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Haute couture on small screen

Aparna Krishnakumar | January 12, 2005 13:53 IST

When Nirmala Sood, fashion stylist at Balaji Telefilms, walks into a wholesale saree shop, shopkeepers vie for her attention.

They are eager to see what sarees she chooses because the next day those very sarees are sold to retailers under brand names like Parvati, Kumkum, and Tulsi (characters from Balaji's serials).

Similarly, drop in at Delhi-based fashion designer Satya Paul's stores around the country and you'll find Jassi (Sony Entertainment Television's serial) garments on display.

Welcome to the hottest new phenomenon on the small screen -- fashion designers are using television to reach out to bigger audiences.

Designers like Manish Malhotra, Vikram Phadnis and Satya Paul are creating a variety of clothes for television stars and, at times, for the entire serials.

Says the Mumbai based Vikram Phadnis who recently designed clothes for the contestants for Zee's reality show Cinestar ki Khoj: "Television stars are watched daily and fashion trends are watched closely and followed by the masses."

Two years ago, Manish Malhotra entered the small screen by designing clothes for Sonali Bendre's show on Star Plus' Kya Masti, Kya Dhoom. He followed that up in 2003 by designing clothes for Karisma Kapoor's serial on Sahara TV Kudrat Karishma Ka.

Designers Shane and Falguni's clothes have been worn by MTV Veejays. Both also designed garments for the MTV Immies award this year. Satya Paul designs clothes for the character Jassi in the serial Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi.

All this is a sea-change from what used to occur some years ago. Phadnis recalls that when he began his designing career 10 years ago with serials like the Sangeeta Bijlani starrer Chandni and BPL Oye, producers used to look out for 'clothes sponsors' since budgets were tiny.

They're still small. Says Shane, of Falguni & Shane: "Television is a restrictive medium in terms of money; we are used to creating designs without thinking about the cost. When television producers ask us to create five shirts for Rs 10,000, I think I am not comfortable working under limitations."

Other designers also agree that budgets are still limited when compared with film budgets. But many like Phadnis have accepted this -- they get much bigger exposure on television today than they would have years ago.

Says Payal Singhal, who styled clothes for MTV Veejays: "Designers view television as an indirect form of advertising and so often work on a cost basis. They get their money spent on clothes, a creative fee and name in the credits; it's a complete win-win situation for them."

Even after Zee and Star India launched channels, styling never got top billings. That began to change after music channels MTV and Channel V were launched.

According to Singhal, the music channels ensured that the presenters looked good. Both international channels wanted to project a certain image and so Veejays began sporting the latest international clothes. And then Balaji Telefilms entered.

Designers attribute the present importance of styling and fashion to Ekta Kapoor and her serials. When Kapoor stormed television channels with her Saas Bahu concepts, she also created a demand for the attire the characters in her serials wore.

The serials became such a rage that Parvati's bindi and Tulsi's saree became benchmarks for the middle class Indian woman. Says Malhotra: "Kapoor changed the look of TV serials and made women look more glamorous."

Adds Sood, who is responsible for designing and styling all the characters of the 20 Balaji serials that are on air: "Detailed attention has been paid to creating the individual look for each of the characters."

Sood says Balaji spends an average of Rs 15 lakh-Rs 20 lakh (Rs 1.5-Rs 2 million) per show on clothes every month.

Designers won't disclose how much money they make but they are usually paid a lump sum creative fee or at times paid per episode.

But, notes Phadnis, beyond a point money doesn't make a difference -- the opportunity to reach out to many is a good incentive by itself.

The exposure they get could in future trigger off a mass fashion revolution. To be sure, Singhal and Shane feel that India will have to wait for years before styling and designing take centrestage.

But Malhotra believes that, just as in the US where serials like Friends and Sex and the City created fashion trends, in India too television serials will set the trend for the prÍt line.

Says he: "With television actors looking so good, film stars have to work harder to look better."

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