Like many girls of my generation, I idolised Sridevi—her iconic voice, her high-voltage smile, her expressive eyes, and above all, her amazing ability to slip into fanciful costumes and daring makeup just like a dream. I’m still inspired by her inimitable sense of style and aura. So, when our cover star Janhvi Kapoor, the millennial muse met master designer Manish Malhotra, known for dressing the leading ladies of Hindi cinema over four glorious decades, in the meadows and valleys of the achingly romantic Switzerland, I saw the making of another dream, set in another era. Switzerland itself was a charming protagonist of the Yash Chopra-era films, and here our cover stars give a spin to the nostalgia of those chiffon saris and the glamorous song-and- dance sequences. Think Chandni, for instance. On board the train journey and during the shoot at Gstaad Palace with our cover stars, I could catch a few glimpses of the iconic Sridevi, maybe a hint of the mannerisms, and yet,she is so much of a girl of today’s times. And thus started our heartwarming conversation on cinema of the romance era and its transition to films where content is the king, to Janhvi’s own sense of style. While Janhvi’s effervescent-yet-grounded bursts of opinions and optimism added sparkle to our day, Manish’s candid and nuanced take on fashion and Hindi films took me on a merry-go-round of sparkling wit and sweet emotions.
(TO MANISH) TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST TRYST WITH FILMS.
My association with films goes back to childhood. As far as I can remember, it all started at the age of six; as a child, I was attracted to fims and lm songs, so much so that I think my entire childhood was spent in a lm theatre!
WHO IS THE FIRST PERSON YOU STYLED?
I was into modelling in the ’80s and in those days working in boutiques was a cool thing. Back then, there was no professional course in design available. National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Delhi had just started. I didn’t want to shift to Delhi because I was always my own person and didn’t want to stay with any relative. And then because my cousin sister is married to David Dhawan, David ji asked me to do a song for Juhi Chawla in Swarg, which was released in 1990. It was Rohan Shrestha’s father Rakesh Shrestha who took me to meet ma’am (Sridevi). She was shooting in Mehboob Studio and I still remember seeing her for the rst time in a red anarkali. I am a big fan of Sridevi. I loved her in Himmatwala and I think I watched the lm almost seven times and that’s how it all started. In the history of Indian cinema, Sridevi was the only actor to command the number one spot in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi films.
TELL US ABOUT SRIDEVI’S INFLUENCE ON YOUR METHOD OF STYLING.
I think what I learnt from her was costuming. She was a superstar. I was only 23 when I made the shift from modelling studio work to fashion. I remember she had asked me to go to Madras with a costume for her and, gradually, as she sensed my enthusiasm despite my nervousness, she started sharing her ideas with me. She never wasted a moment on speaking about any other actor or anything else. It was all about what we were making at that point of time. I learnt from her the little things like not putting lining in the sleeves, or how to stitch the lining from the centre so that it doesn’t y up and about not putting gathers in the skirt and about putting more kallis for the waist to look slimmer. There were several other nuances that I imbibed from her vast experience like the back zip and dark points for the shapes to look better. Such was her influence that till date I address her as ma’am.
ANY SPECIAL MEMORY?
I remember ma’am asked me to make ghaghras for Janhvi. Janhvi once met me wearing one of those ghaghras at the age of three or four and pulled her dupatta in a striking manner. And that’s when I told ma’am that she was meant to be a full-on actor. Today, what I see in Janhvi is that same focus as in her mom, which I so admire. To me, Janhvi is more Sridevi than Boney Kapoor.
YOU STARTED OFF WITH FILMS AND NOW YOU ARE ONE OF THE BIGGEST FASHION DESIGNERS IN INDIA. HOW DID THIS FALL INTO PLACE?
One thing that I was very conscious about was that I did not study fashion. I was not really educated and not very language-friendly or even knowledge-friendly and all that I knew was movies. But I could paint and sketch. During that time, films were very close-knit, there were no stylists or costume designers. So, I had to use the concept of styling. And I think Sridevi was the first actor who was comfortable with styling and switching to both long and short hair in between shots. She was such a progressive person. It was in Gumrah where she sported the iconic short haircut throughout the lm. Before that actors used to pair short hair with Western outfits and a choti with Indian outfits, you know. Eventually, Rangeela came into the picture. At that time, I never ever thought that I would start a business of fashion. The only bride whose out t I made was that of Bhavana Pandey (Chunky Pandey’s cousin). It was a reception out t in powder blue. (Manish) keeps missing those glamorous songs, the chiffon saris flying in Switzerland and all that. M: So, let’s start by explaining that I have told Janhvi she can’t call me ‘Manish uncle’. So, she renamed me as ‘M’, and she is the only one to have the right to call me ‘M’.Coming back to fashion, before there were, of course, legendary filmmakers like Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Yash Chopra, and the like. Now, fashion is not there in lms, it’s very realistic; earlier, in the lms that I came from, even if the girl (playing the lead role) was ordinary looking, she had to be well-dressed.
Then there were nine years that passed by and it got really hectic—the whole system of styling. In 2005, I did Karisma’s (Kapoor) wedding and then there were people who came to my house to order clothes. And thus began the journey of evolving, understanding, and learning.
(TO J) IS THERE A MAN OR EVEN A FILM CHARACTER YOU HAVE A CRUSH ON?
Keeps changing, depending on my mood, sometimes I like Matt Damon from The Bourne Identity and at other times, it could even be Guru Dutt from one of his iconic films.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR MOM?
She wasn’t working for a large part of my childhood, I was already in my teens when she did English Vinglish. I idolise her work ethic from the get-go. She gave her 100 per cent to everything, be it to films or to her family and that’s the personality trait that I adore. For films, she was like a horse with blinkers, and at home she was the best host and the most entertaining and fun person to be with.