Can You Bottle Bollywood?

Today it’s fashionable to proclaim one’s mastery of minimalism and a clutter-free lifestyle. Open any fashion magazine, and you’ll be treated to endless spreads of high key photographs flooded with white light and suggestions on how to make your life perfectly streamlined. I like Marie Kondo as much as the next person, but there is only so much minimalism I can take. So I seek refuge in Bollywood and its world where the idea of “less is more” means only that thing invented by the 6th century Indian mathematicians–zero.


The topic of Bollywood and perfume is the subject of my weekly FT column, Can You Bottle Bollywood?

“Many people outside the Bollywood sphere of influence find the genre puzzling. Everything is over the top — the acting, the plots, the songs, the outfits. But for me, it’s “cinema that exists slightly outside the everyday world”, in the words of writer Rana Dasgupta. This fantasy space is shared by perfumes, intangible messages in a bottle. So, those wishing to take a break from KonMaring their sock drawers and making their apartment look like an Ikea showroom are welcome to follow along with me. Please continue here.”

Are you a fan of Bollywood? Any recommendations for favorite films–and correspondingly opulent perfumes.

Image: Aishwarya Rai’s screenshot from Devdas (2002), via Pinterest.



  • Nora Szekely: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,

    I’m yet to discover the charms of Bollywood movies, I only saw a few Indian films, among them one based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ( a fun adaptation).
    However, I’m not a minimalist person. Right now I sit and type wearing a summer cotton dress with big bright pattern of green, blue, purple and red, a matte red lipstick and Coco extrait de parfum by Chanel. I love dramatic entrances and enjoy playing in my amateur theater group or romantic outbursts of suitors. Sometimes more is more and pure escapism needs to be big and bold to draw your full attention away from life’s trial and tribulations.

    In cinematography, I admire Baz Luhrmann, who can tell classic stories like Romeo and Juliet or La dame aux camelias, with a rich, overblown style that somehow still matches the theme.

    My favourite “go big or go home’ scents are Portrait of a Lady and Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle, Casmir by Chopard, Nahema by Guerlain and Rose Oud by Killian. Whenever I wear these, I feel invincible, like in a cloud of opulence and beauty that protects me from all harm. June 22, 2016 at 9:05am Reply

    • Annie: I like your “go big or go home” scents. Mine would also include Angel and Prada. I recently learned that they contain patchouli, so maybe I need to try more perfumes with this note. 😉 Any ideas? June 22, 2016 at 9:31am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: I love rose-patchouli combos, Portrait of a Lady is one of them. I also love Mad madame by Juliette has a gun.
        Arthes Essential Patchouli Sumatra Jeanne Arthes for women is a patchouli only scent, at least on me, it was an inexpensive blind buy, I use it when I want to smell like Mother Earth.
        P. S. I just bought Aromaco solid deodorant from Lush, now that also smells like pure patchouli. June 22, 2016 at 9:41am Reply

      • Notturno7: Yes. Annie. I love the Angel too. Chanel’s Coromandel has patchouli but it smells more like white chocolate. June 23, 2016 at 12:09am Reply

      • Victoria: If your budget can allow it, Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 is a great patchouli option. June 23, 2016 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Dramatic fragrances have their places, and they create a certain mood so well. I agree with you that a lot of it is about fantasy and escape from routine. Your panacea against doldrums sounds great. June 23, 2016 at 11:51am Reply

  • Stephania: I watched a Bollywood movie about cricket, but I don’t remember the name. I loved the costumes!! June 22, 2016 at 9:13am Reply

    • Elizabeth: Was it Lagaan? June 22, 2016 at 10:14am Reply

      • Victoria: Ha! That was my guess too. June 23, 2016 at 12:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: Was it Lagaan? June 23, 2016 at 12:17pm Reply

  • limegreen: Like Nora above, “Bride and Prejudice” was a favorite to add to all the “Pride and Prejudice” “flankers” to use a perfume term. 🙂 June 22, 2016 at 10:07am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: Yey, it was lovely! June 23, 2016 at 7:27am Reply

    • Victoria: It was such a fun interpretation! June 23, 2016 at 12:19pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: I have stopped up my ears against anything that Marie Kondo has to say. It’s her fault that I accidentally threw out the $100 gift card to a wine shop that my husband received for Christmas. (And yet he forgave me! It’s a miracle!)

