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AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool
The leading lady, again.
STARRY-EYED

Nobody cares about the clothes at India’s big fashion week—thanks to Bollywood

By Shelly Walia

The Lakme Fashion Week in India closed on March 23and it was more about Bollywood than fashion.

On the final day, the spotlight was on actress Kareena Kapoor, the showstopper for designer Anamika Khanna.

For the same show, three other Bollywood actresses—Deepika Padukone, Sonakshi Sinha and Jacqueline Fernandez—walked the ramp. 

But big, popular film stars weren’t the only ones who eclipsed designers and models at the fashion week.

On day two, Sagarika Ghatge—an actor whose only claim to fame has been a supporting role in Shah Rukh Khan-starrer film Chak De India—walked the runway for Kolkata-based designer Pallavi Singhee.

A decade after celebrity showstoppers were introduced by designer Manish Malhotra, film stars have come to dominate most fashion weeks in the country. As a result, the Lakme event looked more like a glitzy Bollywood party, instead of a celebration of the country’s most talented designers.

“If Bollywood is taking away the focus from the clothes, then it’s a loss for fashion,” fashion designer Wendell Rodricks told Quartz.

The Goan fashion designer—who was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the country’s highest awards for civilians, for his work—has two concise theories about the undying chemistry between the ramp and film stars.

“One, they have a film around the corner that they want to talk about at the press conference,” he offered. ”Two, as crude as it sounds, they have nothing to do.”

“It always puzzles me how you have half the film industry in the front row and on the ramp. I always question if they are working at all,” Rodricks added.

This year, a handful of Bollywood clotheshorses, such as Karishma Kapoor and Tanishaa Mukherji, are out-of-work actors. Kapoor’s last film was a forgettable Dangerous Ishhq back in 2012, while Mukherji last appeared on the big screen in 2011.

Others—including designer, Payal Singhal—feel that Bollywood’s outsized presence has its benefits.

“If you are selling food and if you market the food to the people who eat it, would that be wrong? The fact is that Bollywood sells, and so if actors wear our garment, we sell ten times more,” she said in an interview. South Indian actor Tamannaah Bhatia, who has acted in a couple of unsuccessful films in Bollywood, including Himmatwala and Humshakals, took the centre stage for Singhal’s creations.

But this strategy has some pitfalls.

“It only makes sense if the celebrity is your client, otherwise, if you have a star as your showstopper, people don’t talk about your designs anymore, the celebrity gets all the publicity,” designer Manish Gupta explained back in 2009. “If your designs are not good, no star can help impress your buyers.”

While Bollywood bounds up and down the ramp, it is perhaps models who face the brunt of this trend. India’s film stars not only dominate the limelight at fashion shows, but also monopolise fashion magazine covers. For emerging models in an already crowded industry, it just makes thing worse.

“Models have the body, the expressions and the experience. But Bollywood showstoppers tend to overshadow everything, be it ramp shows or magazine covers. Brands don’t come to models anymore,” a model of 15 years, Alesia Raut, explained a couple of years ago.

“How do you have a supermodel in such circumstances?”