Despite being 70 years old, the bikini is as much of a head turner today as it was when showgirl Micheline Bernardini wore it for the first time in Paris on July 5, 1946 for designer Louis Réard.
Réard named it after Bikini Atoll in Marshall Islands, a site for testing atom bombs, hoping it would have a similar cultural and global impact. And it did. The two-piece has been controversial ever since for various reasons — for challenging Victorian norms, objectifying women, inspiring the size zero obsession and maligning the fairer sex the world over.
Arrival in India
The bikini came to India in August 1966 when actor Sharmila Tagore wore it for the first time for Filmfare magazine. The bold photo shoot didn’t just bring to public attention that which was never seen and never done before, it also sparked a nation-wide debate on morality and the image of Indian women.
But unfazed, Tagore did not stop at this. She wore a bikini again, this time for her 1967 film, An Evening in Paris, thus introducing the Indian sensibility to the glamorous, skimpy garment.
Foray in mainstream Bollywood
There weren’t many actors in the ‘70s and ‘80s who dared to defy the popular damsel-in-distress image of the Bollywood heroine. However, Zeenat Aman, having been the first Indian woman to win the Miss Asia Pacific title, stood out and owned the bikini on the silver screen by wearing it unabashedly in many of her films. She is known to have immortalised the two-piece attire for an entire generation, becoming India’s first sex symbol.
Establishing a firm footing
Zeenat Aman paved the way for others. Soon she was joined by actors such as Dimple Kapadia, whose sizzling bikini appearance in her super-hit debut film, Bobby, created quite a stir in the country. Although the bikini was still the property of the actors considered bold and sexy, Kapadia, Parveen Babi and Mumtaz did help it seep into the Indian consciousness.
The age of global beauty pageants
Then came the ‘90s, and with it, two Indian beauties who charmed the world with their charisma and stunning bodies. Just like all the other rounds of the famed Miss Universe/World pageant, Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai rocked the bikini round, making it plain for everyone that Indian women can sport it with élan and better than anyone else.
When it ceased to be a taboo
With increased representation in the Indian media, movies and on magazine covers over the years, the bikini ceased to evoke whispered gossip and raised eyebrows as it did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Instead, it became a prop actors used to flaunt their chiseled bodies and inspire new fashion and fitness goals.
Some of the Bollywood biggies, including Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Bipaha Basu and Alia Bhatt, have dazzled the silver screen time again with their glamorous bikini appearances, making it an object of inspiration for women and much awe for men in India.
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