In an exclusive chat young costume designer Eka Lakhani talks about designing clothes for Navdeep Singh’s recent thriller NH10.


Eka Lakhani

How did you get involved with NH10?

I had worked on Navdeep Singh’s earlier film, Rock The Shaadi, which got shelved. After that I heard that he is working on NH10. Someone else was doing the costumes and I was busy with One By Two and Gulaab Gang. Then, one day I randomly got a call from Navdeep. He told that they hadn’t started work on NH10 yet and asked if I’d do the film and I agreed. Back then he didn’t tell me about the star cast or the production house, all I knew was that Navdeep was making the film. Then, he called me for a couple of meetings at Phantom (production house). Even then I didn’t know Anushka(Sharma) was doing it. Only when I gave him the costume presentation did he reveal that Anushka is playing lead. Then she had to be told that I was doing it because all big actors come with their preferences. And I usually do films where I style every character. That’s what I told Anushka, and she was ok with it.

Does the story/script matter to you?

Yes. If you look at the kind of movies I have done, I am not into glamour styling and do a lot more real films. That’s the kind of cinema I like watching and working in. NH10 was very exciting despite the fact that predominantly it is a story set over one night. It’s easy compared to other films because there’s only one costume but at the same time difficult because you have to show the whole character in just that costume. It has to be THE costume. It’s not just Anushka’s costumes, in fact her clothes were easy because they are every day girl wear. We have so many other characters, who are playing Haryanvi people, villagers etc.

What brief did Navdeep give you regarding the clothes?

Navdeep is extremely particular about the clothes. He sent me off to the villages for the costume recce and asked me to get pictures of real people as those were the kind of costumes he wanted. A lot of directors would say that as it’s a village setup let’s do kurta, pyjama, and dhoti. Navdeep doesn’t think like that, he knows village people wear tracks and t-shirts, keds, double-pleated trousers. We think it’s winter so putting a gamcha and sweater works. But it’s not at all like that.


Did you show any references? Can you elaborate on the research you conducted in Haryana for the film?

The beginning norm in the industry was to reference stuff and stick to the T. Then a new set of people came who said you shouldn’t reference because one gets stuck to an idea. I think one must reference to get a viewpoint and explore around it. I don’t believe in referencing and copying or not referencing and roaming around wildly. So I clicked a lot of pictures of real people. I wasn’t aware of Haryana, and after going there I found out there were a lot of sects within the caste. And that plays a very important part in the story – who are they, where they come from, what caste and sub caste they belong to.

What was the transformation process of the character’s costumes from script to screen?

I am totally a director’s person. I have to give his thoughts a vision. So it is what Navdeep wanted. I got a lot of inputs from Anushka, Neil (Bhoopalam) and the five gang members for their respective characters. When you talk to the actors you figure out they perspective on dressing. It could be something as simple as wearing the gamcha in a particular way or zipping or not zipping the jacket, rolling the sleeves, etc. It was a lot of team work. They had a lot of workshops for the actors which I was part of to see how they are behaving. There’s Deepti Naval in the film whose character is very interestingly dressed.

I read the script many times and chose to play around colours. The movie mostly unfolds at night so we made sure that the colours are not too loud or too soft. Also, none of the clothes were fresh. Navdeep is very particular about it. He will pick up the shirt and check the collar and disapprove, if it isn’t worn out enough. So I would use sand paper to give the worn out effect. We put the clothes through aging processes like potassium dips, etc. And we did that step by step. We didn’t want it to look ragged and poor but at the same time didn’t want it too look like they have been bought fresh from the market. When we did the look test in Bombay (Mumbai) we shopped from Santacruz, Andheri and Khar railway stations. But the movie is set in the winter and we don’t get that kind of winter clothing here. So, we sourced the main gang members’ clothes in Delhi. Anushka, Neil and Deepti Naval’s look tests were finalised in Mumbai. In Delhi, we went to Sarojini Market, roamed around streets of villages close to Delhi. Even the toll naka guy or passer-by in the background has been cast and we did costumes for them also. We went to villagers and gave them new clothes in exchange of their old clothes. So it was quite interesting.

