Denim has withstood the test of time, from its bell- bottom days to its most recent skinny avatar; but what has been the most interesting journey in bollywood is how it has been transformed from a workman’s fabric to très chic.

Remember Prakash Mehra, who created angry young man Inspector Vijay (enacted by Amitabh Bachchan) in the 70s with super hits like Zanjeer? Or, Deewar’s Vijay Verma, where his four-pocket denim jackets, over a check shirt paired with bell bottoms and a scarf loosely tied around his neck made women swoon? Yes, it was Bachchan who stole the show all the way from the blockbuster Sholay to the heart-rending Agneepath where he immortalised those who had been wronged by society and would eventually avenge that injustice. Denim exuded that machismo giving a rugged feel, which Bachchan, a then struggling actor, played gangster as Haji Mastan to perfection in Deewar with his light blue denim workman chic clothes, in an epic drama conceptualised by Yash Chopra in 1975. If you look close enough, there are enough examples of how denim was considered precipitous to show that the hero is carrying the burden of the world on his brawny shoulders, like in Manmohan Desai’s Coolie or the simpleton-to-gang head in Don where this coarse fabric made it on to lapelled shirts. And, till today, the bad boy of Bollywood, Salman Khan, prefers to let the denim do the stony talking in his fight scenes in Dabangg as he sports a belted midnight-blue pair.
Interestingly, it was the flavour of the ’70s. Dharmendra, who epitomised the He-Man look, a sturdy stallion from Punjab, carried off a full denim show in Sholay, complete with a cap, boot-cut pants and broad chest revealing from a button-down shirt.
However, this was not original styling. In fact, designer Rajdeep Ranawat will tell you it was severely copied from Western cowboy movies like Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood’s virile kicks taking 70 MM by storm.
You had indigo and blue denim, which was also a long-lasting fabric and at a time when the country was grappling with unemployment and recession, it seemed like a perfect choice. “Dharam Veer brought out the real Hercules
in Dharam ji, who was known for his rippling muscles and warm winning smile, which made quite a contrast. It was an era of body fits, so the jeans were as if sewn on your body. It was also the time of hippie chic so you had high-waist jeans sported by Parveen Babi along with a tie-up blouse. And, who can forget Helen’s cabarets and Zeenat Aman’s pot smokin’ days as a flower child in Hare Rama Hare Krishna,” he adds.
Seeing the vast change, Ranawat observes that denim today has its watered-down version in Bollywood. It is not so noticeable, with ripped, distressed and torn jeans making their way into stars’ personal and professional wardrobe. “You will see it in Jackie Shroff’s son Tiger’s debut film Heropanti, where he does gravity defying stunts. If I took a trip down memory lane, I loved the vivacious Dimple Kapadia’s sensual young girl’s
wardrobe with short va va voom denim dresses in Bobby, or the mini-skirts with cleavage revealing tie-up sheer blouses, which made her the country’s most voluptuous beauty,” he laughs.
He also cheerfully remembers Kamal Haasan or Raja, the one who lost his


love to the rich boy Rishi Kapoor in the film Saagar, and his sleeveless waistcoats in American blue denim worn with a black tee. Or, Zakhmi Aurat where Dimple is paired opposite Raj Babbar and channels androgyny by flaunting a big collar faded denim shirt or her unforgettable hot pants in Feroz Khan’s Janbaaz. “Denim has undergone a revolution, unlike before when it was used in its most basic format. Italian master Roberto Cavalli adding studs, prints, using gold and silver foil on denim, and his final strike in the battle to resuscitate it was won with patchwork, which made it a red carpet staple,” says Ranawat.
Adding lycra to denim paved the way for comfort and ease, making it an all-day fabric, says Ranawat who has designed denim when he was supplying to Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus as an exporter.
Designer Joy Mitra characterises fashion into two distinct parts – before Sholay and after Sholay, which he believes was the game-changer in styling. The shaded ’80s faded, stone and acid washed denim came into existence with Rishi Kapoor’s Karz with Tina Munim and Neetu Singh in Rafoo Chakkar and Khel Khel Mein. “Women were not petite and liked the denim with no skinny styles but boot cuts. I think it was Akshay Kumar in the Khiladi series who really nailed it by making denim a statement piece for a stunt man, who is unafraid of leaping off buildings, making it a hunky fabric. Nevertheless, he also sobered it down when he wore it with monochromatic kurtas and a check scarf in Namaste London,” says Joy.
