More is More in 1987 Bollywood Cult Classic, Mr India

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Mr. India, 1987
Mr. India, 1987(Film still)

We unpack the powerful costumes of undercover crime journalist Seema Soni, played by the late Bollywood icon Sridevi

If you were to put the various film posters for Mr India side by side, you would see that the film’s lead, Anil Kapoor, wears the same crumpled hat and expression, while his co-star Sridevi is a different woman every time. In this cult classic of Bollywood cinema, Kapoor plays Arun Verma, a man with a big heart who brings home orphan children after experiencing a childhood alone. It’s not until later that he discovers his father is a famous scientist who created a device that allows one to become invisible – exactly the formula the corrupt gangs in post-colonial India are seeking and the reason they are demanding increased tax from civilians while attempting to cause havoc through the streets and cities. While trying to make ends meet, he seeks a lodger and encounters Seema Soni (played by Sridevi), a crime journalist who goes undercover to find out who is to be held accountable for all the ruckus – and the only person who will believe in ‘Mr India’, the invisible superhero protagonist Verma becomes.

This camp, Robin Hood-esque film became the second highest grossing Bollywood film of 1987 and secured Sridevi her household name. Her iconic ‘Hawahawai’ dance, as she pretends to be an entertainer in order to become close to gang members, resurfaced and was played over and over again this year following her unexpected death. Mr India is of its time – note the bold colour combinations alone – yet individual monologues by Sridevi’s character are unapologetically feminist, and surprisingly fitting for contemporary times. Soni is an example of how one person can be both yin and yang, her dynamic looks are apt style lessons for an emerging generation full of similarly outspoken women.

Whether she’s singing “I’m the princess of my dreams, I invade every heart, my tresses, the clouds, my squirms, lightning, I’m here to strike,” in a glittering black and red sari ensemble or at her typewriter with bows in her hair, Sridevi plays a character who does not compromise her style in order to be taken seriously or be the obvious love interest. She’s loud and brash, but softly spoken as well when she feels like it. Her style depicts what women have been doing since the dawn of time: wearing clothes for themselves and whatever their mood may be that day.

1. Beauty should be bold

Remember being told that make-up has to be balanced? If you’re going to have heavy eye make-up, tone down the lips; if you’re wearing a statement lip, let the eyes speak for themselves. Well, as it was the 1980s such rules were thrown out of the window – which means baby pink blush and metallic lip colours in either fuchsia, burnt orange or glossy, bleeding reds painted across Sridevi’s lips in addition to her always kohled eyes and thick black eyelashes and brows. Sridevi’s made-up face is one of joyful maximalism.

2. Aprons are not just for baking

If you look at the fashion family tree, the peasant dress is second cousin to the apron; yet the latter seems to be utilised only functionally instead of stylishly. When investigating crime cases in her bedroom, Soni is seen to be wearing a yellow and white pinafore dress over a white T-shirt, just as she is hit with a football by the orphan children playing in her home and consequently breaks out into the memorable Parody Song. But what we’re really watching while Soni chases the children and confiscates their toys is the layered lace, which itself could be mistaken for the most elegant doiley. 

3. Go matchy matchy

In every outfit Sridevi wears as Soni, she reminds us of the simple rule in making a statement: head-to-toe coordination. Whether it’s a blue bindi in the same shade as her sari, hair slides the same colour as the print on her dress or yellow and white clip-on earrings to go with a bumble bee-esque striped ensemble, matching head-to-toe seems fresher in 2018 than clashing patterns.

4. Don’t forget your flower

Whenever Sridevi’s character is stating why she should take control of a crime case, making a stand through song or simply trying to save the day, a flower is a constant in her jet black wavy mane. With red peonies and yellow blossom, Sridevi reminds the audience to carry a flower on your person at all times – and in your hair, no less. An aesthetic seen across countless cultures, it feels brazenly feminine and in want of a comeback.

5. Find your inner fruit basket

While distracting thugs, Soni appears in a rainbow-tiered dress with fruit encompassing her hat; and better yet, as she’s flirting with said criminals, she literally eats this headpiece. Sridevi’s character defiantly dresses like the glamorous assistant when really she is running the show, inherently understanding – to the ignorance of her surrounding gangsters – that her powerful beauty does not amount to any less brawn. It serves as a welcome reminder that fruit can add both nutritional and sartorial value to an outfit.