Bollywood Journal: A Peek Inside Bollywood’s Wardrobe

As parts of the world prepare for Halloween, the day of hiding your true identity and making mischief, let’s rummage through Bollywood’s vast costume closet for a closer look at some of the great disguises used in Hindi cinema. Of course there are spectacular costumes and outfits too in Bollywood, especially in the song and dance elements of movies, but for now we’ll look only at disguises: Whether undercover, on the run, or just having fun, Hindi film characters love a disguise. Bollywood films of the 1970s in particular follow the mantra that no task is too small or ordinary to bother with wigs, makeup and costumes. Characters, be they cops, criminals or otherwise, use disguises to infiltrate alien settings, gather evidence, mingle with people who have important information and elicit clues and confessions. A disguise can also help you spy on loved ones without them knowing it, enabling you to test their allegiance or discover how they really feel. And sometimes a disguise is just for fun as part of a joke, stunt or surprise. In addition to serving as another form of humor, suspense or visual interest in a film, sometimes the use of a disguise is part of the masala tradition’s fondness for playing with questions of identity. Disguises enable characters to move in different contexts in which they encounter people who will become important to their self-knowledge, even if by sheer coincidence. Identity: A popular option is to identify with a different Indian region or culture. In the top row of the above picture, Amitabh Bachchan wears Punjabi attire for some matchmaking and bhangra fun in the song “Teri Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” from “Suhaag” (1979). Next to him, Kishore Kumar instead alters his age in “Pyaar Kiye Jaa” (1966) as part of prank on his girlfriend. Below, Shahrukh Khan takes on the appearance not just of a new job but almost of a new role in society when an army mission sends him under cover at a college in “Main Hoon Na” (2004). What’s the more dangerous task: fighting a terrorist attack at a television station or navigating tables of cliquish college kids at lunchtime? Cross-dressing: What better way to hide than changing your gender? This selection of cross-dressers covers a variety of missions. Top left: Shashi Kapoor plays a set of twins in “Shankar Dada” (1976), one a cop and one a criminal, providing enough disguises to fill this whole article. Top right: his nephew Rishi Kapoor is a much more convincing woman in “Rafoo Chakkar” (1975), a Hindi-language remake of “Some Like It Hot.” Bottom: much less common is seeing a woman pretending to be a man, but in 2009 an entire film hinged on this very scheme. In “Dil Bole Hadippa,” Rani Mukherji creates a whole new identity as a man in order to get a chance to play cricket in an emotionally charged contest between India and Pakistan. The nature of a disguise might also communicate something about a character’s true self. For example, in the 1977 film Parvarish, Vinod Khanna plays a criminal who disguises himself as a teacher to form a link in an elaborate smuggling network involving a trap door in a school. Little does he know that his real father is not the feared bandit who raised him but in fact a police officer who first apprehended the bandit. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you will probably still guess correctly that this criminal will reform by the closing scene. As the film reaches its climax, the smuggler uses his knowledge of the underworld in order to bring criminals to justice. Teachers: In addition to “Parvarish,” baddies disguising themselves as teachers also appear in “Main Hoon Na” (2004), in which the terrorist traitor Sunil Shetty tails army major Shahrukh Khan under cover in a college (seen in the first image of this slideshow), and “Do aur Do Paanch” (1980), with both Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan as criminals on a complicated job at a school, one as the music teacher and one in charge of sports. Bollywood characters have also turned to religion for disguises, with the long robes and hair of priests, gurus and devotees providing lots of cover. If necessary, you can also stash equipment or stolen goods under all that billowing fabric. Religious: In “Teesri Aankh” (1982), Dharmendra is so effectively disguised that his own mother (Nirupa Roy—who else!) does not recognize him. Neetu Singh augments her robes with blue contacts in “Rafoo Chakkar” (1975). Parveen Babi, Amitabh Bachchan and several other major characters run a scam set to music in “Shaan” (1980). Politician: In “Bunty aur Babli” (2005), the two protagonists are small-time cons … until they attempt the ultimate swindle: selling the Taj Mahal. Rani Mukherji plays an even worse criminal than she really is by impersonating a politician, typing up bogus rental agreements, and relieving a gullible foreigner of his considerable riches. Baddies: Sometimes the good have to play bad, or at least scruffy, in order to advance their mission. Here, heroic and sometimes unconventional police officers go undercover as a bandit, a druggie and a sheikh from a criminal ring. (Top left: Sunil Dutt in “Ganga aur Suraj” [1980]; top right and bottom left: Shashi Kapoor in “Suhaag” and “Chor Sipahee” [both 1979].) In the bottom right corner, Feroz Khan as a lone wolf vigilante do-gooder in “Chunaoti” (1979) tails the villains as a hippie. Performers: Many characters dress up as performers. Not only do they get better access to the debauched doings of villains in nightclubs, but they also earn the satisfaction of hiding in plain sight in a setting that makes them the focus of attention. Here are Bindu as an under cover police officer in “Shankar Dada” (1976) and Saif Ali Khan on the run in “Tashan” (2008). In “Tashan,” the people in disguise even commit their performance to film, forcing a confused Hollywood director shooting an art film in rural India to let them create a song sequence for his film while they desperately hope the police lose their trail. A extended version of hiding in plain sight is sometimes given an ironic twist. After miraculously surviving an attack on her life by a conniving suitor, sweet, plain-Jane Rekha in “Khoon Bhari Maang” (1988) turns herself into the beautiful, aloof and powerful, supermodel who ensnares that same dastardly fellow in revenge. Reinventing yourself in a setting where nobody would expect to find you is the best way to hide. In “Fanaa” (2006), Aamir Khan’s terrorist makes a similarly exposed but less glamorous choice. His days are spent as a Delhi tour guide pointing out cultural achievements that his true life’s work aims to destroy. Nursemaid: Female characters seem most often to disguise themselves as cabaret dancers, which provides an opportunity for a song and a disguise that both conceals and reveals, but sometimes they infiltrate places they aren’t supposed to be by acting like helpful staff. Both nurses, like Zeenat Aman in “Don” (1978), and hotel maids, a very conspicuously attired Neetu Singh in “Parvarish” (1977), gain access to private spaces. Animals: Outside of songs, animal outfits appear infrequently. Two interesting examples come from films made over 40 years apart. In “Ayee Milan Ki Bela” (1964), Rajendra Kumar sneaks around in the middle of the night dressed as a leopard to prove that a boastful colleague is not nearly as brave as he claims. The 2009 film “Delhi 6″ creates “the black monkey,” a frightening figure of urban myth and crime, as a metaphor for the evil lurking in us all. At the end of the movie, Abhishek Bachchan dresses as the monkey to scare off a shifty fellow trying to take advantage of his love interest but ends up tragically taking the retribution of a nervous and angry citizenry. The black monkey is not just a disguise for one of the characters but also a symbol of the parts of ourselves that we all want to hide. Skeletons: But enough of those heavy concepts! Pran and friends in “Karz” (1980) try to leave you with a good scare!


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