Manish Malhotra on designing for millennials in Student Of The Year 2, and evolution of college fashion in Bollywood

In an exclusive interview, Manish Malhotra talks about styling Alia Bhatt from Student Of The Year to its sequel, and his evolving relationship with Karan Johar.

Devansh Sharma May 12, 2019 13:35:54 IST
Manish Malhotra on designing for millennials in Student Of The Year 2, and evolution of college fashion in Bollywood

In an industry obsessed with deifying the star, the spotlight often evades those who work tirelessly behind the scenes. The success of a film is often attributed to its face but seldom to those who constitute the spine. And so, in this column titled Beyond the Stars, Firstpost highlights the contributions of film technicians who bring their expertise to the table.

Manish Malhotra revolutionised college costumes in Hindi cinema by introducing backless crop tops, fabric chokers, short skirts, animal prints, fur scarfs, tinted sunglasses [Tina in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Poo in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001)], runway accessories [Shanaya in Student Of The Year (2012)] to Bollywood campus capers.

Ahead of Punit Malhotra's Student Of The Year 2, he talks exclusively to Firstpost on the college fashion then and now, styling two newcomers, and his evolving relationship with Karan Johar, the director of all the above mentioned movies.

How has college fashion in Bollywood changed over the years, from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... to the Student of The Year franchise?

All the three movies were/are at a different time and age, styled with the fashion of what the script wanted then. In Student Of The Year 2, you might see fashion that you don’t see in colleges today yet, but what if colleges were like that? Cinema is the art of storytelling, where the reality sometimes gets weaved in with a world that is chimerical, so it allows us that creative license. Also, my job becomes a lot easier with the actors. They are young, smart and so fit that the outfits get automatically enhanced.

Manish Malhotra on designing for millennials in Student Of The Year 2 and evolution of college fashion in Bollywood

(clockwise) Alia Bhatt in Student Of The Year; Kareena Kapoor Khan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham; Tara Sutaria and Ananya Panday in Student Of The Year 2; Rani Mukerji in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

While the term ‘millennial’ was waiting to explode in 2012, it is in full force now. What changes did you make to the colour palette or sartorial aesthetic of Student of the Year to make the sequel more relatable to millennials?

The beauty about the millennials is that they have no inhibitions when it comes to fashion. They are open to experiment with their style which makes my work extremely interesting. The fashion in the movie is for the young lot so I worked with a lot of texture over texture. I’ve mixed popular brands such as Off-White, Bathing Ape, Religion and many eclectic designers that I found in Singapore for that mixed mood.

You have dabbled in a wide variety of clothing like athleisure, chic ethnic and western college wear in Student of the Year 2. Why was this range important?

Firstly, the movie talks about characters from two different strata. To costume design for a movie, the script and the storytelling are an integral part for the process. Student of the Year 2’s script entails a lot of sports. Athleisure for the different strata are displayed accordingly. Both the boys share the same interest in sports, but because they come from different walks of life, the choice of their athleisure had to show that difference. The same goes for the other students in chic ethnic and Western wear. Ananya (Panday) is more into athleisure and Tara (Sutaria) is more into dresses as per their roles in the movies. Also it’s a movie about the millennials who are out there and expressive in every form so whatever choice of college they go to, their sense of style needs to aspire the ones viewing it.

When I asked producer Karan Johar why he passed on the baton to Punit Malhotra, he said, “Punit is Manish’s nephew so he has got his aesthetics right.” What new elements did Punit bring to Student Of The Year 2 compared to what Karan brought to the first part?

Firstly, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two as one comes with immense experience and one with a whole new thought process. Also the franchise may be the same but the stories are different. Punit will definitely be bringing his own flavour to the movie. He’s extremely talented and has worked hard to hone his skill but how he does it differently will be decided once you watch the movie.

Tiger Shroff may not be too fond of clothes given his perennially shirtless mode, but do you see in him a budding fashion icon, like what his father has become now? Does he remind you of Jackie Shroff, with whom you had worked with in Rangeela?

It’s quite the feeling when you are working with all these young actors today. I’m 52 today and this is my 29th year in movies. It feels almost surreal that I worked with the parents of the cast. I did Bhavna Pandey’s reception outfit and know Jackie from the Rangeela days. The kids have grown into their own personalities from their parents and are fabulous. Tiger was absolutely lovely to design and style for. I think his style will definitely make a mark in this movie.

How was the experience of styling Alia Bhatt for 'The Hookup Song' seven years after you worked with her first in Student Of The Year. How has her fashion sense evolved over the years?

Working with Alia from the beginning, it feels amazing to see her evolve through the years. Whether it comes to her acting or style, she has only grown. I’ve styled/designed for her in Badrinath Ki Dulahaniya, Kalank... almost every year, I’ve worked with her. She’s walked for my shows. She wears a lot of my clothes on the red carpet, and year after year, her fashion sense has evolved beautifully as the actor she is.

How has your creative partnership with Karan Johar changed in the past two decades? What part of your creative energies find a common ground?

Karan and I are friends for over 2o years now and our relationship lies on pure honesty. We understand each other and we understand filmmaking. If there is something that he doesn’t like, he will tell me and vice-versa. I think every relationship (and having a lot of close relationships in the industry for beyond 20 years, I can say this) needs to come from the heart and be based on honesty.

How different was it switching from Kalank, a period drama, to Student of the Year 2, a new-age film designed for the millennials?

I think I have been blessed that after 29 years, even today, I can do a Kalank and a Student Of The Year 2 simultaneously. There are very few technicians who see themselves working with the third generation and for that, I’m very grateful.

Karan Johar has said that as he grows older, his fashion choices (styled by Nikita Jaisinghani) make him look and feel younger. Where do you draw your ‘young and crazy' energy from?

I’m quite simple with my choice of clothes, and you’ll find me mostly in blacks and whites. Hence I chose to stay and feel younger with my mind. I’m constantly surrounded by younger people, whether it’s the brides, bridegrooms, assistants and actors. They too help me stay and feel young.

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