`Film fashion is at a crossroads'

Vikram Phadnis and Manish Malhotra on films and fashion

U nlike the careers of the film stars whose fortunes fluctuate every Friday, their couturiers' success has been steady. While Manish Malhotra redefined Bollywood costumes with "Rangeela," Vikram Phadnis brought in shimmer with "Biwi No 1." While the former swayed to sensuality, the latter gravitated to glitter. Always a cut above their contemporaries, Manish will showcase his works at the finale of the forthcoming Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, while Vikram's show will kick-start the upcoming Lakme Fashion Week. Sipping hot tea at the kiosk in the sprawling Sandton Convention Centre, the venue of the 10th Sanlam South Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, the designer duo looks anything but tense. Invited to the City of Gold to present their lines "Bombay Chic" as part of the grand finale, the two snatch some time off from their rehearsal rounds for a Take Two. Juggling a camera and a dictaphone, T. Krithika Reddy captures the tete-a-tete. Manish: Today, Bollywood has become a global brand. It's a cultural ambassador, particularly to the NRIs. It's their window to India. You know something? Most of the Indians living abroad are caught in a time warp. The country has changed so much. But they are still holding on to nostalgia - to the times before they migrated abroad. Hindi films mirror our times in more ways than one. It upsets me when the foreign media covers only beggars, elephants or the kitsch elements. Today, an average Indian is well dressed, widely travelled and knowledgeable. We need to project an India that's modern - at the same time as a country that values its traditions. Vikram: The medium of films is strong. When something is captured on celluloid, it's frozen for life. The credit goes to you. Before Rangeela, nobody spoke so much about film costumes. Today, Bollywood sets the trend. Manish: But film fashion is at a crossroads. I think it's time to think beyond over-the-top, sexy, glamour and take fashion to another level. I'm fed up of bling. We've seen so much of it in the recent past. So much so, the works of most designers seem the same. Style is about character. We have to take the plunge and move to character-centric designing, instead of glamour - just for the sake of glamour. That's what I've tried to do in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Be more real - in sync with the character. Much depends on the director too. Post Rangeela, I've had directors come to me and ask for designs on the lines of what I had created for Urmila Matondkar. It didn't matter to them even if the heroine was sobbing in shimmering, sexy outfits! Vikram: Manish, aren't people more aware of cut, drape and colour because of films and ramp shows? And even stars have their own inputs these days when it comes to design. Thanks to films, we got our recognition. But sometimes, I'm tired of running from set to set. I've been in Bollywood for far too long. I want to get into serious design and concentrate on retail as well. Manish: With the economy opening up and people's spending power improving, a good retail business is the icing on the cake. We have so much on our hands. It's crazy, yet challenging. Okay Vikram, do you believe in trends? Vikram: No, only moods. To me fashion is about a particular state of mind. The spur comes from anything - a person, place or a party. What about you? Manish: I'm driven by the desire to do something different each time. When I was invited to the South Africa Fashion Week, the first thing I asked myself was `What is it from India I can showcase in a manner that the South Africans can understand?' It is important to present Indian fashion in such a way that foreigners not just appreciate it, but also adapt to it. The prints I've been experimenting with recently have an Indian feel but an international appeal. Vikram: Manish, what do you foresee in the coming seasons? Manish: Oh, I've done so much research recently before deciding upon the Spring-Summer line for 2007. I think the coming season will see the last burst of colour before we move to a more sober, classic, 1950s look. Dresses are here to stay, femininity is in. I've noticed over the years, fashion is a cycle, but style is constant. Vikram: So will we be seeing a more sober Manish? Manish: Yes. When I moved away from too much colour recently, it raised eyebrows because vibrancy was my trademark. But sometimes, it is necessary to challenge your own trademark. So tell me Vikram, what does success mean to you? Vikram: Manish, as you know, my parents are in the medical profession. They were sceptical about my entry into design. Today, they're happy and I've no regrets. Success to me is about going to sleep with a peaceful mind. About not trampling over someone else to get there. There's space for everyone here. Whether it's a high-profile client like Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai or Salman Khan or a wannabe starlet, I approach work with the same dedication. What about you? Manish: To me, success is about fame, not money. You might be sitting next to a wealthy man and not recognise him. It is also about the ability to do what you want to do without the risk of not being accepted. People listen when you are successful, you see?

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