    Anyway, Bollywood: I bought the DVDs of Umrao Jaan and Mughal-e-Azam after you mentioned them in an earlier article, and I love them both! Nahema is a bit much for me but I love the idea of wearing Mohur while watching Umrao Jaan.

    Probably my favorite Bollywood movie is Shree 420. I just love Raj Kapoor! And Nargis is so lovely. Which perfume would go with it, though? It’s not one of the flashier Bollywood movies. I’ll choose Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule. June 22, 2016 at 10:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Nargis is gorgeous, and her chemistry with Raj Kapoor makes for such an intense viewing experience. This movie also has some of the best songs. Chhalia is another Kapoor vehicle I love. June 23, 2016 at 12:22pm Reply

  • Gretchen: Whenever you mention Bollywood, I remind myself I need to watch some of these – they sound like so much fun. As for minimalism, it’s a nice concept, but not my cup of tea. I love Nora’s fragrance suggestions, and would add Trayee (not a Bombay Bling fan), 24 Faubourg, and Bois de Paradis to the mix. My clothing is pretty simple in color and style, but my home and fragrances? Never! June 22, 2016 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Perfume can add the right dose of glamour or drama, and it’s so easy. Unlike an elaborate outfit, it also doesn’t take as much effort. June 23, 2016 at 12:23pm Reply

  • spe: While I enjoy extravagance and glamour, I have yet to indulge in Bollywood. Regarding opulent perfumes, I’ve owned and worn nearly everything in the article and in the comments section – and given them away or sold them.

    What that implies, I don’t really know. I look at my home and it’s definitely modern and minimalist, but warm. I cannot stand busyness or clutter. Too many materials or colors in architecture or interior design is distracting and literally revolting to me. I physically feel it.
    The vast majority of my perfume collection (about 30 bottles at this point) can be described as “refined.” I prefer Chanel with a few Guerlains and some Hermes here and there. The most opulent perfume I wear is A la Nuit, which smells utterly joyful to me. I prefer this soliflore to a grand bouquet. I’m considering swapping out some of my fragrances for Kurkdjian as they read more modern to my nose.

    Thank you for the wonderful, thought-provoking article June 22, 2016 at 10:42am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: spe, I think what matters is how your home feels to you. Some of us are more comfortable in “a little chaos” but if that makes you feel uncomfortable, then it should not be the example to follow.
      I envy that you have only 30 bottles now, I try to give away some of mine time after time but my collection is now more than 70 bottles and I feel sorry for those ones I use rarely.
      My home is rather chaotic most of the time but I record in a spreadsheet on a daily basis which scent I wear, to keep track of which scents to keep close. So I can be messy an unorganized in one thing and organized in another.
      Home should be a place where we feel the most relaxed and we should arrange it so. June 23, 2016 at 7:34am Reply

      • spe: Hi Nora, Wise words! This preference has always been with me. When I was about 4, we were walking down a hospital corridor, and my Mom relates that I gleefully said, “I like this place! It’s so clean!” And I assure you, my Mom has always kept a spotless, organized house.
        Personally, I think I was responding to the white walls, large empty spaces, and hard surfaces! I’ve tried other interiors, but they just don’t feel good to me.
        If you enjoy the 70 bottles, fabulous- wear them in good health! If there are some you really don’t wear, there may be a subconscious reason. One way to handle it is to make a decant and let the bottle go to someone who will love it. Sometimes a scent really “should” work for us, but it just doesn’t. We don’t feel good in it. Who knows why. June 23, 2016 at 11:16am Reply

      • girasole: Nora, I’m glad to hear it isn’t just me! My husband always finds it funny that I can be perfectly happy with random piles of books (my other indulgence besides fragrance) all over the house, but keep my perfumes all organized and accounted for in a spreadsheet. Some chaos can be comfortable, but it has to be the right kind 😉

