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Mom, she & he!

When Manish Malhotra speaks, everybody listens. And when he is in conversation with Raima Sen, there’s all the more reason to sit back and enjoy. The two came together for Ficci FLO Couture in the Frame, a session on ‘films and mainstream fashion’, at Taj Bengal on Tuesday evening, where Manish also showed a short film directed by him on “a bride and her ex-lovers” with which he had opened his Delhi Couture Week this year. t2 tracked Manish’s chat with 185 other women!

Raima Sen: What’s your source of inspiration?

Manish Malhotra: For me, designing was a part of my life. When I was a child, I used to tell my mother, ‘I don’t like your sari’ and she would be like, ‘What’s with you? Why don’t you leave my saris alone?’ In school, I was terrible at studies and very poor in mathematics. I passed my exams only because of my drawings. When it came to college, I was modelling. Throughout, I was very fond of Hindi films and that’s something that my mother had the sixth sense for. She never stopped me from watching films. She has been very supportive in that sense.

I wanted to be a film director. I did not have the money to do a film course or a design course, which was my second choice actually. I joined a boutique to see how I felt about it. I was a salesboy there and my mother was like, ‘Are you sure about this because you would become a tailor!’ I used to keep sketching and designing and colours used to fascinate me. That was my education. I would take alterations and I was basically interested.

For me, the best way to get into clothes was movies. I also wanted to do something different because I feel that leaves a mark. Of course, you have to work double hard. I started doing photoshoots for some of the actors and they were like, ‘why don’t you start designing for films’? At that time, Bhanu Athaiya was doing more period films. I started working with Shilpa Shirodkar, Sunny Deol… I met Sridevi. I was a huge fan of hers.... And then it’s been 22 years of costumes and I haven’t looked back.

I was very fond of travelling and then I was styling and then I started travelling to Switzerland for all those chiffon sari songs in the ’90s. Then Rangeela happened and there was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai… Karisma’s (Kapoor) makeover also happened.

Today, I have Heroine coming this Friday and then Student of the Year. I am working with Deepika (Padukone), Raima (Sen), Katrina (Kaif) and Kareena (Kapoor) and everybody. So I don’t know how time has passed.

I am for Bollywood. I love it! I was one of the first designers from films to get into mainstream fashion because before that the divide was wide. Then I launched my own label and it has been seven years to that as well.

When it comes to inspiration, it is like I have to deliver. I like colours... I like watching people… flowers. Calcutta has a fantastic way of intellectualising things but I don’t have that in me. I am straightforward. I love doing what I am doing and don’t feel the need to intellectualise it.

Raima: You design for so many Bollywood stars. Who is your favourite?

Manish: All of them are friends…. Sridevi… I started working with her and that made a difference to my career. Also, I learnt a lot about costuming from her! At that time costuming was different — the way petticoats were made or how the blouse sleeves were… without lining... and so there were a lot of technicalities that I learnt from her. I feel if you are interested in something, you don’t need an education for it. You have to be ready to work hard. And also patience...

Raima: What is the difference between style and fashion?

Manish: I think style is something that is timeless while fashion changes every season. Style is something that you have to know about yourself and what you can carry. I think I am more of a clean-line person. If you see me in an embroidered jacket or dhoti pants, you will wonder what happened to Manish?! All of us have our pluses and minuses.

Raima: How has your style statement evolved?

Manish: I think I am far more comfortable today in what I make and what I say. And I should be! I am 45! I have been working for 22 years, I better be! Also, one learns that less is more and that you don’t need to do too much. I think people are changing. They are far more wanting to experiment. It all reflects a cycle. Over the past few years, I have seen far more bridegrooms discussing their clothes than they did earlier. For my kind of work, which is a bit more colourful and glamorous… today somebody asked me if I would change my work for Calcutta? I was like no… Also, I feel my style has gone simpler. I pay a lot more attention to details — the shoes that I buy. I like a lot more texture than shine.

Raima: If you had to name one designer who changed the face of fashion, somebody you’d like to work with...

Manish: Ritu Kumar started the whole fashion scene, which is not that old… it is only about 25 years old. If you go back in history, you will see that all our kings and queens were extremely fashionable. It had so much colour and embroidery. Fashion and a sense of style has always been there. It is just that the term ‘designer’ came in....

Internationally, I love Armani for what they do and I also like Dolce & Gabbana very much because they are very modern. I like tradition a lot and which is why I make a lot of traditional clothes. But I like to make it slightly more contemporary. Internationally, they are never perturbed by what a fashion writer has to say. They stick to what they believe in. Collection after collection, they just reinvent. You will never see an Armani do what a Cavalli does or for that matter what Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton have been doing... the same prints for years. That what’s Indian designers need to learn… stick by what they do. All these years, that’s what I have done and somewhere it has become a Manish Malhotra look — flowing and feminine. As a child, I have loved Bollywood so much and it has overwhelmingly given me a lot. Till today, a lot of actresses and actors stand by what I do. Right now, we are discussing Kareena’s wedding outfits and I dressed Karisma for her wedding. I kept reinventing myself and kept working hard.

Raima: In the global fashion world, where does India stand?

Manish: India doesn’t need to stand anywhere in the global fashion world because India today is what everybody is looking at. I was in London for an entire summer when I noticed that there were buyers there who were Arab, Chinese, Russian and Indian. So today, there is an Indian buyer out there. Grosvenor House hotel is owned by an Indian. So India is out there… if somebody asked me if I wanted to open a store in London or Calcutta, I would say Calcutta. (Loud applause) Women today are not shy of what they want to wear. For so many years, international names have been getting their embroidery done here and they still do. And you always have a reassuring market, which is the copied market. They are the best!

Raima: Is it more difficult to design for men or for women?

Manish: I don’t find women difficult at all… she is a woman… she should take her time. (More applause) People ask me how I handle so many heroines who don’t even like each other?! I am like when I am with Raima, I would talk about Raima… how intelligent she is!

Raima: Do you believe that clothes make a man?

Manish: I believe man makes a man. And clothes can only add to that. Also, women actually... behind every successful man... right? But a man always needs his mother! The obsession of Indian men with their mothers will never go!

Manish: I have a question for you. When you shuffle between Mumbai and Calcutta, how do you balance these two worlds?

Raima: I don’t do too many movies. I choose the best of what I get and so I am passionate about what I do. So it’s easy for me. When you like something so much, it is easy to balance.

Manish: Shabana Azmi loves Raima. We did this big show for Mijwan recently and after that she said, ‘You know, I missed Raima Sen. I really like her.’

Raima: We worked together in C Kkompany [Manish styled her in the film]

Manish: You have managed both. There are some who come from the south or east India who are very lost…

Raima: I make sure I do both.

Manish: So here are two passionate people!

 

Saionee Chakraborty of t2 sat in on the chat