Neeta Lulla, Bollywood’s OG Fashion Couturière: “As a creative person, I’m a very greedy person! I want to do more and I want more coming my way.”

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Neeta Lulla

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan swears by her designs. Sushmita Sen absolutely loves her. Kangana Ranaut never questions her expertise… Who hasn’t heard of the truly amazing Neeta Lulla – one of India’s most popular fashion designers who spearheaded the brand – House of Neeta Lulla?

In her magical career spanning forty wonderful years, she’s the OG designer costume and fashion who has carved and embossed an indelible golden niche for herself in Bollywood, in India and globally. In fact, practically every top Bollywood actor has been dressed by Neeta at some point or the other.

Her designs are truly amazing, very individualistic, super creative and elegant – traits that Neeta herself embodies. In an exclusive interview with Sumita Chakraborty, Editor-in-chief, TheGlitz, the super chic Neeta talks about her beautiful forty year journey, milestones, setbacks and more.

Over to Neeta Lulla

Neeta Lulla at her forty years celebration event
Neeta Lulla at her forty years celebration event

Your journey has been extraordinary – filled with beauty, elegance and style. Could you tell us a little bit about your magical journey? How did you start? How did it all happen?

I think a lot of things just aligned together at one time. A lot of the processes that I had in mind that I wanted; I went after. I observed a lot of things. I studied and understood things. I went through a lot of magazines, library books and stuff. I started working with choreographer Jeanne Naoroji – I did choreography. I learned a lot about styling. I learned a lot about visualization. I learned a lot about how things are put together especially fashion show productions.

After which I got into making clothes for films and you know when they say that when you align yourself with what you want to do, and what you like to do, you put it out in the universe. I think this was a classic case of that.

Neeta Lulla
Neeta Lulla

My journey in films has been very dear to me because my clothes-making skills came from my mother. I would also take out snippets of designs of various films and make them. So when I started studying design, I heard a lot about Xerxes Bhathena, who was doing cutting-edge styles for films. He was the first designer, a mainstream designer, who started working in films. He started working with Sridevi and I remember saying I wish I could do one film with Sridevi someday… and guess what, I got that opportunity.

So yes, it was a beautiful journey of learning my craft… from the models, from choreography or from films. This journey aligned itself to the process of what I wanted to do and then working with Beautiful Brides… everything came together in one synergy, in one road map for me.

The most important thing was that I went with the flow of things. I never said, ‘This is not working out for me or I am not this or this is not something that I want to do. This is not my calling’. Everything that I learned was my calling so I think that was the beauty of it all. That was the excellence of it all where I went with the process of understanding my craft and then falling in love with the process of what I was and am doing. I think that is where it came together.

Neeta Lulla
Neeta Lulla

What was it like working with the film stars? Who was the first actor you styled for?

I think the first actor that I styled for was Kimi Katkar for the film Tamacha and then Bhanupriya for the same film. Then the first independent film that I got starred Salma Agha.

Every film actor would say during the ‘90s that they were wearing a Neeta Lulla dress – you were synonymous with being the ‘90s and even later, the darling ‘fashion designer’ of the stars. But these days, that kind of branding has become a little less, is that a conscious decision?

Neeta Lulla
Neeta Lulla

In the ’90s, everything was word-of-mouth but now everything is out there in the media – on instagram or the digital medium. But I don’t think my work has become less. I would say it is still there except that then I used to work with a lot of actors single-handedly. Today, there are a lot more stylists and other designers. Then mainstream designers who had a foundation of costuming were very few. I was one of the first who was there apart from Xerex Bathena. Today there are more professionals around a star thanks to the advent of stylists and other designers, so it gets definitely diffused. But when it comes to work, yes, even today, I’m doing five films simultaneously.

Neeta Lulla
Neeta Lulla

But now though the work is there, I’ve contained myself to doing one project a year. When I take up a whole project like a Devdas, Manikarnika or Panipat, it has almost 2, 800 – 3 000 costumes. So I’ve started restricting myself to doing one project at a time. Though this year I have five films and some more projects – so there’s a lot to do.

Is there a difference between working with the ‘90s heroines like Sridevi, Juhi, Kimi Katkar and the new lot of heroines? Do you find any difference?

I don’t think so because if your ethos of work is similar and constant, I don’t think that changes with time. My thought process is very similar even now to what was in the past. The point is that every actor wants to look their best on screen because that is the one thing that goes down in history and sometimes, people may call it insecurity. But I call it ‘professionalism’ – the fact that they want to look in a particular way on screen – in the end, they want their best. And, if they know that you know your job and you know your technicalities and what you’re doing… then they’re like clay in your hands. They mold completely to what you want.

