The role of the nautch girl in Bollywood has evolved over the years. First, it was filled by the Anarkali-esque courtesan. Then came the cabaret artist, made notoriously famous by Helen. By the ‘70s, damsel-in-distress characters played by actresses like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi brought the ‘naach’ into the mainstream. Often dubbed as the item girl, a nautch girl pulls in money for movies that would otherwise flop (can we ever forget Sheila Ki Jawani?).
On the moral compass, the nautch figure or the item girl — whatever you want to call it — has always skirted a grey area. People love her, but also love to hate her. Team TLC falls in the former category because Style isn’t an item, and these nautch girls make the best unique fashion statements.
Here’s our pick of nautch girl outfits we’d love to see back in vogue. Don’t worry, we’ve kept Madhubala’s Anarkali off the list for obvious reasons.
A list of nautch girls is incomplete without mentioning Helen (heck, her illustrious career as a dancer has even been filmed in a documentary called Helen: Queen of the Nautch Girls).
We particularly love her all-golden look from Piya Tu Ab To Aaja in Caravan. The shimmering mini-skirt oozes sensuality and we wouldn’t say no to learning some of those moves, either.
We also love Helen’s cute onesie, seen in Iss Duniya Me Jeena Ho Toh from the film Gumnaam. And why not? It’s ideal beachwear, after all.
Zeenat Aman’s sex-appeal came with a lot of hard work and some great fashion choices. One of our favourites is the white maxi-dress with a thigh-length split from Laila O Laila (Yaadon Ki Barat), complete with the silver open-toe sandals and headband. It’s loud, but not too loud. It’s sexy, but also elegant. We love it.
We’re also huge fans of the hippie look she pulled off in Hare Krishna Hare Ram. The bold yellow and orange kurtas were perfectly accented with the big bindi and large tinted shades. The beaded necklace accentuated the look perfectly. Fashion score: 10/10.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Normally, you wouldn’t associate Mrs. Rai Bachchan as a ‘nautch’ girl, but her oh-so-sexy look in Kajra Re from Bunty Aur Bubly earns her a spot on this list. Her glitzy ghaghra and jewellery (especially the side maang tikka) are definitely outfit goals, though we’d recommend throwing in just as much attitude as you can muster to make the outfit convincing.
Lara Dutta has given many-a dazzling item-number performances, but what we really, truly love is the spin she gave to the retro look in Hum Hai Rahi Pyaar Ke from Rab Ne Banadi Jodi, complete with chunky silver jewellery and feathers in her hair.
Malaika Arora Khan
We’ve seen her in many avatars, but for the next party, our pick from her outfits would be the gorgeous black dress with thigh-high slit from Deewangi in Om Shanti Om. We wouldn’t change a single thing in this one; the silver peep-toes, hoops and tied hair complete the look to perfection.
Madhuri Dixit has had an uber successful Bollywood career, both as actor and dancer. Her role as Chandramukhi in Devdas was one of her most unforgettable success stories. Honestly, we don’t have a favourite outfit to pick here. The ghaghra, the anarkali, the Bengali sari, we love them all — especially with the complementary makeup and heavy jewellery.
The former Miss Universe’s performance in Mehboob Mere from Fiza earned her a lot of praise. The orange harem pants and short, deep-cut blouse she wore are certainly a shade simpler than the other outfits on our list. But with the intrinsic print, the thick choker (which doubles as a niqab), long bindi and beaded headband make the look worthy of mention.
Add to our list of outfits! Let us know which nautch girl outfit you’d wear to the next occasion you attend, and why and we’ll share it on our Instagram! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram.