
Before her marriage, Paro is seen in graceful plain sarees, symbolizing her innocence and simplicity. These sarees, typically 8-9 meters long, are designed with traditional silk borders and paired with elegant blouses, minimal jewellery, and a delicate bindi. In contrast, as Paro transitions into her role as a Thakurian lady, her sarees become more opulent, adorned with embellished embroidery, heavy borders, and elaborate accessories. The transformation is stunning, a testament to both Aishwarya's versatility as an actress and the craftsmanship of costume designer Neeta Lulla for which she also earned a National Award for Best Costumes, immortalizing Paro's regal elegance.
Sushmita Sen as Chandni Madam in ‘Main Hoon Na’
Sushmita Sen's portrayal of the glamorous and enigmatic Chandni Madam in ‘Main Hoon Na’ left an indelible impression on audiences. Her sarees, draped in chiffon with deep back blouses, exuded elegance and sophistication, perfectly complementing her character's persona as a stunning modern professor. Designed by Manish Malhotra, these sarees featured vibrant prints, solids, ombré, and tie-dye patterns, adding a contemporary twist to traditional attire. With minimal accessories and perfectly styled hair, Sushmita Sen effortlessly embodied the essence of a modern-day diva, captivating hearts with her sheer presence on screen. She exuded a mesmerizing aura, leaving audiences spellbound!
Alia Bhatt as 'Gangubai Kathiawadi'
Alia Bhatt's portrayal of Gangubai not only earned her critical acclaim but also garnered her a prestigious National Award. However, beyond her exceptional performance, it was her wardrobe that truly captivated audiences. Throughout the film, Gangubai is predominantly seen in a white saree, yet the intricate details of her attire vary to suit the mood and occasion symbolizing purity, strength, and resilience. In romantic scenes, delicate floral patterns in soft pink hues adorn her saree, exuding a sense of romance and femininity. During celebratory moments and weddings, the saree is embellished with opulent golden and silver embroideries, reflecting the joyous atmosphere. Finally, in the climactic scene where Gangubai portrays her power and strength, the saree features a bold, dark red border, symbolizing her commanding presence and unwavering resolve.
Vyjanthimala as Radha in ‘Sangam’
Before Alia Bhatt's portrayal in ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi,’ there was another leading lady who captivated audiences way before with her all-white looks in Bollywood - Vyjanthimala in ‘Sangam’ as Radha, the first Bollywood movie shot overseas. In this groundbreaking film, Vyjanthimala portrayed a modern, city-girl character, for which the costume designer aimed to create an elegant yet captivating look. Throughout the movie, her character Radha is predominantly dressed in white sarees, each outfit showcasing unique design features that add depth and allure to her portrayal.
Notably, her wedding night attire was particularly memorable, exuding sophistication and grace. During her honeymoon scenes, she effortlessly strolled through European streets, exuding timeless elegance in her sarees. In the party song sequences, she dazzled in an off-white crepe-silk saree adorned with jewelled accessories, adding a touch of glamour to her ensemble. In another scene, she opted for a white saree with a red border, creating a visually striking contrast against the lush green backdrop, further enhancing her on-screen presence. Vyjanthimala effortlessly epitomized timeless beauty and grace, setting a benchmark for saree fashion in Bollywood.
Tripti Dimri as Qala Manjushree and Anushka Sharma as Devika in ‘Qala’
The costumes featured in 'Qala' offer a captivating glimpse into the fashion trends of the 1930s. Anushka's character embodies a unique fusion of the flapper girl aesthetic with traditional Indian elegance. Sporting delicate sarees complemented by finger waves, vintage pearl accessories, and a classic beauty spot, her look exudes sophistication. Noteworthy details such as graceful buns, Dutch crown braids, and dark red lips further enhance her allure. The incorporation of a brooch as a saree pin adds a touch of vintage charm, reflecting the attention to detail in the costume design.
European influences are evident in the pearl jewellery and frills adorning Qala's blouse, while regional elements from Himachal and Bengal lend authenticity to the attire. Symbolism abounds in the colour palette, saree motifs, and accessories, enriching the narrative depth of the film. Through the meticulous work of the costume designer, the characters of Qala, Devika, and others are brought to life, their personas elevated by the exquisite designs.
Mrunal Thakur as Sita Mahalakshmi in ‘Sita Ramam’
In ‘Sita Ramam,’ Mrunal Thakur's outfits captivated audiences with their simplicity and elegance, perfectly portraying the character of Sita Mahalakshmi, a Hyderabadi princess from the 1960s era. Her wardrobe featured dreamy floral saris in pastel shades with delicate lace borders, exuding a soothing vibe that complemented her character impeccably. The blouses were adorned with European-inspired collars and sleeves, incorporating intricate details like Peter Pan collars and puffed sleeves, reflecting the fusion of Indian princely fashion with European elements. Pearl details, synonymous with Hyderabad's heritage, embellished her attire, while unique twists like layered skirts and different fabric textures added depth to her looks.
Even in her portrayal as a commoner, Sita's attire remained authentic, with simple cotton sarees and traditional accessories. The film's settings in both Kashmir and Hyderabad allowed for the showcasing of regional embroideries and weaves, adding richness to the costumes and enhancing the character's journey.
Alia Bhatt as Rani in ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani’
Emerging from a traditional yet modern Bengali background, Rani epitomized a distinct persona, bridging the gap between antiquity and contemporary notions of freedom and expression. At a time when sarees had somewhat faded from cinematic screens, Alia's portrayal of Rani revitalized their allure with unparalleled grace and strength. Her character breathed new life into the timeless elegance associated with sarees, igniting a renewed fascination among audiences.
Rani's sarees embodied a fusion of tradition and modernity, reflecting her independent spirit and unwavering convictions. Far from being perceived as simplistic or demure, Rani exuded confidence and boldness, championing her own ideals with unwavering resolve. Whether adorned in cotton or chiffon sarees, each ensemble was meticulously tailored to suit the demands of different situations, accentuating her on-screen persona with exquisite finesse.
In conclusion, the sarees worn by iconic female characters in Indian cinema have transcended mere fashion statements to become symbols of cultural resonance and narrative depth. From the ethereal elegance of Paro in 'Devdas' to the modern sophistication of Rani in 'Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani,' each character's saree has served as a canvas for storytelling, reflecting their evolution, strength, and resilience. Through meticulous costume design and nuanced portrayals, these characters have left an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape, inspiring generations of audiences and shaping perceptions of beauty and style. As we celebrate the enduring legacy of these characters, we are reminded of the timeless allure of the saree and its power to evoke emotions, capture imaginations, and transcend the boundaries of time and culture. Let us also pay tribute to the talented costume designers who bring these characters to life with their creative vision and craftsmanship.