Another whirlwind according to him was Farhan Akhtar’s ode to male adulthood and its many humorous misgivings in his directorial debut, Dil Chahta Hai, which made wearing floral shirts with your denims cool. Before that, these two made only strange bedfellows. “I could never imagine a man wearing tie-and-dye shirts, or Shibori with jeans; it would be a sin.
But Akhtar and his uber fun trio made this jovial and irreverent, just what fashion needed,” he smiles.
Menswear designer Troy Costa may not be a movie buff, but he does know that denim has withstood the test of time on the style map. However, it has changed from the four-pocket format to a now enzyme washed or waxed fabric, which has awakened to the needs of a tech-savvy generation looking for more than just straight cuts. “You will now see contrasting threadwork, sand-blasted, stone-washed and paint-smeared denim, which by some companies is also being digitally printed. “I see a lot of stars like Hrithik Roshan and Shahid Kapoor whom I design for wearing denim as an outdoor fabric due to its robustness,” he admits.
But denim makers, unlike in the 70s, are now much smarter with new ways of shrinking this jaggy fabric and making it softer and feminine. “I still remember the early ’90s’ coloured denim craze. It was awful as it played with the original colour and made it cheesy with tangerines and baby blues. Women loved it and even now when it has returned on the catwalk, women are adopting it,” he says. We have seen stars like Kalki Koechlin donning it in recent hits like Ayan Mukherjee’s Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. Even Naina or Deepika Padukone loved her acid- washed denim shorts in the film where she danced to ‘Balam Pichkari’ and also the denim ultra-sweet skirts which she paired with bomber jackets. Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara saw closet poet Akhtar wearing roomy denims, while Abhay Deol kept it austere with whites and Roshan won the game with his ‘dirty’ charcoal black denim fastened at the waist with a check scarf.
Stylist Tanya Ghavri, who has revolutionised the way Madhuri Dixit looks in hit TV shows like Jhalak Dikhla Ja and Sonam Kapoor whom she styled in Aisha, says that denim is synonymous with understated glamour. “I’ve always considered it sexy through the years. It is undeniably a fashion mainstay. Right from the ’60s through the ’70s, it was the beginning of the hippie age, which infiltrated into Bollywood and became a rage. Hip- huggers, denim skirts and crop denim jackets were de rigueur with yesteryear stars like Babita and Saira Banu, who gleefully sported these looks. Though I believe, the ’80s was a bit more rebellious and grunge, more boyish, with Munim and Sridevi (in Chaalbaaz) flaunting bomber style denims. The diva Rekha too played around with denims in her photo shoots, which for that time were quite a groundbreaking affair. The waistline started to lower in the ’90s starting from mid-waist to really low by the 2000s, which were then worn by Kareena Kapoor Khan in Jab We Met and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Dhoom 2. In the midst of Bollywood’s enthusiasm for spectacular costumes, denims have made quite a place for themselves and are here to stay,” she adds.
Designer Rina Dhaka attributes the craze of denims to Western films like Jennifer Beals’ Flashdance and Olivia Newton John’s Grease, which was copied in India stylistically through Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla starrer Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak with the high-waist jeans worn with a classic white cotton or linen shirt. “Denims of those times gifted you a pear- shaped body, and I remember I wore it with brogues in the ’80s. Though I liked Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om doing that whole ‘Dard-e-disco’ number flashing his six-pack abs and his low-waist huggers,” she laughs.
Finally, the icon who actually took jeans from the pedestrian to avant- garde was none other than Tom Ford for Gucci when he launched his embroidered pair in the early ’80s, which cost several thousands of pounds and proved to be a rage
when women wore it to Michelin star- winning restaurants, which was earlier an unthinkable act.
“Ash in Dhoom 2 looked striking with an embellished top and torn denim skirts giving the fabric a glam avatar. Roshan has a fabulous body, so when he wore just his jeans in Krrish 3, topless, he sizzled. But, baby-faced, chocolate boy Ranbir Kapoor in Wake Up Sid gave jeans a fun drizzle with quirky socks and graffiti tees, which made him look like any other confused teenager. So, three leading men have their own interpretations in movies and have made it their own with a unique twist. That’s the power of denim,” she concludes.