Sreya Basu, IBNS, Glamsham Editorial
Be it the 1950s or 2011, saree still tops the list for Bollywood heroines, especially when it comes to playing around a man's fantasy.
Remember KURBAAN days? When women activists of a political party draped a saree on the bare-backed poster of Kareena Kapoor? Well, that was loud. But fact remains, the audience, as well as actors still prefer sarees over skin-showers.
A bikini-clad heroine may hit the spot for teenagers, but the more enduring allure lies with the modern-day likes of a saree clad Nargis, Madhubala, Hema Malini, Rekha or Sridevi.
It's a damp and dewy Nargis singing Pyaar Huya Ikrar Huya; or a rain-soaked Madhubala giving her signature looks to Kishore Kumar as he croons Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si; or a silk-draped Madhubala trying to seduce her hero with Na Jaon Saiyaan that the audience finds more alluring. After all, leaving something to imagination surely does the trick for 'HiFi' heroines...and they too know it well.
Agrees actor Kirron Kher, who has a huge collection of sarees, "Indian heroines look best in sarees. It is the most romantic piece of clothing. A saree makes a slim heroine look gorgeous and helps a slightly plump one conceal her flab."However, she finds it 'trashy' the way today's heroines drape the nine-yard. "There are top actresses (I don't want to name them) who wear the saree's pallu in a way that leave their entire bosom exposed. It's ugly," says Kher. Kher gets a supporter in designer Ashley Rebello, who dressed actor Sonakshi Sinha in DABANGG. "The half pallu is trashy. It's not how you wear a saree," says Rebello.
Going back a little, it was actor-cum-filmmaker Raj Kapoor, who for the first time used saree to evoke a man's fantasy. He and costume designer Bhanu Athaiya brained together and presented Zeenat Aman in a wet, white saree in SATYAM SHIVAM SUNDARAM (1978), which later became a fantasy costume for Bollywood. Zeenat's white saree created a nation-wide rage, more so, as it was probably for the first time Indian men saw how a saree gloriously failing to hide its leading lady's assets.
Raj Kapoor repeated the same formula in his film RAM TERI GANGA MAILI (1985), where Mandakini was seen in a soaking white saree as a symbolic gesture to the inner modesty and simplicity of her character."You feel like respecting a woman when you see her in a saree. I love to see my heroine in a saree," says actor Akshay Kumar.
It was Mumtaz and Asha Parekh, who experimented with the way one dons a saree. Again a Bhanu Athaiya creation, Mumtaz wore a flaming orange saree below her belly button tightly hugging her hips in a double cinch in 1968 film BRAHMACHARI with her hip-swiveling to Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche, she proved saris can be fun.
Over the years, sarees have not only been used as a fantasy element, but also to convey the simplicity, maturity, fun or traditionalism in a character.
"I love to wear sarees...on and off screen. I believe no designer wear can match the magic a saree can create...it's elegant, yet sexy," says actor Rani Mukherjee.
Jaya Bachchan's simple saree in ABHIMAAN (1973) portrayed her vulnerability. In SEETA AUR GEETA (1972), Hema Malini differentiated between her meek and mischievous avatar with a saree.
Saira Banu had to transform from a West-influenced, cigarette smoking girl to a saree-clad desi girl to win over Manoj Kumar in 1970 film PURAB AUR PASCHIM. Even Sharmila Tagore, who dared to don swimsuits on-screen, draped an orange saree in Grecian style to draw Rajesh Khanna towards her, while Roop Tera Mastana played in the background (ARADHANA, 1969).
Rekha's flowing hair, glass bangles and shadowed silk and chiffon sarees brought out the eternal lover Chandni in Yash Chopra's SILSILA (1981).
A blue-saree clad Sridevi romancing an invisible Anil Kapoor in Kaate nehin kat te (MR. INDIA, 1987) and Madhuri Dixit going Dhak Dhak in BETA (1992) renewed the fantasy that a saree was all about.
"The best saree-seduction song till date has to be Dimple Kapadia's in SAAGAR (1985). That scarlet saree, open-backed choli criss-crossed with strings, rolling amidst the waves and singing Jaane do na...No one has ever looked hotter in a saree," says Rebello.
In 1998, filmmaker Karan Johar used saree as a transformation tool from a girl to a woman in Kajol (KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI).
"I am most comfortable in a saree. I tried western wear for sometime on and off screen. But that's not for me. Saree brings out my real self," says Vidya Balan.
Name a heroine, who has not donned a saree to play around with a man's fantasy and you will not find any even on Google. To name a few-there's Vidya Balan dangling her saree's pallu provocatively in PARINEETA (2005), Priyanka Chopra going Desi Girl in DOSTANA (2008), a dripping saree-clad Katrina Kaif trying to seduce Akshay Kumar in DE DHANA DHAN (2009), Kareena Kapoor dancing in the rains with Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots ( 2009) and a red saree-clad Anushka Sharma kissing Ranveer Singh in BAND BAAJA BAARAAT (2010).
The latest addition is of course, Sonakshi Sinha, who sports a mirror-worked white saree in a dream sequence with Salman Khan in DABANGG (2010)