        As for downsizing my collection, I think I am still in the growing phase but I know that day will come (and the spreadsheets, hopefully, will help!) June 27, 2016 at 2:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: The most important thing is that you find what works for you. Personally, the cultures I find fascinating like Persian, Indian and Japanese are very different in their aesthetics, but they all feel comfortable and familiar for different reasons. In other words, I alternate between minimalism and opulence. What I find less appealing are the proscriptions of “an ideal life”, especially when it comes to things other considered unnecessary luxuries. I can spend my summer with only a couple of perfume decants, but I’m happy to open my library of fragrances whenever I return to home.

      Sounds like you’ve reached a point where you feel comfortable with your collection and don’t feel the urge to add more and more. That’s such an important part of your enjoyment. Plus, the beauty of scents can be experienced in many more ways than just bottled perfumes. June 23, 2016 at 12:32pm Reply

  • pklagrange: Great post. I so enjoyed your thoughts on minimalism and not minimalism. I fall in the latter category. I am such a huge fan of Neela Vermeire’s Bombay Bling – it is joyful mix of flowers and spices, drying down to a warm woody and spicy base. I also think it is Amouage Opus IV that has the strong cumin note that appears in the fruity opening and lingers through the incense base. Today I am wearing another Francis Kurkdjian creation, Amyris femme. Doesn’t remind me of Bollywood, but is beautiful nonetheless. June 22, 2016 at 11:02am Reply

    • Victoria: Amouage is a perfect line for those who want opulence!

      Amyris Femme is a stunning perfume, and it makes me think of a chic French girl for some reason. June 23, 2016 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Gina Tabasso: Lush Sikkim Girls or Karma as well as anything by D.S. & Durga June 22, 2016 at 12:01pm Reply

  • Karen A: Ohhhh, what a fun article! And I think there is a swing of the pendulum towards accepting our stuff if that’s what you love. Clutter and messiness aren’t good, but having treasures that remind you of people and places are. I would love to hear what Iris Aptel has to say about clearing out all your stuff! So here’s to big luscious fragrances and films!

    Love the feeling of a perfume that has a richness or heft to it – running home to put on some Nahema or Carnal Flower…. June 22, 2016 at 12:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: But to defend Kondo, she never says that you have to get rid of all your stuff. Just get rid of stuff that doesn’t bring joy. I’ve followed her advice, and I loved the experience. My main beef is less with Kondo than with her overly eager epigones, and of course, I’m also being a little tongue in cheek. June 23, 2016 at 12:36pm Reply

    • Notturno7: Yes, Karen A. Cheers for treasures and family and good life mementos.
      I have to bring out my bottle of Carnal Flower, it’s been neglected lately😍 thanks for the reminder. June 23, 2016 at 7:34pm Reply

  • Crazycrooner: I enjoy the Anglo-Indian genre far more than the traditional ones. It just has to do with generation. Others may put all Indian movies in one big type-cast. That has changed.
    I like Merchant-Ivory films. I love love love the opening scene of David Lean’s Passage to India. I like Bend It Like Beckham. And one of my favorites is Om Puri in East is East.
    Perfume: Something English, something British Raj: something yet to be bottled. Penhaligon’s tries but usually fails. No, nothing French, sorry. Out with you Guerlain.
    And finally an Indian-themed movie about a perfume: Black Narcissus. It is fictional name of a perfume worn by an Indian prince, who is the ‘student’ of English nuns, austere, stern, shunning exotic splendors in desperate hopes of maintaining their missionary station. Nuns they are and women too, enchanted by the fragrance of India… June 22, 2016 at 12:46pm Reply

    • Karen A: Don’t write Guerlain totally off! Rose Nacree du Désert is stunning, a rich rose Oud that shimmers in the heat. June 22, 2016 at 1:28pm Reply

      • Crazycrooner: What has that got to do with India? June 22, 2016 at 2:03pm Reply

        • Karen A: Well I suppose I would have enjoyed wearing it when I was in India.

