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The man and his clothes

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CUTTING EDGE Manish Malhotra wants to break away from the routine
CUTTING EDGE Manish Malhotra wants to break away from the routine

Seventeen years and 1000 films later, Manish Malhotra wants new challenges

Bollywood’s favourite designer wants a break. No, he’s not calling it a day. He’s had enough of styling and designing for the divas and badshahs of the industry. He wants to work on select projects, build his label and direct his own film. We catch Manish Malhotra in a candid mood.

You’ve worked for nearly 1000 films in 17 years. Has it been a fulfilling journey?

I had no formal training in fashion. I had no money to go abroad and study fashion and there was nothing in Mumbai. I was a terrible student in school and spent all my time watching Hindi films. When I look back, I realise I know nothing of maths, geography, history or physics. I passed my science subjects only because I was good in drawing. I wanted to be a director or an actor. My cousin married David Dhawan and through them, I entered cinema. By then, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Rohit Bal and Rohit Khosla had all started designing. I thought if I wanted to be part of the fraternity, I could start with films.

In the early 90s, we had great heroines like Sridevi and Madhuri who weren’t exactly wearing the greatest of clothes. The first two years were hell. I worked with big names like Sunny Deol, Chunkey Pandey, Sridevi, Shilpa Shirodkar and Vijayashanti. But producers wouldn’t pay in time or the cheques would bounce. My dad asked me if it is worth working like this for 20 hours a day. But I wasn’t going to leave films; I had nothing to fall back on. I then spoke to Sridevi and decided on giving her a particular look for an entire film. Heroines shifting from long to short hair in different scenes of the same film didn’t make sense to me. She agreed and “Gumrah” happened. From then on, it was a different journey.

You are taking on very few films now. Why?

I have my own label now; it is big business. I have my own store in Mumbai, two stores in Dubai and 10 others in India where I send my collections. All this requires time. I designed a restaurant in New York, anchored a television show and want to direct my film. I accept films only if they are interesting, like “Om Shanti Om”, or for friends who I cannot refuse. I loved the 70s look for “OSO”.

You’ve been talking of directing a film for the last few years….

Films, brides and fashion weeks have kept me busy. I refused to do Fashion Week this time but Lux persisted saying it’s their first time at the Fashion Week and that they needed me since the concept was about beauty and divas. So I returned from Miami where I was working on “Dostana” , designed the collection and went back. I guess I have to take a break for six months and work on my film. Hopefully it should be out in 2009.

Is Karan Johar producing your film?

(Looking startled) I am not saying anything now.

You are working with Karan again for “Dostana”. What makes you a constant fixture in his films?

Karan is very interested in fashion and knows what he wants for his film. Our friendship grew with every film.

For “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna” (KANK), I designed for the entire film. That takes up a lot of my time. In “Dostana”, I am designing only for the girls.

I’ve had very long associations not just with Karan but also with Kareena, Karisma, Preity, Urmila, Sridevi, Madhuri, Rani and Kajol. I have wonderful friends in the industry. I don’t agree with those who say the industry takes a lot from you and gives you no friends in return.

In the South too, I’ve had memorable experiences designing for Vijayashanti, Chiru, Rajnikanth, Nagarjuna and Balakrishna.

You gave Urmila a new identity in “Rangeela”. Now you’re designing for the remake of “Karz”, where she plays a stylish, 50-plus reclusive woman. What will a 50-plus Urmila look like on screen?

I am not taking age into account. What I understand of her character is that even if she is say 50 years old, she doesn’t look it and doesn’t want to look it.

I personally am 41 now, yet I’m wearing something that will suit even the 20 to 30 age group. It is not that I’ve dressed Urmila like a baby doll or a young, peppy college girl. The look is elegant, sexy and stylish but these are clothes that will look good on a 30-year-old as well.

The only bad press you got in the recent past was for Vidya Balan’s clothes in “Heyy Babyy”. What went wrong?

Some times things don’t work, perhaps the lighting isn’t good or the hairstyle is all wrong. The “Heyy Babyy” team felt I wasn’t needed for the schedule in Australia. I think I should have put my foot down. I kept calling and asking her if the clothes go with the hairstyle and make up and she kept saying everything was fine. On screen, everything was wrong. I felt bad when she blamed me for the disaster. The Filmfare Awards where she was given the ‘nareal’ award for the worst dressing was the last straw. Even on the awards nite, she thought she was looking wonderful but got criticised for her look. That shows the problem lies with her. Some people need guidance with styling and if they believe otherwise, designers can’t help.

SRK and IPL

I have worked with SRK for “Kal Ho Na Ho” and “KANK” and he never discussed clothes as much as he did for IPL. It was fun designing clothes for the Knightriders team. The team is like SRK’s baby.

When you work with people like SRK, Rajnikanth, Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, you realise they are not icons merely because of their talent. It’s their passion for work and their down-to-earth nature that makes them icons.

They are hands on at work. For IPL, we worked in association with Belmonte (for official wear) and Reebok (for sports wear) and stylised the look.

SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO

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