Can you throw light on the costumes for Anushka and Neil’s characters?

We finished with Anushka and Neil’s urban look first. Then we did their looks for the small town and village. The film travels through different sections of Delhi and Haryana. And that’s exactly why I like to do the film completely, because I feel that if I did the main actors and someone else styled the secondary artists it would be tough to visualise the film as one. We wanted the movie to be very real. Nowadays, in the name of real cinema they make it look very ugly. That’s why you will see Anushka is like any other girl. Through the film she is wearing normal jeans, Puma shoes, a t-shirt, cardigan with a hoodie. That’s what you and I would wear on a road trip as opposed to a stylized look where you will see a leather jacket, leather boots, etc. We didn’t touch that territory, kept it very real. Even with Neil, we have given him simple shoes, simple jeans, jacket and a sweater.


You mentioned you played with colours. Can you tell us how you determined colours for the characters?

From the cast, the predominant people were Anushka, Neil and the five gang members. Anushka had a lot of running in the dark and in the forest. It wasn’t lit up and we didn’t want to lose her so we used this particular yellow, it is a colour that can scream so we used the earthy shade of yellow for her hoodie. But we were still worried it will get lost. So that’s when the stripes (on Anushka’s t-shirt) came in play. When she is running you can see a little bit of stripes. For her we chose to play with blue, yellow and white. For Neil it was predominantly blue, but then there is this sweater which is divided equally in orange and blue. Orange is a colour that you don’t miss.

The gang members were total fun to do. Everyone had a unique personality and a unique way of dressing up. There’s this guy Omi, we bought these matching track pants and jackets which is a common dressing style among Haryanvi men. We got him this popular local brand Shiv Naresh track suits. For the rest we used Puma wear because they were our sponsors but we don’t show it out loud. We have used monkey caps, mufflers, long jackets, embroidered sweaters et al. For Deepti Naval’s look we gave her a lot of jewellery and a big nath (nose ring). Dressing women of the village was great fun.

Anushka Sharma has been a fashion model. What kind of inputs did she give regarding the costumes?

We have a couple looks for Anushka before the main jungle look. So we first finalised the main look and built a character around it. So, the girl who wears a hoodie and jeans for a road trip is not the kind of girl who would wear a prim and proper dress and tall stilettos to office. She would wear regular formal shirts and trousers to work. Then there is a party sequence and it’s cold in Delhi. So we got this lovely pea coat for it. We tried a couple of pea coats because when you have few looks in the movie and have to establish the whole character in that look, it’s very important that you don’t go wrong with any of the looks. She was totally out there to go that way and wanted to be more real than us. She was like if I am going to a police station I would wear a normal kurta and jeans. If I going to work, I would wear a shirt and trousers. If I am going swimming I would wear a one piece swimsuit and not a bikini as opposed to a lot of actresses who would want to wear a bikini. We made sure that we don’t make it very glamourous but at the same time made it very good-looking.

You have worked on diverse projects like NH10, One ByTwo, GulaabGang, Kadal, Urumi, etc. Is it a conscious choice?

Not really. I come from the Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan school of filmmaking. I was born there (as a costume designer); Raavan was my first film as a costume assistant. My first independent film was with Santosh Sivan, Urumi. After that I did Kadal. I constantly get driven to stories which are realistic. Gulaab Gang was very close to those kind of costumes. One By Two happened by chance. The two films that would stand out would be One By Two and Crazy Cukkad Family. One was a rom-com and another, a comedy, but again they were films where we have shown real people and not glamourized costumes. I am against glamour or anything like that. I just get attached more to the earthy fashion. I love doing films like One By Two because it is a happier space and gives me a break from these heavy duty films I usually do. I love going to stores and buying clothes and styling it. But what I find more challenging is making and creating people. For NH10 we bought some clothes and made some clothes. It’s very close to the kind of films I would like to do in the future as well.

To be continued… In part two, Eka Lakhani talks about how she got lured into film costume designing.