          Victoria’s article made me think of rich, complex fragrances that wear beautifully in hot weather. June 22, 2016 at 3:33pm Reply

          • Crazycrooner: And it also reminds me of her article on Orientalism and anachronistic marketing ploys. June 22, 2016 at 4:06pm Reply

            • spe: Perhaps something with strong cumin? That type of fragrance takes me straight to India! The new Femme? Oops Rochas (French)…well… June 22, 2016 at 6:58pm Reply

          • Notturno7: Never tried Rose Nacree, it sounds delicious! I’m thinking of trying Lou Lou in this hot weather. Wonder if it works. That’d be an interesting article- which rich and complex fragrances would work in hot weather….. One summer I wore my beloved Shalimar in the hot car on one of out of town trips, 6 hour drive, and later in the day, absolutely hated it. I think that was he last time I wore Shalimar in the hot summer.
            But Boucheron sounds good and it’s so rich and over the top but it could work in hot weather along with Carnal Flower….. I wonder what others would work. June 23, 2016 at 7:43pm Reply

            • Karen A: Quite a while ago on the Sahara Noir article Victoria responded to a comment of mine about Oud being from the Middle East so it works really well in the heat. (most will say, Well duh, but for me it was a lightbulb going off)

              So I think that’s why rose ouds work well in summer despite the richness.

              I haven’t tried Boucheron, on to my list it goes! June 23, 2016 at 7:53pm Reply

  • Jerome: Bombay Bling is one of my favorite scents and it’s lavishness takes me straight to the Bollywood scene.
    I love looking at Filmfare magazine, which covers Indian cinema to get a sense of the culture incorporated in the films. June 22, 2016 at 2:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: Bollywood is a fascinating culture phenomenon, and yes, there are so many threads drawn from Indian culture, folklore, religion. June 23, 2016 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Heidi: Thank you for a great read! I am pretty cash-strapped as of late — any suggestions for cheaper (and perhaps more easily available) perfumes that would go nicely with a Bollywood movie? June 22, 2016 at 3:05pm Reply

    • Karen A: A 10ml bottle of Carnal Flower is wallet friendly and is a perfect fragrance for a Bollywood movie. June 22, 2016 at 3:36pm Reply

    • Michaela: I would suggest Chopard Casmir. June 23, 2016 at 3:49am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: I back up both Casmir and Carnal Flower. June 23, 2016 at 8:54am Reply

        • Notturno7: Also Une Fleur de Cassie maybe, it’s so rich, I love it😍 June 23, 2016 at 7:47pm Reply

          • Karen A: UFdC – after the first 1/2 hour I couldn’t stop smelling my wrists… yummmmm June 23, 2016 at 7:54pm Reply

      • Victoria: I didn’t see your suggestion before I posted mine, but Casmir definitely comes to mind. June 23, 2016 at 12:48pm Reply

        • Heidi: Thank you, all, for such great recommendations! Off to the perfume shop to sniff… June 23, 2016 at 5:53pm Reply

          • Victoria: Have a good time, and I hope that you will let us know what you found. And of course, if you need more recommendations, we are here. June 24, 2016 at 8:29am Reply

    • Victoria: Casmir by Chopard. Wish by Chopard (a clone of Angel, though). I Profumi di Firenze has a very good amber that smells luxurious. Pacifica has a fragrance inspired by Mexican chocolate that is delicious and lush. Not quite Indian in inspiration, but very good. June 23, 2016 at 12:39pm Reply

      • Heidi: I have smelled the Pacifica Neroli before — very good for the price. I look forward to testing this… June 23, 2016 at 5:55pm Reply

        • Victoria: Pacifica line overall is fabulous, especially for the price.

