Costume designing is character based and depends on the film – Nikita Raheja Mohanty
“My style is to keep it as real as possible,” says ingenious costume designer Nikita Raheja Mohanty. Nikita and her partner, Natascha Charak, are the creative ladies behind the secondary costumes for popular films like 2 States and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania.
While Nikita has earlier styled for movies like English Vinglish (secondary costumes), TV shows including Khottey Sikke and Seven and assisted on Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Yeh Saali Zindagi, Natascha is known for films like Chandni Chowk to China, Salaam-E-Ishq, English Vinglish (She styled Sridevi for the New York portions of the film) and so on.
Nikita speaks to Pandolin about the intricacies of costume designing and the projects the duo has worked on.
How did costume designing and your big Bollywood break happen?
It didn’t come as one big Bollywood break. I’ve been working for the last 8-9 years. I studied fashion and was with Rocky S for about 2 years where I was designing under him. I then got a chance to assist on a song for the film Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. I really enjoyed that and started assisting for a while. Then I got English Vinglish. And after that it’s been non-stop. I work with my partner, Natascha Charak, whom I met during English Vinglish. We weren’t working together at that time, but we got along really well and now work as a team. We’ve done 2 States, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and a couple of ads as well.
What are the factors you keep in mind while deciding the look of an actor? Where do you seek inspiration for your designs?
Most importantly I try and understand what their characters are, what their economic background is, what kind of people they are and so on as per the brief from the director. Then Natascha and I sit together, we ideate, do references and figure what the character and his/her sense of dressing should be like. My style is to keep it as real as possible.
I don’t have any inspirations in particular, but once I read the script, I just try to relate to what the character would actually be like in reality. I don’t like to create something just for the heck of it. If he is a regular guy, I won’t dress him up too much above that, he needs to look real. We do make it a little larger than life because it is for films, but we largely try and stick to reality.
What are the key steps involved in putting together the costume for a film?
We meet up with the director and he gives us his brief. We give our own inputs as well but try and go as much with the director’s vision as possible. We do a lot of referencing, lots of outfits, trial and error, and then finally zero down on what the look should be. It takes a couple of weeks to get to what we want. We do a lot of costume trials on the actors to understand what works on their skin tone, their body type, whether it works for the director and so on. We also have to synchronize the character’s look with that of the entire cast.
We discuss colors and themes with the other departments as well, especially when it comes to songs so that it all comes together as a beautiful frame. We coordinate with the production designer, discuss colors and assemble it all together so that it looks good on screen.
Which fabrics do you like to work with and where do you source them?
I’m not really stuck on any particular fabric. I like to do as many different things as possible so that every character is like a new challenge. I like to keep my mind open. Costume is character based and depends on the film, so there is no uniform trend as such at any given point of time. I source things from anywhere and everywhere. You will find the quirkiest things in Mumbai. You can find clothes at the most expensive brands for certain characters or you can find an accessory that you like on the road. But you have to really hunt for every piece and that is the fun thing about doing costumes.
There is no go-to place, you just need to have an eye for things. For Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, since it’s about a Punjabi family from Ambala, we did most of the fabric and clothes shopping from Chandigarh, Ambala and Patiala. Those markets are very interesting. We then teamed up the fabrics with other things, added little details and so on. There is nothing that we bought and directly put out there. We had received a brief from the director, Shashank, and shopped keeping that in mind.
What was the brief from director Shashank Khaitan for costumes in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania? Did you’ll decide on a particular color scheme for the film?
We did the secondary costumes for Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, which included every other character except the lead pair of Varun and Alia. Shashank is very chilled out with costumes. He is very easygoing and gives you your space to design and create things. He didn’t have a particular description but just wanted it to be beautiful and real and have something interesting to each character. So we did a lot of research on what a regular Punjabi family staying in Ambala would look like. We observed people when we went up North, how they dressed, how they accessorized and we used that in our styling. We did have a color scheme as well especially for the songs. For example, for the song ‘Daingad Daingad’ we have used fruity colors and pastels, no blacks, only day colors. For ‘Lucky Tu’, it was a college song so we added a bit of glitz but the outfits were young and college kinds, not very skimpy yet fun. We would discuss things before the songs were shot and decide on themes. The director would then discuss it with the art director as well and everything would be assembled together.
In 2 States you have styled the senior actors like Revathi, Amrita Singh and so on. How was the experience?
We did a lot of research for their costumes. Revathi Mam herself is a South Indian and we had to do a Tamil Brahmin family, so we did a lot of research on how a middle class Tambrahm woman would dress like, what accessories and so on. We paid attention to little details. For Amrita Singh we researched on how a Delhi Punjabi lady would dress like and Ronit Roy was an ex-army officer so we dressed him accordingly.
The characters in English Vinglish have a simple yet classy look. Tell us about your styling process for them.
For English Vinglish, Sridevi was styled by Sabyasachi. I’ve styled Priya Anand, Adil Hussain, Sujata Krishnamurthy and the others. Gauri (Shinde), the director, was very clear about what she wanted which also helped me get forward in things. Being a Maharashtrian herself, she gave us a brief on how a typical middle class family in Pune would dress and so on. We did referencing, showed her a couple of styles and worked accordingly.
You have also designed for TV shows like Khotey Sikkey and Seven. How different is it designing for television as compared to films?
It is quite different. Both were shows by YRF Television, so they were not like the typical saas bahu soaps and were shot more like a film. It was very exhausting because the shows went on for almost 10 months. Films get over much faster than that. The process is almost the same, we get the script, discuss it, give our ideas, do look tests, put all the characters together in one frame, see how they look together and then decide.
What are the budgets that are allocated for costumes in films like? Are they sufficient to work with?
In Dharma (Producers of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania), it’s great because they value costume and art. Their films always look grand and beautiful cinematically, so there they are not really restricted on budget. They give you your space to do whatever you want. But budgets are something that differ from one production house to another. It also depends on what kind of movie it is and what they are looking at. If it’s not a film where costumes are important then they wouldn’t want to spend on that.
What is the biggest challenge in costume designing for films?
There are lots of little challenges, not one particular thing. Sometimes, certain characters are difficult to design for, but you can do extra research and hard work and get it right.
Any particular genre of films you look forward to design for? Any actors on your styling wish list?
I like to keep my options open. I have even worked on Yeh Saali Zindagi, which was a completely different genre. It’s great fun to style anyone and everyone from young college students to goons etc. I’d rather keep taking up new challenges than restricting myself to one genre. I’d like to work with Kareena Kapoor Khan some day.
Your tips for aspiring costume designers.
Work really hard, keep your contacts in place and try to do as many different things as possible. You should know the basics of costume and fashion, so formal training/education would definitely help. There is also a great deal you can learn on the job but education definitely adds up.