We lesser mortals may play Holi in our oldest and most ragged clothes, but in Bollywood, that’s not an option. Be it onscreen or offscreen, Hindi cinema’s leading ladies always dress up and look their loveliest – usually in white – with just the right amount of colour smeared on them. Not for them the dirty blend of pink, green, blue and yellow that just ends up looking like muck. In Bollywood, make-up stays intact, skin looks fresh and hair bounces with life and lustre.
Over the years, what our heroines wear onscreen to play Holi has changed and as more and more films look West for both sets and ideas, Holi has been replaced by carnivals and La Tomatina. That’s a shame, because Holi has meant some memorable songs and moments in Hindi film history. Let’s rewind and remember Bollywood’s Holi wardrobe, from the lehengain Mother India to the salwar-kameez in Silsila and the shorts in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
1. Mother India, “Holi Aayi Re Kanhai”: Mother India may be a cult film, but it isn’t remembered for stylish women and their fashionable clothes. However, in a flashback sequence in this song, Nargis’s character remembered a previous Holi that she had spent with Raaj Kumar’s character. Of course, Nargis’s face remains largely untouched by colour, but she’s seen dancing in a beautiful lehenga. Not exactly what anyone would describe as practical – just imagine how heavy it would be once wet – but filmi Holi can’t be bothered by such practical considerations.
2. Kati Patang, “Aaj Na Chhodenge“: This film had some of the most beautiful songs in Bollywood history and although this one isn’t among the best known, it’s got all the boisterous glee that we associate with Holi. In Kati Patang, Asha Parekh is playing a character who pretends to be a widow, so sticking to that story, she wears white and sports simple make-up. This also means she can’t be the one living it up in Technicolor, so Rajesh Khanna gets to dance around with two other ladies, who are dressed in outfits that would be a nightmare in real life. Wearing the short choli and ghagra set would mean your entire torso would be exposed to the unforgiving gaze of gulal. And a sari in Holi? Only in Bollywood. This is still a more realistic looking Holi celebration than one usually sees in Bollywood. For instance, Khanna’s pristine white kurta does get suitably reddened in gulal.
3.Silsila, “Rang Barse Bheege Chunarwali“: You just can’t talk about filmi Holi without talking about Silsila. Given Yash Chopra’s penchant for making everything more beautiful, Holi is played not just with colours, but also with flowers. Jaya Bachchan bravely exposes her head of beautiful, silky hair (remember, this is before we had the galaxy of hair products to make hair look good) comes out to play Holi in a pink and white sari with a silver border. Rekha’s hair style is a little more practical: a plait, with a paranda at the end. In the grand Bollywood tradition, Rekha is seen wearing a white salwar and a face full of make-up. Interestingly, all the extras are also wearing white, which is probably why Rekha has red bangles, to help her stand out. This is one of the best Holi sequences in Bollywood because it’s rife with the tension of adultery, secrets and the edgy daring traditionally associated with Holi.
4. Sholay, “Holi Ke Din“: Hema Malini’s Basanti matches steps with Dharmendra’s Veeru, which couldn’t have been easy considering Malini is a trained classical dancer and the less said about Dharmendra’s twinkle-toes status, the better. Basanti is seen wearing a violet and yellow, mirrorworked ghagra-choli set that gets photogenically dirty and colour-smeared in the course of the song. With the flowers in her hair and her fantastic accessories, Malini could have easily have been at a wedding, rather than at a village Holi function. But everyone around her looks suitably zombie-esque. Dharmendra is seen wearing a white T-shirt and Amitabh Bachchan also does a little jig, wearing a black shirt and white bell bottoms.
5. Darr, Ang Se Ang Laga: The song begins with everyone sitting in a park, wearing white and if you didn’t know it was from Darr, you might think it was an Ujala advertisement. Juhi Chawla is wearing a white salwar kameez, with a silver belt. She even has white flowers in her head. However, thanks to some pichkari action, that ensemble gets stained vaguely purplish-blue – exactly the colour that white would turn into if you used to much Ujala Liquid Blue. By the end of the song, the white flowers have also changed colour, but her face remains untouched (naturally). The song also has Anupam Kher, Sunny Deol and, of course, Shah Rukh Khan. The only one who looks like he actually played Holi is Khan, whose character uses the Holi colours to disguise his identity and give the security guarding Chawla the slip.
6. Waqt: A Race Against Time, “Let’s play Holi“: Priyanka Chopra first introduced the modern Holi heroine to us with this song. She started off with traditional salwar kameez – but in pink, not white – and sparkling jewellery, but soon changes into a white t-shirt (which got wet, predictably enough) and capri jeans with sneakers. There’s a whole lot of water wastage in the song when Holi turns into a wet t-shirt contest, but full credit to Chopra’s stylist for finally updating the Bollywood Holi wardrobe for heroines. It’s another matter that Chopra and Akshay Kumar are playing Holi on a boat that looks like a reject from The Pirates of Caribbean, which is anchored close to an island that has enormous dupattas streaming out of it.
7. Mohabbatein, “Soni Soni Akhiyon Wali“ : No one does absurdly unrealistic costumes like YRF, and this song is proof of that. It begins simply enough – Archana Puran Singh in full Punjaban avatar, and the film’s heroes in white and jeans. Uday Chopra wears a wifebeater. Why? Who can tell? All the men have saffron sashes around their waists. But this filmi brand of normal doesn’t last long. Shamita Shetty and Kim Sharma strut in, wearing a sports bra, a short skirt, a transparent shirt that’s left open and sneakers. All in white, of course. The ghost of Aishwarya Rai joins in the celebrations, wearing a lemon, chiffon sari. Even though there’s an explosion of colour all around these dancing actors, their outfits naturally remain white (or lemon, in Rai’s case).
8. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, “Balam Pichkaari“: It’s one of the most popular Holi songs in a while and particularly cheer-worthy because after ages of targeting women, Bollywood got a Holi song that objectified men. “ Jeans pehenke jo tune mara thumka, toh latto padosan ki bhabi ho gayi” – that’s how Yeh Jawaani did it, and we loved it. Deepika Padukone and Kalki Koechlin didn’t dress absurdly. You could totally believe real people would go out to play Holi in their outfits. Their hair became a mess and they gulped bhang with gusto. Nicely done, we say. Because after all, Holi hai!