          Yves Rocher also has a good amber, and it’s another good budget line. June 24, 2016 at 8:29am Reply

  • Debby: What fun! Minimalism is anathema to me, much to my husband’s constant irritation! This sent me rushing to find out more about Kenzo Jungle l’elephant, would it be a safe blind buy for someone who adores pre reformulation Opium do you think? June 22, 2016 at 3:15pm Reply

    • Michaela: Better try it on your skin first. I wear it in winter or on rainy cold days, I loved it on someone else on a hot summer day, but no, it’s not a safe blind buy. Spicy and boozy, it’s quite different from the elegant carnation Opium. June 23, 2016 at 3:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Kenzo is sweeter and milkier, not quite as dry and woody as Opium. And it has cumin! June 23, 2016 at 12:40pm Reply

  • spe: Not a safe blind buy. Opium is dry and “soapy” compared with the Kenzo. June 22, 2016 at 7:00pm Reply

    • spe: Noire Epices has that drier, soapy feel. June 22, 2016 at 7:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, definitely much drier. Kenzo’s combination of spices, sweetness, creaminess can be a turn off for some. June 23, 2016 at 12:41pm Reply

      • Debby: Thank you all, definitely one to investigate. June 24, 2016 at 11:16am Reply

  • Notturno7: I just love this blog❤️
    Reading the first few posts and yours Nora S, I have to respond. I guess I just blend right in here. What a perfect post for me today, Victoria. I’m wearing a flowery dress, red leather sandals and was craving a romantic rose perfume to go with my pinkish red summer dress so I left home with few sprays of La Fille de Berlin but later in the day ended up with Angel body cream. So not, Marie Kondo like, haha. June 23, 2016 at 12:06am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds summery and sunny! 🙂 June 23, 2016 at 12:47pm Reply

      • Notturno7: Yes! I forgot to say that I even had a red ruby necklace (Indian ruby or as some call it, mud ruby, as it’s not clear) so finding your post about Bollywood was just-perfect timing❤️ June 23, 2016 at 9:34pm Reply

        • Victoria: A perfect complement, I think. June 24, 2016 at 8:32am Reply

  • Katy McReynolds: I love Monsoon Wedding. I think Annick Goutal Songes would be perfect to wear while viewing this film. June 23, 2016 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes! Songes makes me think of Indian jasmine garlands. June 23, 2016 at 12:49pm Reply

    • Notturno7: I love that movie!! And Songes! Sarrasins would be perfect too, with that lovely jasmine. Mmmmmm June 23, 2016 at 9:36pm Reply

  • Surbhi: I am trying to Marie Kendo my home. But as I Marie kando clothes… I end up stocking perfumes and nail paints 😀

    The bollywood scent… I know too much about bollywood to generalize it with a perfume or two.. but if I have to associate a perfume to a movie….

    Devdas – I am going to layer Jasmine, Roses with a spicy scent… I am going to experiment today and will share my results.

    Let me know if there is any particular movie that you would like me to translate in perfume. June 23, 2016 at 11:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Just pick any of your favorite films! 🙂

      I love your idea of a perfume for Devdas. A hint of incense from the Durga temple is a must. June 23, 2016 at 12:50pm Reply

  • epapsiou: Nahema for Mughal-e-Azam? Maybe the B&W version. The new digitally colored version should only be seen whilst wearing Guerlain Samsara (or sandalwood oil). The opulence of the sets and time period can only be captured by Samsara.

    Pehaligon Ostara for Pakeezah. The melancholy and the happiness reminds me of beauty of Ostara and its demise.

    I don’t know what can go with Umrao Jaan. A sad Chypre perhaps Givenchy III. June 23, 2016 at 11:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I have seen only the restored color version of Mughal-e-Azam. In fact, all of this talk makes me want to watch it again. Or at least see the climatic song-and-dance sequence: June 23, 2016 at 12:51pm Reply

      • Elizabeth: That’s one of my favorite Bollywood moments! June 23, 2016 at 1:27pm Reply

        • Victoria: I can watch it again and again. June 23, 2016 at 3:51pm Reply

      • epapsiou: You should watch the original B&W version too. I think it has its own charm and I prefer it over colored one.
        And while you are at it watch Paakezah too. June 23, 2016 at 1:31pm Reply

        • Victoria: I saw Paakezah, but it’s time to see it again. One of those films that makes you realize how complex Indian cinema is. June 23, 2016 at 3:53pm Reply