Fashion is constantly evolving but is there anything permanent in fashion?

The need to have a fashion statement is permanent. Everybody has an individuality and everybody wants to exude their persona, and to exude that persona, they need to have a fashion statement that remains constant through time.

Neeta, if you look back, which are the three milestones that you’re extremely proud of?

The three milestones that I’m extremely proud of is the fact that I joined films 38 years ago and I’m still doing films today. I started working on cultural brides and I’m still doing brides today. So these are like huge milestones for me.

The third and most important milestone is the fact that as a woman I have progressed from being a daughter, a mother, a sister, a student to a housewife, an entrepreneur to being a grandmother today. So these three milestones are the ones I want to hold on to dearly.

What are the setbacks and challenges that you have faced in this 38 -40 years? How did you tackle them?

Every day you have a challenge or face setbacks. You go to work thinking “I’m going to have this fabulous day… that I’m going to work on something creative and then suddenly because of some technical issue, you have a setback. There are always setbacks, you always have challenges I think what I have always done is propel my efforts toward being very effort-based. My journey of work is always propelled by putting in a lot of effort into what I do… So even if I’m having a challenge or setback, I look at it as a learning experience and I move forward from it. I still work with the same ethos.

You’ve had 40 glorious years, there must have been so many incidents. But is there any one incident that has really touched you?

My journey has been on two paths together. There have been instances when I’m at an event, function or a party, and somebody walks up to me and says, “Do you remember me?” And I can’t put a face to the person, obviously, because with time, people change, their looks change. They tell me, “You made my dress 20 years ago and I still wear it… and I feel so good about it. And, you know what, it still looks fashionable”. I feel wonderful. So for me, that is something that touches me tremendously. Then in films, you know, the actors I work with… there are so many special instances. For instance, Kangana never asks me what I’m making for her. And I wonder why she never asks me. She tells me, “You know your job, you’re doing what you have to do. So there’s no need for me to ask you anything.” That touches my heart. A lot of people ask me, how do you work with Kangana?

That was my next question…

I always ask Kangana, “Don’t you want to know what’s your next outfit?” She says, “No, Neeta ji, you’re doing your job, it’s okay.” So that’s a kind of trust that touches me. And it’s not only Kangana who trusts me. This is a kind of mindset that a lot of actors have with me. I generally push forward for discussions, even with Kangana. But most of them say, “It’s your call!” That trust is priceless.

Neeta, apart from you, which other designers do you resonate with? Indian and international?

Internationally, I resonate a lot with Azzedine Alaïa and Versace. There are different things that you like about so many designers because creativity is like a potpourri. You might like the ‘form-fitted’ness of Azzedine Alaïa, the ostentatiousness of Versace, the black and white magnanimity of Chanel… So there are different kinds of designers I resonate with.

And Indian designers…?

There is Sabyasachi, who is doing a very good job. His format of using heritage fabrics and heritage weaves and traditional vintage looks is something that resonates with me.

Who, according to you, Neeta, is the most stylish actor in Bollywood?

All Bollywood actors have stylists so they all look good.

Personal style?

I think the ability to carry off the kind of clothes he does, Ranveer Singh is brilliant. Even if a stylist has to give him something, he carries it off wonderfully – it’s about carriage. So I like his personal style. I also resonate with Deepika too. Her style is very minimalistic.

Lastly, Neeta, what’s next for you? You’ve done it all, but you look as if you want to do so much more.

There is so much more to do. I’m kind of forgetting what I did in the last 40 years, and I’m coming out as a student to learn more and do more now. So like I told you this year, there are five films in the pipeline. Then there is a musical I’m working on, which I’m really looking forward to. And after that, yes, there is a whole lot of new things that we are speaking about internationally as well, but I can’t speak about it today. So yes, there is a hell of a lot happening and I’m kind of raring to go. As a creative person, I always say I’m a very greedy person. I want to do more and I want more coming my way. God has been kind and that’s the way it is. And I hope that just stays the way it is.

I’m being greedy now, though I did say it was the last question before. One last one for the road, If there was a quote, to describe you, what would it be?

If there was a quote to describe me… Let me read out something to you, which by the way, is my own quote that I’ve written…

She’s a little girl giggling away at silly things; she’s a mature woman taking care of everyone around her.

She is soft yet powerful.

She has courage to take risks yet vulnerable when it comes to her loved ones.
She feels deeply and loves fiercely.

She’s a little of everything, mixed up, so tough in a beautiful way.

She is whatever she wants to be.
A passionate design or she is Me.

– Neeta Lulla

Neeta, thank you so much for taking out time for TheGlitz….

Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the session with you.

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