Masala The History Of the Bikini And Rise Of the Bollywood Bikini

Published on October 3rd, 2013 | by Clark Kent

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From Innocent Two Piece Swimwear To Industry Career Prop – The Journey Of The Bollywood Bikini

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The grand success of our last feature which explored the concept of nudity in art, cinema and assessed the rare instances of Bollywood actresses nude prompted us to think about another phenomenon. Something even more potent and influential. Turns out that there is nothing more powerful than a little temptation and tease, its even better than going all the way. This feature takes a look at how a simple piece of clothing has shaped the destinies of women who chose to adorn and flaunt it. Delve into the journey of the Bollywood Bikini.

You can also read our other features on similar topics:

The Villa Romana del Casale is a Roman villa built around 320 AD. Located in the city of Sicily in southern Italy it contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Here in this villa, on the floor of a room dubbed the “Chamber of the Ten Maidens” lies a mosaic famously known as “the Bikini Girls“. It depicts 10 maidens dressed in bikini-like garments playing sports such as weight-lifting, discus throwing, running and ball-games. This mosaic which is more than 1700 years old is one of the earliest known illustrations of the bikini, signifying that human civilization does indeed go through the same cycle of events every now and then.

In theory, the bikini is a garment which has a very simple design. Two triangles of fabric on top cover the woman’s bosom and two triangles of fabric on the bottom cover the groin in front and the buttocks in back. Illustrations of Roman women wearing bikini-like garments during competitive athletic events have been found in several locations dating back to 300 AD. However today, this simple two piece garment is a symbol of the power of women, an ode to their femininity and a showcase of their sex appeal.

The modern bikini as we know it today was introduced in France by French engineer Louis Réard in 1946. He advertised it as the world’s “smallest bathing suit” and although it got a positive reception from the French public when it was launched it wasn’t adopted by other countries till the 1950s. The rise to fame of the two piece swimsuit was a result of two main factors. Controversy and debate around the garment’s design and its adoption by models and Hollywood actresses who began using the bikini as a career prop. The latter is a phenomenon which is present even today, more so in countries where it is not worn commonly by the average female.


The story about the increase in popularity of the bikini in Europe, USA and gradually the rest of the world is very interesting one itself. Its a little known fact that the first Miss World beauty pageant was known as the “Festival Bikini Contest“. Miss Sweden Kiki Håkansson was the winner of this first contest in 1951 and till today is the only contestant to be crowned while wearing a bikini. This festival of the bikini was a huge success and the press gave it the title of Miss World, later registered as a trademark by the show’s founder Eric Morley. While the contest was a success the world was not yet ready to accept a major media event based on the idea of parading women in two piece swimwear. As a result at the end of the competition there was a huge backlash against its concept with several countries threatening to withdraw participation in future. The bikini was thus banned from the competition for several years before it was re-introduced in the 70s.

The Bikini became an Industry Career Prop when it was worn by the likes of Ursula Andress, Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch

By this time it had become clear that sporting a bikini was a sure shot method of stirring controversy and in the process grabbing eyeballs of the audience. A select group of Hollywood actresses took advantage of this phenomenon and used the bikini as a career prop to their sex appeal. The likes of Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Williams, Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot propelled their careers to Hollywood hall of fame only after the world saw them in a bikini. Bardot infact was instrumental in popularizing the Cannes film festival as a result of her being photographed in a bikini on every beach in the south of France during the 1953 edition of the festival.

Once the decade of the 1960s arrived, the bikini had gone mainstream around the world. The novelty-song hit Yellow Polka Dot Bikini became a Billboard No. 1 hit during the summer of 1960. Playboy first featured a bikini on its cover in 1962. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue debuted two years later. Ursula Andress, appearing as Honey Rider in the 1962 James Bond film, Dr. No, wore a white bikini. It is cited as the most famous bikini of all time and an iconic moment in cinematic and fashion history. [Read more at Top 10 Bikinis in Pop Culture]

Towards the late 1960s, the bikini phenomenon hit the ultra-conservative but highly popular movie industry of Bollywood, giving rise to the Bollywood Bikini. In a society where the full blown french kiss, explicit sex scenes and even words related to natural human actions are considered too risky to show in movies or television, wearing a bikini is still considered to be a bold statement.

Indian actresses who have worn the Bikini have greatly benefited from their decisions to do so. At the least it helped them to breakthrough the Indian film industry and get noticed. The rest of this feature highlights a few trendsetters of the Bollywood Bikini brigade and showcases a collection of divas who worn the iconic two piece swimwear in popular media.

Sharmila Tagore

The Inventor of the Bollywood Bikini - Sharmila Tagore was the first actress from Bollywood to wear a bikini on-screen

Sharmila Tagore is credited as being the first Bollywood actress to appear in a bikini for the movie An Evening in Paris where she co-starred in a lead role alongside the legendary Shammi Kapoor. Her move had the same effect that the dress had when it was first seen during Miss World 1951. It shocked Indian audiences who had never even seen a proper kiss on-screen before.

At the same time it also catapulted her name as one of Bollywood’s ten hottest actresses of all time. Not to mention it sparked the rise of the Bollywood Bikini brigade with actresses such as Praveen Babi, Zeenat Aman and Dimple Kapadia wearing variations of the dress for their movies in the 1980s. Ironically, when Sharmila Tagore was the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification in India, the movie rating and censorship body in the country she expressed concerns about the rise of the bikini in Hindi films.

Zeenat Aman

The sexiest Bollywood actress ever - Zeenat Aman pushed boundaries when it came to showcasing her sex appeal

Time and again, through the many features that we have published on similar topics, Zeenat Aman has always been referred to as the sexist Bollywood actress of all time. The Bollywood Bikini wagon has been endorsed by a number of actresses in the past decade but very few come close to the sex appeal of the former screen siren.

Zeenat Aman is most fondly remembered for wearing a bikini in the 1980 classic Qurbani where she starred opposite Feroz Khan and Vinod Khanna. The scene partially tried to recreate the effect of Ursula Andress path breaking appearance in Dr.No as Zeenat emerges from the waters dressed in a white bikini.

Deepika Padukone And Anushka Sharma

The Rise of the Bollywood Bikini - Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma of the current generation are very comfortable wearing a bikini on screen

Finally, in the new millennium the acceptance of the bikini in Bollywood movies and other media has grown tremendously. India’s participation in international beauty pageants, selection of bikini models and porn stars into the industry has increased the size of the Bollywood bikini club considerably. Even so, there are still actresses who shy away from wearing a bikini on-screen and those who don’t still create a buzz.

Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma are among two divas of the current generation who are extremely comfortable in wearing a bikini for their films. Both of them have been voted as having the best beach bodies in the industry and have been photographed in the famous two-piece on numerous occasions.

What are your thoughts on the use of the bikini as a career prop for actresses? Do you think there is anything inappropriate in wearing a bikini? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment

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About the Author

Journalist by day and crime fighter by night, Clark Kent is our thinking writer who views and analyses current entertainment trends and presents his understanding in a fun, exciting and intriguing way.


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