© Dharma Productions

Naina From ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’ Is An Underrated Style Icon, Here’s Why

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

You can argue till you turn blue in the face but you can’t budge me from the fact that there’s no romantic-comedy that comes close to Kal Ho Naa Ho in Bollywood.

Written by Karan Johar and directed by Nikkhil Advani, the film has everything — love, comedy, bromance, iconic style moments, great songs, and enough angst to make you cry buckets.

It was one of the biggest movies of 2003 and essentially became a cornerstone film that introduced a rapidly globalising world to Bollywood. The Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan-starrer set the record for the biggest overseas box office record for a Hindi film and its soundtrack, produced by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, became the highest-selling album of the year and still remains one of the most iconic soundtracks in the history of Indian cinema.

While the movie had all the elements of a classic Bollywood melodrama, the execution of the screenplay and the well-etched-out characters set it apart from its ilk. The movie, in true Dharma style, was glossy and vivid in its portrayal of a lively and diverse Indian-American community in Queens, New York.

Naina (Preity Zinta), a 20-something MBA student, lives with her family and goes to evening classes with her best friend, the affable Rohit (Saif Ali Khan). Her days are filled with dealing with her family’s mounting dysfunction, her grandmother’s matchmaking attempts, and being reminded daily that true love is a farce. Her life, however, changes when the mysterious and charming Aman (Shah Rukh Khan) moves next door. As the film progresses, Naina falls in love with Aman, who returns her feelings but feels compelled to set her up with Rohit because of a terrible secret. I won’t spoil the secret for the few who haven’t seen the movie yet but if you’ve been around the Internet, or any Bollywood fan, for the past decade, you probably know how the movie ends.

While the movie has its flaws (the casual fat-shaming, age-shaming, slut-shaming and homophobia are hard to watch), many elements that have aged well too. For example, Naina’s full agency over her life and choices throughout the movie. And the fact that she chooses to pursue Aman, a rarity in the genre. Aman and Rohit’s friendship is also treated beautifully in the movie. Even though the two are in love with the same woman, it never comes in between their relationship with each other.

As the movie turned 20 today, it felt like an opportune moment to revisit the iconic film and talk about one of the criminally under-discussed elements from the movie: Naina’s style.

Naina resembled the many rom-com female leads we had come to love. She was nerdy (wore glasses *gasp!*), didn’t care about love, and underwent a makeover to uncover her true self (It counts even if the makeover was internal and not external!). Growing up with the film made it easier to understand the defeatist and cynical character and it’s safe to say that she’s one of the most relatable female characters written in a Bollywood film ever.

The film’s costumes were designed by Johar’s frequent collaborator designer Manish Malhotra and came to define a lot of early 2000 style trends that became popular after the film’s release and are making a comeback now.

Here are all the style moments from Kal Ho Naa Ho that underline how Naina is a true-blue Bollywood style icon…

Best Style Moments By Naina From Kal Ho Naa Ho

The Nerdy Glasses

Still from 'Kal Ho Naa Ho'©Dharma Productions

Naina’s serious nature was portrayed through a pair of no-nonsense spectacles. The dark rectangle-framed glasses became all the rage at the time of the film’s release. Everyone wanted to emulate the ‘chashmish’ look, as dubbed by Aman. The glasses came to symbolise Naina’s need to hide herself behind different armours (the dark colours, the layered clothing choices, etc). Even though Naina takes them off to embrace the freer and open-to-love version of herself, the glasses remain iconic.

The Colourful Trench Coats

“Overcoats are hot” proclaimed a headline in early 2004, claiming that Kal Ho Naa Ho is popularising trench coats in India. Naina’s many winter coats from the movie made their way to the wardrobes of young women (and style-forward teenagers). Whether it was a classic black coat for a rainy afternoon MBA class or a brightly coloured one to skip around the city while singing about new love, Naina had a coat for every occasion. Designer Manish Malhotra had said that it was the “classic New York look” and he was thrilled to see it everywhere in the country.

THE Red Dress

A red halter dress plays a significant role in the film. When Naina decided to confess her feelings to Aman, she decided to go for a bright red dress that was a complete contrast from her usual uniform of dark jeans, darker sweaters, and neutral overcoats. Even though the confession doesn’t go exactly as planned, the dress makes its way back to Naina later to symbolise new beginnings and an invitation to look at life as ‘glass half full’ by Rohit. Deep symbolism aside, the beautiful dress is a classic and is the perfect date night fit for anyone who wants to ditch the LBD for something bolder.

The ‘It’s The Time To Disco’ Fit

A bralette and flared jeans combo is currently a Gen-Z ‘It Girl’ style staple. However, it was also Naina’s choice of club wear way back in 2003. The usually modestly-dressed Naina chose to show off her sultry side after being fed up with Aman and Rohit’s constant ribbing about her uptightness during her rare night out at Club Nirvana.

The Blue Lehenga

Much before Bollywood girlies of today were opting for off-beat hues for their bridal ensembles, Naina was rocking a Manish Malhotra lehenga that featured bright blue enbroidery on a beige or nude base for her engagement ceremony. The Manish Malhotra outfit was a refreshing choice back then and remains a go-to for bridal mood boards even now.

The Proposal Dress

If you’re being proposed to in a grand cathedral/library/theatre with a full orchestra and choir in place, your outfit needs to come through. Naina clearly got the memo and picked out a white mini-dress for the special occasion. The simple yet stunning sequinned dress, paired with a thin scarf around her neck, was perfect for the spotlight that Rohit placed on her when he popped the question. Instantly iconic.