Rushi Sharma and Manoshi Nath are the ones who have created Aamir Khan’s quirky garbs in PK and Sushant Singh’s well-fitted dhoti-kurtas in Detective Byomkesh Bakshi. And some other interesting films they worked on are Kick, Queen, Dhoom 3, Shanghai, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. In an exclusive chat the Delhi gals, who now live in Mumbai, tell us about the love, labour and lust to create costumes for the big screen.

Rushi Sharma & Manoshi Nath

Rushi Sharma & Manoshi Nath

Can you tell us about how you got into designing and films? 

Rushi Sharma (R): I always wanted to do fashion designing and studied at National Institute of Fashion Technology in Delhi. But I also wanted to create one costume that would be worn on the big screen at least once. It was a fantasy since childhood. That’s how I started working with theatre groups in Delhi and from there I moved to ad-films and some international films. During that phase I met Manoshi.

Manoshi Nath (M): I always wanted to be an artist. I started as a storyboard artist, but got into costume designing with Crest Communications, where I got to Pradeep Da (Sarkar). I started designing costumes for his commercials. Rushi used to do costumes for other commercials at Crest too. That’s how we got to know each other, but we weren’t friends. Then Dibaker Banerjee, just two days prior to the project, approached me to design for Khosla Ka Ghosla. So I asked Rushi to become a co-designer.

R: In 2006 we opened our company, Fools’ Paradise. We did an international film, Natale In India too. Soon after that we moved to Mumbai and got totally entrenched in Bollywood.

What drove you guys team-up as designers? 

R: She’s very good. I wanted to kill the competition (laughs). On some level we are similar but at some point our takes are different. What we bring to a character are totally opposite elements. I think that’s what makes our films look so beautiful. We are thinking on the same line but our way of interpreting the design might be totally different. We don’t go one way or the other; we try to blend our ideas together.

What are the key factors you keep in mind while conceptualizing costumes for a film?

R: Our mantra is character authenticity. And that has helped us create a niche for ourselves. People call us if it’s a character-driven film. We won’t be the first people to think about if it’s just a stylized film.

We just finished Detective Byomkesh Bakshi (DBB), which is set in 1940s Calcutta (Kolkatta). We do a lot of research for our films, but for DBB the research was completely at another level. How do you get references for 1940s Calcutta? It was the World War II period.

M: People started taking family pictures in 1950s. Even then people would dress up for the family portraits. There are no archival pictures of the 40s. There is no reference of how a middle-class man or woman dressed at home or work. There are some books like ‘The Sounds that a Firkiwala makes’. It gave us a direction. But we had to meet a lot of people, who were between the age of 10 and 20 back in the 1940s.

R: We went through their albums. Some of them didn’t have albums so we chatted for hours to understand what they actually wore. They dipped into their own memories to tell us what they wear. We made a lot of trips to Calcutta to meet people and locations.

M: This is the kind of research and specialization we do. We went through the archives of Anandabazar Patrika. Even designing for Oye lucky! Lucky Oye! was interesting. Paresh Rawal plays three different characters. His Sardar character is inspired from the sardarjis of Sarojini Nagar market in Delhi. They are happy people but brisk and uncultured. We have seen those people while shopping. Then, Mr Batra, the man who opens a restaurant with Lucky in the film, is dressed like a friend’s father. Often we find inspiration for our designs among friends, family and people we have read about.

R: We are fortunate that we are in Bollywood now. Earlier directors were making films to make you laugh and cry, now directors are making movies to make you think while being entertained. We are also blessed with the actors – Kangna Ranaut, Aamir Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput, Anushka Sharma, Rani Mukherjee, Emraan Hashmi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. They have openly told us that they don’t want to look good; they want to look the part.

A still from PK

Aamir Khan in PK

What is the process you follow once you agree to design costumes for a film?

M: The first thing we do is to read the script again. We have been fortunate enough that most of the directors have asked us to come with our interpretation. They haven’t really briefed us, but eventually that has happened. We go with our presentation, build backstories to the characters and interpret the way we see them. One process we always follow when it is a character-driven script, say a film like Iqbal, we ask 20 questions – like what is his background, what school did he go to, what kind of food does he eat. We go to the director with it.

We applied it for Emraan Hashmi’s character in Shanghai. The brief to us was that he belongs to the Chutbhai clan from Rajasthan. They are basically royal families, who no longer have the money or property. Their mansions have been converted into hotels or museums. But the royalty doesn’t go away. The elder brother holds the power in the house whereas the younger brother doesn’t have anything, neither money nor power. So they become a kind of people who only talk about the younger days. They are Chutbhais. Everything is about status and loss of status. So we built Emraan’s character around the Chutbhais.

After the presentation and discussion with the director we have a session with the director, production designer and cinematographer to come up with a cohesive look. Everything has to be in sync. A lot of production designers turn around and work with us.

R: We seriously believe costumes essentially add or give information about the character, mood and scene. We are actually expressing the director’s vision through our costumes. Our costumes speak even before the character says the dialogues. We also believe that listening is one of the most important aspects of a costume designer’s job. Every director has a very bizarre way of articulating his / her character. We try to take that brief and give it our colours, designs and churn out what the director wants. Listening to actors is also important. Luckily, we have been blessed with actors who have such a good hold on their characters. Once we get a feel of what the actor is feeling about his/her character it gets easier to make him/her comfortable in the costume.

