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The Lootera Journey: Through the Eyes of the Costume Designer

Subarna Ray ChaudhuriHere’s Subarna Ray Chaudhuri the costume designer of multiple films, including the forthcoming film Lootera talking to MAM about the experience of working on Lootera and more.

Kolkata, Parineeta, and now Lootera, you seem to have a deep connection with the place and the culture…

Indeed. I started from Kolkata, with a passion for designing, a subject that I majored in college. I started my career in Kolkata, with a film and TV production house. A few international projects were my beginning, I did Night Fall, a Hollywood [production starring David Carradine. A BBC production Victorian Values and another Hollywood film Shadows

So how did you get to Lootera? Take us through your journey.

My connection with Lootera began way back in 2006. I was fresh from Parineeta and was winning awards for my work. That is when I met Vikram. He briefed me about a script that was then called The Last Leaf. I was bowled over by it. I began my research into the era and the clothes and styling needed for the script almost immediately and presented my plan to Vikram. We were supposed to shoot, but then the film got pushed back and I guess Udaan happened. I kept wishing that Vikram made the film though, the script was arresting and I fell in love with it and its potential; I’d keep telling Vikram whenever we met post Udaan to get started with it actually. And last year when he called me telling me that the film was on and he wanted me to work on it, I was super thrilled. Deep down somewhere I knew that someday this film would be made…

That’s interesting; what was it about Lootera that captivated you so much?

The moment I heard the script of Lootera, I felt I was looking at a painting; the script was more of a painting than a story. The colors, the era, the palette, the clothes, everything about the film is so magical. Then ofcourse, working with Vikram is a delight- he is so focussed, so involved, clear with what he wants and extremely methodical. The team, the cast, everyone was a delight to work with. The experience was something I could never have said no to.

So how was it recreating an era? Period films are not new to you, how different was Lootera from earlier work say Parineeta?

For Lootera, I did some extensive research for the look and feel of the costumes. The idea was not to recreate a filmy image of the 50’s, you know, like the typical stereotypes that abound Hindi cinema when we talk of period films. The idea was to get into the minute details that would take you back to the era in terms of not just the looks but also the memories and nostalgia.

My most important resource in this regard were the Zamindars and their families, particularly the Bardhaman rajbari, that still survive in Bengal. We spoke extensively to the families, dug up old photo albums, spoke to seniors from that era about what they wore, how they accessorized and the works. Nandini Mahtab from the Bardhaman Rajbari was very instrumental in helping me with the research part.

Of course, I also had Vikram’s brief that guided me. He had showed my pictures of James Dean, the celebrated icon from the 50’s, and has asked me to come up with a look for the actors that matched his sophistication and finesse.

You mention James Dean, which is a very interesting reference, tell us more about the styling; what exactly was your idea?

You see, the 50’s was a very conservative time. There were no low waist sari’s or navel exposing blouses. The hem lines were long and all-covering. The blouses mostly high collared, full sleeves, with very little skin show if at all. It was an era of sensuality through minimalism. As for the men, the era spelt classy clean looks. The men were sober, toned down, understated yet manly. Macho was not an idea that went well with the time, be it in cuts, the length and fall of the pants or even hairstyles.

So how difficult was it to convert stars from today’s times of liberated exposure laden cinema into people from a time long gone by?

Well, it was a challenge. Especially with Ranveer, since his earlier two films show him as this rouged street smart rough kind of a guy with very little sophistication in terms of characterisation. With Lootera, my aim was to change this image of Ranveer, to make him look like a Gentleman, an Englishman from the 50’s. It was a tad easier with Sonakshi given her classic Indian looks; the challenge with her was to make sure that she is comfortable in Saris. Sonakshi never wears a sari at home. She is playing a character from an era when girls wore saris at home from the age of 13. Clothes is not just all about getting the stitch right, the actors need to maintain the look throughout the shots to make the clothes work- thankfully, Ranveer and Sonakshi are a dream to work with in this regard.

 Tell us more about their individual looks, both of them look their best till date in the promos…

With Ranveer, we tried two major looks in the film, a work look and a formal one. We kept the colors muted, sober, totally toned down. We used a lot of patterns, pockets with inverted pleats for example. A lot of the research for his look was from magazines from that era, looking for style guides, trends. The fall of his pant, high waisted as in those times, was very important, I remember I had to search really hard for a fabric that gave me the ideal fall, till I zeroed in on corduroy worn inside out.

For Sonakshi, my references were Suchitra Sen, Nutan and Geetabali. Remember the high neck blouses Nutan made so famous back then? Sonakshi wears a lot of those in Lootera. Her Saris are mostly handlooms, cottons, crochet, raw silk. I consciously avoided synthetic since georgette and synthetic were still pretty rare in the 50’s. She wears a little of chiffon , solid colors, with small border, in lace or zardozi. Simple yet enough to make a statement, that was the guiding principle with her look.

We made sure that the clothes, every single one they wore, had a lived in , used feel to them; we would get them washed five to six times at a dhobi ghat to ensure they went through the rigours of heavy hand wash and looked used and a little worn out.

How involved were the stars with the costumes?

Totally. Ranveer has a keen sense of how clothes look and of maintaining them through the shots. He is very particular about retaining the styling and would heed even the slightest of my hints during shots and take care to adjust the clothes. Sonakshi on the other hand surprised me with her ease with the sari- she is a pro- ready in just five minutes, and with her simple makeup she would be ready in about fifteen minutes flat. I remember for Sawar Loon song , she had to change 9 sarees, we shot the song in a day, and Sonakshi managed the changes quickly and efficiently like she had been living her whole life in a sari! And to think of it, she doesn’t even wear the garment at home. She has this elegance and feminity with which she carries herself in a sari, she looks ethereal in the song.

Indeed. Both infact haven’t looked this good in any of their earlier outings. Any other such memorable incidents from Lootera?

The other one that comes to my mind is when me and my assistant had to go buy some sweaters for the shoot in Dalhousie, it had snowed in badly, and we were trapped in snow when about 3-4 ft snow fell on us. I was so sure I was dead that day, yet came out of the snow giggling…

You worked on Lootera almost simultaneously with Ghanchakkar and Vidya’s look in it. Versatality comes easy to you?

Yes in fact I jumped into Ghanchakkar right after Lootera and was still in that period and time frame when I started work on Vidya’s look. I have worked with her earlier in Parineeta, and she gives her all to the character with abandon, making my work all that more easy. Ghanchakkar though was another ball game. I had to unlearn all that I had learnt in designing, stop thinking with my head about what is good and what was tacky and then look for the styling. The idea there was to go tacky yet adorable. Vidya looks like a dream in the loud gaudy look in the film.

From timeless elegance to common man tackiness, you seem to be proving your versatility and mettle with each film, Thank you for talking to us, and wish you all the success and accolades for Lootera.

Thank you

Note-  Yet to check out the Make Your Own Lootera Poster-Contest? Click here to know all about the same.

By: ameetbhuvan
Posted: June 27, 2013, 10:30 am


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