Sharada Iyer

Today is July 5th. Did you know that this day is celebrated as the “International Bikini Day”???

So where did the story of this sensational 2-piece apparel start, how did it get the name ‘Bikini’ and how did film stars get involved? Read on…

(source: wikipedia)

– Apparently in 1942 the United States War Production Board issued a Regulation cutting the use of natural fibers in clothing and mandating a 10% reduction in the amount of fabric in women’s beachwear. To comply with the regulations, swimsuit manufacturers produced two-piece suits with bare midriffs.

– On July 5, 1946, Louis Reard, a French automotive and mechanical engineer, introduced the first bikini design to the public at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris.  It sent a shock wave because it was the first beachwear design to reveal the wearer’s navel.

bikini atoll-To promote his new design, Réard held a press conference five days after the first test of a nuclear device over the Bikini Atoll was carried out by USA during their Cold war with USSR. To catch the attention of the media, he used fabric printed with a newspaper pattern and named his design ‘Bikini’. (An ‘Atoll’ is a ring-shaped coral reef including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely and ‘Bikini Atoll’ is an atoll in the Marshall Islands,a sprawling chain of volcanic islands between Hawaii and the Philippines.)

-In 1951, Eric Morley organised a bikini contest as part of the ‘Festival of Britain’ celebrations that he called the Festival Bikini Contest. The event was popular with the press, and was dubbed “Miss World” by the media.  Eric Morley decided to make the ‘Miss World’ pageant an annual event. Morley registered the “Miss World” name as a trademark and all future pageants were held under that name.

-The swimsuit competition was intended as a promotion for the bikini which had only recently been introduced onto the market, and which was still widely regarded as immodest. When the 1951 Miss World pageant winner, Kerstin “Kiki” Hakansson from Sweden, was crowned in a bikini, it added to the controversy. The Vatican called the swimsuit ‘sinful’ and so she remained the only contestant to be crowned in a bikini…

– Bikini sales did not pick up around the world as women stuck to traditional two-piece swimsuits. However, in 1953, actress Bridget Bardot drew attention when she was photographed wearing a bikini on the beach during the Cannes Film Festival.

– In 1962, Bond Girl Ursula Andress emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini in Dr. No. The scene has been named one of the most memorable of the series with Channel 4 declaring it the top bikini moment in film history. She later said that she owed her career to that white bikini, remarking, “This bikini made me into a success. As a result of starring in Dr. No as the first Bond girl, I was given the freedom to take my pick of future roles.”

The bikini’s foray into showbiz thus helped this beachwear to become popular as well as glamorous and continues to make headlines even today…

Bikini and Bollywood:

Not to be left far behind, back home the changing fashion scenario affected our industry also.

sharmilaIt was Sharmila Tagore who first created a sensation when she decided to don the bikini and do a cover-photo shoot for ‘Filmfare’ magazine in 1966. Needless to say she created a sensation with this bold attitude and it remained a topic of discussion for many days.  She also appeared in a bold blue swimsuit in the famous song ‘Aasman se aaya  farishta…’ alongside Shammi Kapoor in the Shakti Samanta musical ‘An Evening in Paris’ (1967). By now the scene, the song and her costume- are  all imprinted in the minds of every cine-goer over the years.

However, the actress did not want to get stuck with that image and the same director gave her a memorable role in Aradhana in 1969 opposite newcomer Rajesh Khanna which changed her image in the minds of public.

Bollywood had to wait for some more time to get bold heroines. In 1973, the Dev-Anand-Zeenat Aman-Raakhee starrer Heera-Panna, hit the screen. The film had Zeenat Aman playing a model and being the winner of an international beauty contest in real life she had no qualms wearing a bikini for the movie. She thus changed the image of the Hindi film heroine forever and paved the way for the complete westernization, which remains in vogue till today.

dimpleIn the same year, Raj Kapoor produced and directed a teenage love-story ‘Bobby’ starring a 16-year old newcomer Dimple Kapadia and also launched his son Rishi Kapoor as a hero for the first time. The movie became a rage and Dimple’s bikini scene became hugely popular. In one of his interviews, Raj Kapoor said that the idea for the bikini was inspired from the dress worn by the character ‘Veronica’ in the popular ‘Archie’ comics..