  • Nina Z: I loved Bride and Prejudice, and also the Bollywood version of Sense and Sensibility “I Have Found It.” And I actually have had the experience of trying to find a perfume for an Indian American woman who wanted to be reminded of her childhood visits to India and the smell of jasmine that she associated with it. We ended up with Serge Luten’s jasmines: A La Nuit and also Sarrasins. For summer, she chose Love and Tears from By Killian. June 23, 2016 at 12:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: A La Nuit was the closest thing I found to Indian jasmine, and it reminded my mother-in-law of the vines near her house in India. Such a beautiful perfume. June 23, 2016 at 12:55pm Reply

      • Nora Szekely: I love A la nuit. I’m not familiar with real Indian jasmine’s scent but I’m glad that my nose pointed me to the right direction when sent the below message to my brain: “It’s my favourite jasmine scent. ” June 24, 2016 at 4:27am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s one of my favorite jasmines, and although I keep trying new ones, nothing else comes close. My only qualm is that the recent reformulation made it thinner and cut its lasting power. June 24, 2016 at 8:35am Reply

  • AnnieA: No one has yet mentioned Smell Bent’s Bollywood or Bust! It’s a fairly beery rose when applied at full blast, but a nice murmur of a scent with a single spritz. June 23, 2016 at 12:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m adding it on my list. June 23, 2016 at 12:56pm Reply

  • Ayesha: Mughal e Azam–Poison


    Bajirao Mastani–Flowerbomb




    Umrao Jan-Les Liasons Dangerouse June 24, 2016 at 3:42pm Reply

    • Alita: Hey! I love this film: Bajirao Mastani, and Flowerbomb is the perfect perfume to describe it 🙂 June 25, 2016 at 3:17pm Reply

      • Ayesha: Over the top and feminine!! Swooned over Deepika’s outfits and jewelry. Loved Priyanka’s vibrant sari colors. July 1, 2016 at 11:06am Reply

    • Victoria: You’ve picked some of my favorite movies and I love your perfume choices for them. June 30, 2016 at 3:10am Reply

      • Ayesha: Bajirao Mastani is a feast for the eyes. If you havent seen it already-do so! The costumes and jewelry are breathtaking!!! July 1, 2016 at 11:05am Reply

        • Victoria: I just realized that no, I haven’t. Adding it onto my list. Thank you, Ayesha. July 1, 2016 at 1:02pm Reply

  • Kari: I’m definitely not a minimalist person. I’m not quite maximal but I love texture and color and pattern-and the same extends to my taste in fragrance. I want my heart to beat a bit faster when I catch a whiff of a beautiful scent. June 25, 2016 at 11:51am Reply

    • Victoria: I love some variety and balance, so I relate to what you’re saying. June 30, 2016 at 3:24am Reply

  • Aurora: I was very interested as my knowledge of Bollywood movies is nil. I think Samsara and Sahara Noir would suit the mood very well with their saturated, a little over the top character. June 28, 2016 at 5:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I was thinking of those two as well. June 30, 2016 at 3:33am Reply

  • Pearl: Just a word on Marie Kondo. I think that she is falsely identified as a minimalist. From her second book, page 47:

    “‘I’ve finished tidying up, and my place is lovely and clean! But somehow I don’t feel like I’m actually done.’ The homes of people who feel this way usually have one point in common: they lack color.

    “Once the reducing phase is over, it’s time to add joy. Normally, we can do this simply by decorating our space with things we love yet could not fully utilize before….”

    I think she would love Bois de Jasmin, as do I. Thank you for all your beautifully written and informative posts. June 29, 2016 at 9:24am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re completely right. I was being a little tongue-in-cheek, but I do like Marie Kondo’s book a lot, mostly because I can see the personality of its author. I had very good results following her method to organize my apartment (although I did adjust it to my own personality), and I enjoyed just reading the book. June 30, 2016 at 3:36am Reply

  • Pearl: But there is indeed a lot of minimalism around these days–at least aspirations towards it. I need color and beauty and lovely perfume bottles. So I am 100% with you! June 30, 2016 at 5:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I love color. It gives me such a boost. June 30, 2016 at 3:44pm Reply

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