M: It’s natural to want to do and look glamourous, we love it too, but eventually actors have to look what they are supposed to look. Increasingly clothes in movies is not about fashion design, it’s about costume design.

Do you design all the costumes or also source outfits for your projects? 

R: About 70 per cent of the costumes are our own designs. Actually, for DBB we can say we created all the costumes. PK also, we mostly designed it, except for Anushka’s character. We sourced for her part. We are designers who know how to cut, sew and drape and both of us love working with fabrics. We both love sourcing our fabrics from Delhi, Ahmedabad and Surat. We end up buying material, dyeing it and getting embroidery done.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Kick

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Kick

Among all the actors and characters you have worked with so far, Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the commercial blockbuster Kick is really unusual. What was the experience designing for his character?

R: We had worked with Nawazuddin on Talaash, which was very different from Kick. Sajid (Nadiadwala) told us that we had to portray Nawazuddin as a rich man, something he had never played on the big screen. So we had to find a way to work around it. Nawazuddin is like a chameleon. His body language changed the moment he put on the tuxedo.

M: In fact his body language changed even for the photo-shoot. Nawazuddin doesn’t belong to the school of (commercial) filmmaking, so he was an odd choice. But he did an absolutely superb job.

R: In fact, he called us to tell us that his mother was very happy with the clothes he was wearing in Kick.

As designers do you prefer any particular fabrics to work with? 

R & M: No! The sky is the limit.

M: For Dhoom 3 we used a lot of leather and metal. We had never created such costumes previously, especially the ones in ‘Malang’ song. We don’t have karigars who work with leather and metal, but we found these amazing people who extensively work with these materials. With every film we try to bring a new element or use a new kind of material. The fact is that you should be versatile with what you have. Be it plastic or spandex or any material one should be able to work with it. The material shouldn’t control the design.

R: Both of us love incorporating new materials. The textile and fashion industry is developing new fabrics by the day. We like to source new fabrics. We went to Milan to source fabrics for Dhoom 3. There is a part in us, which every designer or stylist has, where we want to create something that will become like a trend. We all do that somewhere. Let’s hope with DBB, the 40s becomes a trend. Even if you are doing a period film every designer gives it a twist. We have tried to be authentic to the era but given a twist which is not 1940s.

Every designer has peculiarity in their designs. What is your signature style? 

M: I would say that one of the things we do, and do quite a bit in every costume, is a lot of detailing. Also because most of the projects we have worked on are character-driven and not just about style.

R: We have done almost 80 percent real or realistic films and even in projects like PK we keep a reality check. If you go completely real you could make a documentary, if you go in for stylizing and aesthetics, you go into a different zone. We try to balance it. Even if it is a very realistic film, people are going into cinema halls to watch it so there has to be a little bit of aesthetic to balance out the frame. Otherwise the frame can be too jarring for people to take so much of reality with ugliness. Shanghai was a very documentary style film but there were enough colours to balance it out. We also try to give a little edge to our designs. For example, if it’s a button we have used in the outfit, the button would be sourced from Delhi or a piece of jewellery to give that edge to the character.

M: In Queen Kangna wears a sweatshirt with ‘Alice In Wonderland’ written on it. It was intentionally used. It was to show Kangna as the Alice in wonderland. She met her rabbit, Tweedledee Tweedledum, etc. (characters from the famous novel) in the plot. So these thoughts go in the making, sometimes it gets noticed and sometimes not.

Kangana Ranaut in Queen

Kangna Ranaut in Queen

What has been the most challenging project to work on so far? 

M: Detective Byomkesh Bakshi, purely because it is set in 1940s. 1920s was a golden era so one can find references and information about it. But in the 1940s, everything and everyone was poor. Nobody was taking pictures. While we were researching, we found out that women wore stockings or pantyhose back in the UK during that time. But since the women couldn’t afford stockings during the 1940s, they got it painted at salons.

R: They would paint a line on the back of the leg to make it look like a pantyhose. Nylons and polyester weren’t available because everything was being used to make parachutes for war. It was an era of dressing down. So DBB will be the toughest films we have done, not to say it wasn’t a fun film, we learnt so much.

What has been the most fun project to work on?

R & M: Dhoom 3. We let our ideas go wild. We were just allowed to do anything. Shekhar Kapur’s Paani, which we are doing, promises to be a very interesting project.

What is the biggest challenge to costume design for films?

M: The biggest challenge is to find the right balance between reality and creativity. In a scene, we want to be true to the character and his/her environment, be authentic and do justice to realism. However, the costume has to cinematically look aesthetic and it has to be beautiful according to the director, cinematographer and our vision. This is a tough walk and we are always hungry for this challenge

What is the one genre you’d like to create costumes for?

R: I think a Broadway musical would be so much fun.

M: We haven’t yet designed a medieval film or an epic saga or a war/royalty setting film.

What are the forthcoming films you have designed for?

R & M: Rajukumar Hirani’s PK, Dibaker Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi and Shekhar Kapur’s Paani.

Who are your favourite costume designers, Indian and international?

In India, Manish Arora is doing beautiful work and Nikhil Thampi has a very fresh eye. Internationally, we like the fabric manipulation done by Anouk Wipprecht; Mary Katrantzou is fabulous with her colours and patterns; and Rick Owens’ designs always have a jack in the box surprise element to it.

– Rachana Parekh