Both these films had a major impact on our industry and slowly the audience started becoming more receptive to revealing costumes. Today, wearing a bikini in films has become a common thing for the actresses. They are ready to go to any lengths to acquire the right body shape and flaunt their figure in revealing swim-wears as career props to enhance their sex appeal…

Sunny Leone sported several designs of bikini in Mastizaade. Kareena had the whole nation talking about her ‘size zero’ when she decided to wear a bikini in Tashan. Young Alia Bhatt did not hesitate to don one in her mentor Karan Johar’s recent production Shaandar even though there was absolutely no requirement for such a scene. Deepika Padukone’s bikini scene in the film Cocktail was given a particularly long screen-time. The film in a way changed her career and she has only been scaling newer heights ever since… Well! The scene certainly turned out to be more important for her career than the film’s story.

Bipasha Basu ensured that she was looking fit and ‘bikini-perfect’ before daring to do the scene in Dhoom 2. Though she garnered a lot of appreciation she confessed that it had been too much hard work and tension just for appearing in one scene. Actor-director Feroz Khan has been known to exploit his heroines and managed to incorporate a beach scene in Apradh with Mumtaz and in Qurbani with Zeenat Aman. Parveen Babi’s bikini scene in Yeh Nazdeekiyan became a popular topic in the industry. 

Not all actresses have benefited wearing a bikini. In the first of the Dhoom  series, Esha Deol tried to change her image by donning one but surprisingly it did nothing for her career. Lara Dutta’s efforts in the underwater action film Blue went waste as it turned out to be an atrocious film. Sonam’s effort was hardly noticed in Bewakoofiyan… 

Well! The list is indeed a long one… The gist of the matter is that today wearing a bikini has become a common thing and there is neither novelty in these scenes nor necessity in our stories demanding the inclusion of such a scene. But as long as the actresses don’t mind, the saga of titillation  will continue.


Meenakshi Shirodkar

Let us go back a little in time to our Black&White era to see which actresses wore a swimsuit. Back in those days considering the mindset of our society just wearing a simple one-piece swimsuit was considered bold and fashionable and probably akin to wearing bikini in Hollywood. Not everyone was game for it.

In 1938, actress Meenakshi Shirodkar (grandmother of actresses Shilpa Shirodkar and Namrata Shirodkar) wore a swimsuit for the first time in Indian cinema in a Marathi film titled Brahmachari,  the scene showed the actress trying to seduce hero Master Vinayak (actress Nanda’s father) who was also the director of the film.

After this it is not clear if any other heroines wore swimming costumes in films though there are a few images of photo-shoots of a few of them. In 1950, actress Nalini Jaywant  was full of confidence singing a duet with Ashok Kumar in a swimming costume in Sangram and considering the year, it must have created quite a sensation. The film directed by director Gyan Mukherjee was a big hit.

In 1951, Awara had a prolonged romantic beach scene between Raj Kapoor and Nargis which has Nargis donning the swimsuit with aplomb and the Raj-Nargis chemistry is talked about till this day…

nargis 2

In 1958, the film Dilli Ka Thug had actress Nutan  in a swimsuit as she is shown to be a swimming champion. The film is quite unique because in the climax of the film, Nutan is shown to rescue hero Kishore Kumar from the sea after he is thrown there by the villains….. She wears a swimsuit again in the 1970 film Yaadgar.

Actress Tanuja had a lovely song picturized on her in a swimsuit in the film Chand Aur Suraj in 1965.

Here is another lovely song picturized on the glamorous star Saira Banu from the film April Fool. The song shows foreign swimmers performing synchronized gymnastics in the pool with so much grace…

Raj Kapoor had a memorable song picturized on himself and Vyjayantimala in Sangam where she is shown swimming for the entire duration of the song.

Later many actresses like Raakhee , Rekha, Sridevi, and dancers like Helen, Bindu, Jayashree T, etc., were also seen in swimwear. Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman and Jaya Bhaduri are some of the actresses who did not venture out in this outfit and managed to steer clear of peer pressure.

Bikini today is not just about fashion and glamour for women, it embodies an independent spirit to be comfortable with their sensuality and entrusts them with power to wear whatever they want without being judged …   












    1. Thank you AKB! 🙂
      Hema Malini has also basically stayed away from falling prey to this but there is a song in Waris- ‘Lehra ke aaya hai mausam bahaar ka… ‘ in which she does jump into the pool wearing a type of swimming costume albeit almost like long shorts… so just left her name out. Anyway those three names are only examples. others who could be included are probably Shabana Azmi and Sonakshi Sinha…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Another bold actress for her time who did daring scenes in Chakra,Shakti and Aakrosh but have to see all her films to confirm… 🙂 Maybe Mala Sinha also didn’t do… cannot be sure… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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