Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) and his family are currently holidaying in Italy. A new photo, shared by a fan club features SRK’s daughter Suhana Khan, in a brown bikini. Suhana Khan is a diva every sense of the word and a trendsetter in her own way.
The bikini was introduced to the fashion world on 5th July 1946 by French automotive engineer and designer Louis Reard. It went on to become a great symbol of change in popular culture. Every year 5th July is celebrated as Bikini Day. Initially it was considered too bold even by the Western world. The bikini got its first moment of glory in Western popular culture when in the first James Bond film Dr No (1962), Ursula Andress gloriously rose out of the ocean in a white bikini.
Why the bikini in Bollywood was shunned for a long time
India was the land of Kama Sutra, Konark and Khajuraho once. But at some point in history Indians became obsessed with virginity, everything virginal and so-called modesty. It gets reflected in our art, popular culture and in Bollywood. In Bollywood, for a long time, the desirable qualities in leading lady characters were virginity and being modestly dressed. In this scenario of society and patriarchy, wearing something skimpy like a bikini publicly is nothing short of a revolution.
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The pioneers of Bollywood bikini wearing
But much before 1962, on another sea beach, a Bollywood actress Nalini Jaywant was photographed by international photographer James Burke for Life magazine. The late Jaywant frolicking in a bikini without any consciousness in 1951 was Kajol’s grand aunt. Now we know where Kajol has inherited her chutzpah from.
The Indian readership of Life was limited. Hence it is widely believed that the first Bollywood star to wear a bikini publicly was Sharmila Tagore in 1966. She confidently sported a bikini for the cover of Filmfare magazine. In those days Filmfare was the bible of Bollywood, so it was really bold of Sharmila to break the mould of Bollywood leading lady so publicly.
The actress to wear a bikini for the first time on a Bollywood screen is arguably Mumtaz in Apradh (1972). The established actress shocked everyone by wearing a black bikini for a song in the film. With her bouffant she will be forever the retro bikini babe of Bollywood.
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The iconic soap ad
The 1970s was an important decade for the bikini in Bollywood.
One year after Apradh, Dimple Kapadia sported a bikini in Bobby (1973). Teenager Dimple became instantly the darling of the nation while walking confidently out of swimming pool in a red bikini.
Any discussion of history of the bikini in India would be incomplete without mentioning the original Liril girl, Karen Lunel. In the year 1974, Lintas started a campaign for the freshly launched soap. As a fresh idea, Lintas used the bikini as a female fantasy. The Liril girl in a bikini under the waterfall was a female fantasy of freedom and freshness in a mundane routine life.
After Dimple, in the 1970s and ‘80s, Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi took the culture of bikini ahead with their glamorous look and smoking hot bodies.
As she was a former beauty queen, the bikini was not alien for Zeenat Aman. She wore it onscreen many times. Her most memorable bikini moment has to be the beach song “Hum tumhe chahte hain aise” from Qurbani (1980).
Parveen Babi wore a bikini onscreen only once in Yah Nazdeekiyan (1982). Her goddess look in a lacy black bikini is the only thing worth remembering in a forgettable film.
Swimsuits were more frequent than bikinis
By the 1990s, wearing a swimsuit onscreen had already become a normal thing. Many top actresses, including Juhi Chawla, Urmila Matondkar, Kajol and Shilpa Shetty wore a swimsuit, but the bikini made only rare appearances.
In Takkar (1995) beautiful Sonali Bendre rocked the Hawaiian-like look with élan.
The 2000s was a groundbreaking decade for the bikini in Bollywood. Many actresses wore a bikini onscreen. Actresses worked harder to maintain a zero size figure or bikini body, than their acting skill.
Murder (2004) is a trailblazer in many senses. It gave us a leading lady who is not afraid of expressing her sexuality, a step in a different direction from the virginal Bollywood. Mallika Sherawat played the leading lady Simran. She had many bold scenes, including wearing a turquoise bikini and the became subject of wet dreams of a generation of boys and men.
Kareena Kapoor introduced the concept of size 0 to a nation in Tashan (2008). Singing and dancing in a green bikini, she gave the size 0 goal to common women on the street.
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Get the body first?
In 2010s, the bikini became just another costume for actresses. The only problem in wearing a bikini was achieving the perfect body for it before wearing it.
In the crowd of bikini wearers, the one who stands out in this decade is Deepika Padukone in Cocktail (2012). In the film Deepika played Veronica, a girl who made her own rules. Like Veronica, Deepika also made her own rule about a bikini body. Rather than going for a size 0, she opted for a healthy looking body.
Today a bikini in Bollywood does not create a stir, it is normal. So actresses should wear it responsibly, to keep it that way. The moment the bikini stops being a part of the plot and becomes only an excuse for showing off a body, it will lose its respectable place. Recently, the bikini was used perfectly in Veere Di Wedding as part of a girl gang’s vacation.
The path breaking Liril ad with Karen Lunel can still be seen here: