Ace costume and fashion designer Shaahid Amir has designed clothes for Bollywood for more than two decades and has films ranging from Aashiqui, Rangeela, Satya and Akele Hum Akele Tum, to No Entry, Kya Kool Hai Hum, Jungle et al to his credit. In director Omung Kumar’s upcoming biopic Sarbjit, Amir collaborates with debutante designer Neetu Singh to recreate costumes that go with the cinematic vision of the film.

In an exclusive with Pandolin, the duo talks about designing realistic clothes and accessories for the film, challenges of designing for a biopic, their association and more.

Costume Designers Shaahid Amir and Neetu Singh

Costume Designers Shaahid Amir and Neetu Singh

Tell us about your association. How did you both come together to work as team on Sarbjit.

Shaahid: I started my company, Fashion Tantrum, when I was 21. I was young and at the time, I thought that the name was apt for me (Smiles). However, it proved lucky for me. It has seen the hey days of the 90s, right up to 2016. I have worked with almost every actor in the industry. I started my career with Aamir (Khan), and have worked with almost everyone including Mr. Bachchan. One of the producers of Sarbjit – Sandeep Singh, is a friend. When he approached me and mentioned that Omung Kumar was directing another biopic, I was most excited. I have watched Mary Kom and I think Omung did a great job.

Neetu: I have known Shaahid for the past 14 years. Sarbjit is my debut feature film though I have done a couple of serials and ad films prior to this. I have worked on shows like Saraswatichandra, Ek Ghar Banaunga and various other serials. I’ve also assisted Anju Modi on Goliyon ki Raasleela – Ram Leela and Bajirao Mastani. My brother Sandeep who is the producer and also the creative director of Sarbjit thought that Shaahid and I could do this film together. I was a little nervous, not because we were working as partners but because the film has such big stars in it. But it was a very nice experience and now we are looking at doing more films together.


And what were the elements that excited you about the story as designers?

As a designer a biopic is always a challenge because you are filtering the look from real, to suit the cinematic vision of the film.

Since the film is based on real people and incidents, did you’ll meet any of the people as part of your research? And what kind of references did you’ll have?

Yes, we had the privilege to meet Dalbir – who is late Sarbjit’s sister and Sukhpreet – his wife. Chatting with both these women gave us a holistic picture of their personalities, which helped us to weave their look to suit the director’s vision.

How long did it take you’ll to research?

On a personal level, we both had followed Sarbjit’s story in the media, so it came easy to us. We are born and brought up in a country where every region has a distinctive sense of dress and clothing. Being designers, we are acutely aware of this and the difference that clothes play in their socio-economic conditions.


Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a still from Sarbjit

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a still from Sarbjit

Were there any specific requirements by director Omung Kumar regarding the look of the characters?

Omung has a very acute sense of aesthetics. He was very clear about his color palette. He wanted a beautiful rustic look and allowed us to play with natural fabrics.

Aishwarya recently mentioned that makeup and costumes played a big role in etching out her character. What were the pointers that you’ll had in mind while designing her look?

Aishwarya’s look has a gentle transition from 25 to 40 years of age and then to 52, which is the journey of a woman’s fight for justice, which entails self-neglect and hence premature ageing, which we have also incorporated in her costumes.

As compared to the rest of the cast, how challenging was it to design costumes for Randeep Hooda?

Randeep Hooda was a delight to work with. He was so into his character that the costumes and the fantastic hair cum makeup team (Renuka & Perry) fused into one. He worked so hard on his role that he went from drastic weight loss to weight gain, as per the transition of his character.

All the lead characters in the film are shown ageing from their 20s to 60s. What role have costumes played in differentiating this time span?

We had to keep a meticulous watch on every character’s ageing process. For instance, Richa is relatively younger in the film, and her ageing is more stress-related. But them all being such great actors has helped the process.


Randeep Hooda in a still from Sarbjit

Randeep Hooda in a still from Sarbjit

Did the actors also give any kind of inputs?

As we already mentioned earlier, the actors were all very in tune with their characters, which was an added incentive to our work. Ash has a very great eye for detail and totally took over her hair and wigs, which eased our task. Richa, being a very powerful actor, was fun to work with.

Where were the costumes made or sourced from? What kind of fabric and accessories were used?

The accessories were totally realistic keeping in mind the economic condition of the family. All the costumes were tailored to suit the look of the film. We used handwoven fabrics and aged them ourselves. The process was long. However, the results are extremely satisfactory.


Describe the style and clothing of every character in one word?


Since it was your first film together, what kind of an experience was it?

Neetu: Shaahid made me feel very comfortable and I also learnt a lot from him. The foremost being to keep calm and only focus on the end result. We have formed a great friendship and I would describe it as “a masti magic relationship”.

Shaahid: We started this film in the midst of the wedding season. And I thought that with the brief we were given for the film, Neetu would pull it through, not knowing that she was waiting for directions from me. But then, like all two people, we came together in a work place, where sincerity and end result play an important part. Once the two of us connected, it was a cake-walk and the result is for all to see.

What have been your learnings from this project?

To always be on top of your own job. And to perfect your own perception of imperfect.

Photo ofShaahid Amir and Neetu Singh
Shaahid Amir and Neetu Singh
Job Title
Costume Designers