Bajranji Bhaijaan costume designer reveals all
From doing extensive research to incorporating local styles, Subarna Ray Chaudhuri believes in attention to detail. The renowned Costume Designer shares the experience of working on Bajrangi Bhaijaan, designing clothes for child actor Harshaali Malhotra, collaborating with Director Kabir Khan and more.
You have designed the overall costumes for Bajrangi Bhaijaan. What drew you towards this project?
Kabir (Khan) narrated the story of Bajrangi Bhaijaan to me while we were working on Phantom. I was so fascinated by the theme and the script of the film and instantly agreed to do it. I was supposed to do the entire look of the film including Kareena’s (Kapoor) costumes as well. I made a presentation for all the characters including Kareena and Kabir was very impressed with it. We also did a costume trial with all the characters.
How would you define the look adopted for the various characters? What was Kabir Khan’s brief for the same?
Kabir had a particular look in mind for every character. Nawazuddin (Siddiqui), for example, plays a reporter from Pakistan, but he is not a very well-known, or very established reporter. He is someone who keeps reporting here and there and is not very convincing for his own office; people think that he gets only rubbish news. So he’s this offbeat reporter with a very simple look, you might not even notice the guy if you’re walking on the road. Kabir asked us to keep his look very earthy, a little casual but not very trimmed or well-fitted costumes. It would be more like ‘I’m wearing it just for the heck of wearing, I don’t really care about my look.’
Kareena’s character is from Chandni Chowk, Delhi. And she plays a teacher. So it was more of a middle class look with a lot of prints and mix & match costumes. Kabir liked some of the looks I’d suggested for Kareena. But Kareena was more comfortable with Manish (Malhotra) so they worked on that.
You’ve also worked with a child artist in the film. How did you approach the costumes for Harshaali Malhotra? Were they all designed or sourced?
The main story of the film revolves around Harshaali. As per Kabir’s brief, Harshaali’s character belongs to the Pakistan side of Kashmir and she hails from a poor, Shepherd family. I did some research on the Pakistan side of Kashmir, saw pictures on the Internet, some documentaries & Pakistani films also, to see how the locals dress up. The prints that I’ve given Harshaali when she is in Kashmir are very local, village prints. I also made her a hand-woven sweater with a hoodie which you will see her wearing. We ensured that the sweater looks dirty, mucky; her clothes were aged, faded and hard-washed to create the perfect look. Her costumes went through all those processes before we arrived at the final look.
I’ve stitched everything for Harshaali. When she arrives in Delhi, Pawan (Salman’s character) picks up clothes for her. Since Pawan is a ‘Bajrangi ka bhakt’, he won’t buy something fashionable or high end so he buys her clothes from the shops in Chandni Chowk. I made some cotton kurtas with little mirror work, some borders and so on for Harshaali for the Delhi schedule. Kabir is very realistic in his vision and doesn’t like to go overboard. He said I shouldn’t give too much design to Harshaali’s clothes, rather the design element should be the simplicity of the garments.
Also Harshaali’s way of tying the dupatta in Kashmir is different from how it’s done in Delhi. In Kashmir these small girls tie the dupatta tightly around their head and leave it hanging loose from one side. The material of the dupattas is not georgette or chiffon like we use, but more of cotton, much like the stoles that you see nowadays.
To complete the look we have given her these brown sports shoes with velcro that you get in local markets in Kashmir. In Delhi also we gave her sport shoes, that too dirty ones, with the salwar kameez. It was just to add some more cuteness to the character. If we had given her sandals or chappals it wouldn’t have created the right look. Also since she is travelling all the way to India, she will obviously not wear chappals, so I’ve given her socks and the sports shoes.
Did you design costumes for the other characters as well?
Yes, everything was designed. Be it for Kareena’s parents, the entire family that you see in Chandni Chowk, the pehelwans and even Nawazuddin’s assistant – the cameraman. He (cameraman) is seen wearing a sweater with any random shirt inside and a muffler.
We have given Nawazuddin a muffler as well and he wears it later with a phiran (A long cloak or robe worn by women and men in Kashmir). For his phiran I picked up this checkered, tweed fabric, typically used for phirans, from Kashmir. Instead of making it (phiran) very plain I thought of giving it a texture as Salman was wearing black.
An extensive schedule of the film happened in Kashmir (India). Were local costumes/accessories incorporated in the look?
For the Kashmir schedule you will see many characters and many junior artists as well. We had a actor called Mir (Sarwar) who plays Harshaali’s father in the film. I’ve worked with him in Phantom too. Mir is from Kashmir and was of great help. Almost six months before we started shooting in Kashmir I told Mir to start collecting old phirans from the locals and give them money for new ones. He helped me collect almost 100 phirans because I wanted that aged look; I didn’t want anything to look new. And Kabir was very happy with the entire look.
And what was the overall color palette that you’ll worked with?
In Chandni Chowk we played with lots of colors like ochre, maroon, red, emerald green, brown. But in Kashmir it was mostly grey, olive and shades of brown. In some places we added pop colors like violet or maroon through dupattas and pathanis – we made a lot of pathanis in different styles. But overall the palette in Kashmir is very neutral.
Is there a unique or signature style that is reflected in this film?
I’d say Harshaali’s salwar kameezes that have been designed in frock style. That’s how little girls wear them in Kashmir. They are like the English frocks with a yolk on the upper chest side and have gathers down. So I made the frocks and underneath that I made salwars. In Pakistan little girls start wearing salwars from the age of three or four itself. That added a new style and is looking very cute.
Since other designers have designed for the lead actors of the film, how do you’ll go about creating coordination in the overall look?
Kabir and I have a very good understanding. I show him my presentation and he tells the other designers to work in tune with that, so the main characters are designed as per the look of the rest of the characters. The main thing for Kabir is that the main characters should not stand out from others, there has to be a synchrony in the entire look.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on Bajrangi Bhaijaan?
Shooting in the Aro Valley in Kashmir was very difficult as it was very high. We would have to either walk around four kilometers up the hill, crossing two valleys and then reach Harshaali’s house or take ponies to reach there. But ponies are very risky. So for the first couple of days, till we settled down, the costumes were all over the place. The local laborers, that were carrying the costumes down the valley, kept dropping costumes here and there. Things were getting delayed and it was completely chaotic. My bags were scattered all around. So getting everything in order took almost four days.
Another challenge was the Punjab schedule where we had to make Punjabis look like Pakistanis. So we have used different kinds of caps, headgears etc. Even the Sardars who come with their Pagdis were given another kind of fabric, like the ‘Saafa’ material and I asked them to tie the Saafa in the Afghani, Pakistani, or Peshawari style – we had turbans in different styles. Even the women who were in the background were asked to remove their bindis, mangalsutras etc. I’m very particular about all these little aspects so my assistants were keeping a check on it. That’s how we tried to create the look for Pakistan in Punjab.
Your next film Phantom is also with Kabir Khan but with an entirely different look. Please tell us about your experience on both these films.
Both the films are a complete contrast. However some portions that were shot in Beirut, where we are showing Army people and rebels, weren’t too much of a contrast. I’m very good with the Middle East to Pakistan to Lebanon to Saudi Arabia zone of styling. It could be because I’ve stayed in Saudi for some time and understand that style very well.
Phantom has several shades. From a minimalistic and sleek look in London, a raw, washed out and earthy look in Pakistan. Katrina also has two distinct looks in Pakistan and in UK. We shopped for Katrina from UK, stitched a lot of things from Punjab and Mumbai as well. Overall it was very interesting and different.