The timeline of the Bollywood body
The women who shaped Bollywood, literally
The film industry better known as Bollywood has transformed in many ways over the years, but nothing has been more in-your-face than the figures of its leading ladies. With today’s average movie stars transforming into nothing short of a fitness and wellness guru for a loyal and trusting following, the focus on the Bollywood body is sharper than ever.
We trace the transformations from the ’40s to now, detailing each fitness trend or diet epidemic that swept the industry. Follow the evolution of the Bollywood body from the early days when actresses were discreet about their fitness routines to the point of being secretive, through the ’70s when the torso became the lead role, to today’s fitness-obsessed A-listers.
Check out the timeline of the Bollywood body:
May be it was the layers of clothing actresses in the '40s were forced to wear, but the actresses of that decade were known for their full figures. Madhubala, Nargis and Geeta Bali all had the figure of a woman who doesn't skip her carbs but also enjoys a good salad.
By the end of the '40s, there was a noticeable weight shift, the actresses were slimming down and also getting more daring with their dressing. They were still curvy, except now the focus was on the hips. With sari blouses still cut fairly high and minimum midriff exposure, the display of curves depended on the draping style. Nutan was one of the first mainstream actresses to sport a swimsuit on screen which, at the time, came as a shock to Indian audiences but it also opened the door to riskier dressing for the next decade.
While the whole world was loosening up during the swinging '60s, Bollywood decided to jump on the bandwagon as well. Actresses' costumes got more fitted and form-flattering, necklines became lower cut and toward the second half of the decade, we started to see more torso. Films like Jaanwar saw Rajshree in a noticeably smaller blouse — though the skirts were draped higher, the waist was accentuated. Rajshree and Babita all showed off their toned waistlines (no doubt a result of running around all those trees).
The early '70s saw Rekha receiving a lot of flak for being overweight, with critics telling her she wouldn't make it as she didn't have the looks. The '70s was the period of Bollywood's sexual awakening, with Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi bursting on to the scene. But the real defining moment was in 1973 when a young Dimple Kapadia sported a red bikini for the first time on screen. It was the milestone that would mark actresses flaunting their curves and embracing their bodies and sexuality.
After Dimple opened the gates, it was only a matter of time until the rest of Bollywood's leading ladies followed suit. Zeenat Aman switched her hippie garb for something a little more risqué. The sari blouses got tighter and lower. The second half of the '70s saw the beginning of Rekha's rise to iconic, with her return to the screen after losing weight.
The return of Dimple in the '80s made her reigning queen alongside Madhuri and Sridevi. The '80s defined thicc — women who were fit and yet unapologetically voluptuous. Sridevi moved away from Tollywood into Bollywood taking with her the fuller figures South actresses were known for.
Karisma Kapoor inaugurated the start of the '90s with her petite figure. Bolstered by the slender frames of Urmila Matondkar and Manisha Koirala, the era was defined by petite women who definitely worked out, though it was hardly something you'd read about in the gossip rags.
Suddenly, beauty queens began to dominate Bollywood, with Miss World Aishwarya Rai and Miss Universe Sushmita Sen making a case for tall, slender women with va va voom looks. Shilpa Shetty may not have had the cuts she's known for today, but she was still major #Bodygoals.
The first decade of the noughties had models walking off the runway and onto the big screen. Naturally athletic beauties like Bipasha Basu, Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta all made their debuts in this period. But Bollywood legacy names like Kareena Kapoor and Esha Deol also dominated box offices.
From 2006 to 2010, actresses really put the '0' in the noughties. Aishwarya Rai unveiled her tanned, toned physique in Dhoom 2 in 2006, followed the next year by former badminton star Deepika Padukone's debut in Om Shanti Om. But it wasn't until Kareena's Size 0 bikini body in Tashan that the figure type really stuck. Kareena had always been on the curvier side, so it's no surprise her stunning body transformation became a burning topic of conversation. Suddenly, actresses everywhere were talking about their workouts and fitness routines. Suddenly, it became perfectly acceptable to reveal how much effort went into looking screen-ready.
After Kareena Kapoor revealed the effort it took for her to become a size zero and the effect it had on her body, the focus moved to fitness. Formerly chubby kids who had become stars like Sonam Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha had moved the conversation from being skinny to being fit. A balanced lifestyle was what everyone aspired to. With actresses working out and sharing their workout tips with their fans, fitness and wellness became the focus. As a result, actresses started developing distinct muscle definition, showing them off in bold outfits both on screen and on red carpets. An entire generation doing a balance of cardio, weight training and yoga to keep their bodies ready for those post-gym selfies.