Behind the scenes of the IIFA Awards with official stylist Nabila – Art & Culture
The excitement was palpable even within the confines of Instagram. The International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards took place in Abu Dhabi last weekend and for Bollywood aficionados everywhere, it was a celebrity festival. There was music, dancing and a dazzling red carpet featuring Bollywood stars and more.
Amidst all that glare, however, was a logo—and a few faces—that were particularly familiar to us: an infamous “N” in a font we know very well, a “zero” that many of us keep in our handbags, a group of stylists we’ve seen whistling in the background at local award shows and fashion weeks very frequently. Insta stories showed a pop-up lounge emblazoned with the same “N”, the walls framed with images of stars like Mahira Khan, Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar. Stylist Nabila could be seen in this space, sometimes holding a shiny box of Zero Makeup, at other times brandishing a new product she recently developed – a blurring pen.
It wasn’t the first time the Nabila team – and its Zero Makeup and N. Gents brands – had been on board the IIFAs as official stylists. The team’s first-ever collaboration with what is recognized as Bollywood’s most prestigious awards show dates back to 2018, when the event took place in Bangkok. Following this, the awards celebrated their 20th year in India – Nabila was not part of this particular ceremony – and then were forced to go on hiatus thanks to the pandemic.
Now the awards were back with a show in Abu Dhabi, as was their official styling team led by Nabila. A deluge of Insta stories showed the stylist and her small army of hair and makeup experts rushing backstage, making red carpet videos and occasionally snapping selfies. There was acclaimed Indian director Farah Khan declaring Nabila and her team “fantastic”, Lara Bhupati declaring she felt “like a million bucks” and Arjun Rampal getting groomed by some of the stylists. Styled by N. Gents posted an Insta story showing Bobby Deol bragging on the red carpet.
From my perspective on social media, it seemed that posts to Nabila’s Instagram page were much more frequent than they had been in 2018. Bollywood celebrities, perhaps now more used to the team, seemed to pose for them much more easily. .
Nabila confirms: “The celebrities have all been very supportive, applauded and appreciated our work. We were also much more confident. The first time we participated in the IIFA, we had been very careful, making sure not to make mistakes. Now we were more aware of how things worked.
Nabila worked with her team for nearly four months, conceptualizing the looks and various details for the IIFA collaboration. A collage was developed by its in-house graphics team, featuring the IIFA and Nabila logos intermixed with images of Nabila’s 30 years as a stylist. This collage was then printed on all the designers’ aprons as well as on the 100 goodie bags that were assembled for IIFA guests. The pop-up lounge was set up in the host hotel on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi and receptionists were recruited to book appointments for IIFA attendees.
Nabila gives insider insight: “We divided the lounge into a ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ area with receptionists who set appointments for guests. We also set up a waiting room and there we served kadak chaye, vegetable samosas, paans and mithai that we had brought back from Karachi!
According to Nabila, his team was divided into three different segments. One group catered to celebrities who didn’t want to come down to the salon and had their hair and makeup done in their rooms. The second and busiest team worked in the living room while the third worked behind the scenes on the models, dancers and performers.
I remember past awards shows where Nabila made sure all the models or background dancers had a uniform look. Has she made the same effort at the IIFA? “Of course, I had wigs planned and made sure the looks were consistent,” she says.
Does she have any great stories to share about her interactions with Bollywood stars? “You know, my team would probably have some really interesting memories! she laughs. “I got on very well with Farah Khan. I think I just connected with her because there are things we both have in common. She can be considered the grandmother of the film industry, having given birth to and nurtured so many stars. She is very old and very well respected. All the different actors would specially come up to her and greet her,” she said.
“I gave her a haircut and she loved it!”
It seems there were a lot more people who liked Nabila’s efficient and forward-thinking spirit. There have been times in the past when Nabila has made waves internationally, but a ceremony as widely attended as the IIFA puts her squarely in the spotlight. Global heavyweight MAC has been the official style partner of the IIFA for 16 years and it’s no small feat for Nabila to have replaced such an important player, placing his logo in places where it is clearly visible in a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage from the IIFA.
This collaboration could be the first of a long series. This could open up new business avenues for the designer and her team beyond Pakistan – perhaps by reaching out to the melting pot that is the people of the United Arab Emirates.
Will Nabila work again with the IIFA Awards? “We have a very close relationship with them and I look forward to long-term collaborations,” she says, without confirming anything.