The Historical Drama – Chitralekha

A few more posts on modern interpretations of Ancient Indian Costume where the productions depart from fidelity to historical costume, either because the production follows the norms of popular Indian cinema or modern theatre.

The full Bollywood treatment (i.e. vaguely accurate) for Meena Kumari’s Chitralekha, set in the time of Chandragupta Maurya.

Yet another irresistible courtesan!


The Light of Asia/Prem Sanyas


Seeta Devi, 1925 (by pictosh)

You can see an example of the breast band in The Light of Asia/Prem Sanyas. The film is about the life of Gautama Buddha with Seeta Devi playing the Buddha’s wife.

There are a number of stills at memsaab’s site, the opening scenes of the movie appear to be set in 1920s India.


Vyjayanthimala in the film on the life of Amrapali, the Licchavi courtesan who converted to Buddhism.

Bhanu Athaiya (who also designed for Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam and later won an Oscar for Gandhi) apparently based the costumes on Buddhist frescoes, though in the frescoes (as in the statues in the first picture), no breast band is worn and the lower half of the costume tends to be the shorter version (the length of the antariya seems to change with time).

Conrad Rooks’ Siddhartha

Under black hair, which made to tower high on her head, he saw a very fair, very delicate, very smart face, a brightly red mouth, like a freshly cracked fig, eyebrows which were well tended and painted in a high arch, smart and watchful dark eyes, a clear, tall neck rising from a green and golden garment, resting fair hands, long and thin, with wide golden bracelets over the wrists.

Extract from Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, also set in the time of the Buddha.

The still is of Simi as the courtesan Kamala in the film adaptation of the novel.



Your garment’s border, red and fair,

Is all a-shiver in the air;

Another courtesan, this time the fabulous Rekha playing Vasantasena in the film adaptation of Mṛcchakaṭika (The Little Clay Cart). The garment is in fact red in the movie and given Vasantasena’s wealth, she wears a lot of jewellery.

The exact date of the play isn’t certain, it may or may not have been pre-Kushan.

A detailed pictorial review here.

Santosh Sivan’s Asoka

Santosh Sivan’s epic film of the Mauryan King, Asoka, surprisingly sticks to a simple, subdued palette and body decoration for the princess Kaurwaki. Again not quite the choli but perhaps a sewn breast band.

And the film it appears is fairly authentic in terms of plot.

The Period Drama Post


The movie adaptation of Maitreyi starred Hugh Grant and Supriya Pathak and is a listless Jean-Claude Carriere adaptation in which the costuming is the least of its troubles. But it is as uncertain as Hugh Grant’s French accented English in the film, partly because it is never made clear which year the movie is set in. However, the film largely borrows from the novel and leaves intact references to Tagore. For the most part Supriya Pathak wears handloom sarees and blouses common in the 80s. And Alain/Mircea never appears in Indian dress.

Shabana Azmi plays Maitreyi’s mother in the film. While her saris are worn in the Bengali style, the blouses are fairly unremarkable.

Apologies for the pics-my copy has a pretty crap transfer.