Mumbai: Manish Malhotra, the man who single-handedly changed fashion in Bollywood, has been in the business for 30 years, and remembers well those days when his main competition didn't come from fellow designers--there were few--but from superstar tailors.
Back then, directors would approach Malhotra to dress their stars, and he would ask for something like a script and a character sketch. Huh? There would be a blank look back from the director, and he'd say, after a little thought: "Just make the heroine look sexy."
Malhotra started his journey as a film designer in the 1990s with an aim to change the way Indian movies looked. It was no cakewalk.
"I was very anxious when I started designing for movies as I never studied fashion. In 1989, there was no course in Mumbai for men. But I was very interested in clothes and started working in a boutique," the designer said at the Lakme Fashion Week yesterday.
"I loved movies and there was something I wanted to do to change the way Indian movies looked because during the 1980s the films were loud and the clothes were dramatic."
There were times when directors would ask him to outfit the heroine for a funeral scene, and give him the same brief: Just maker her look sexy.
"It was my first film. The heroine was going to a funeral and I had to make her look sexy.
"It took me awhile but then I understood that they meant the fit had to be really good."
Malhotra said films have evolved over time and while people still want the heroine to look attractive, they have much more to do in the story than just being pretty.
Manish Malhotra has been the bridge for that change in the way the role of women evolved in Bollywood. "Films have changed now. Women have significant roles now. They are doing something in the movie. I've always tried to marry glamour with realism," he added.
Malhotra is a celebrity favourite designer and has dressed the who's who of Bollywood, but the couturier believes his friendship with the A-listers is not the reason for his three-decade-long run in showbiz.
"Being in the good books of people can get you an invite to a party, but it will not help you sustain. It will initially get you work but it's not going to help you go on for 30 years."
Films retain their appeal to the designer. If not a costume designer, he would have definitely become a director as he has a deep understanding of the craft of film-making.
"Movies are something I have always loved. They have given me everything. I enjoy films and understand the medium. I'm a storyteller and films are a very important form of storytelling...
"I actually wanted to become a film director. If I was not a designer, I would have 100 per cent been a film director. That's something I definitely want to do," the designer said.
His next designing gig is his good friend Karan Johar's film Takht.
The historical drama will feature an ensemble cast of Bollywood stars: Anil Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar and Janhvi Kapoor.
Malhotra said he is nervous as he has never worked on a period film before.
"Takht is is Karan's ambitious project and there are many stars in it. There is a lot of study and research for me to do. It's unlike any other film I've done before.
"Veteran actor Shabana Azmi recently told me 'I have never seen you so stressed about a movie and it's good thing to see someone so nervous after being in the business for 30 years.' It's a big challenge for me and I'm enjoying it," he said.