I wanted to organically and emotionally style clothes for the characters
The sought-after Indian couture designer Anju Modi, who earlier created magic with the costumes of Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela, talks about the love and labour that she put into creating costumes for Bajirao, Mastani and Kashibai of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s recent magnum-opus, Bajirao Mastani.
Research and referencing
First, I had a self-implicated pressure to do better than Ram Leela. Second, Bajirao Mastani is a period film that revolves around the Indian royals, particularly the Peshwas and Mughals. So, I had to do a lot of research.
I referred to many books on Indian palaces, forts, the monarchical dressing styles and Peshwas. I extensively traveled for 2-3 months, visiting museums in the country. In Maharashtra I visited the Shivaji museum, Shaniwar Wada, Kelkar Museum, etc. I also visited Paithan, the village were Paithanis are woven. I also met with the weavers in Maheshwar, Chanderi, Indore, etc. and spent time with them to absorb more about the textures and stories around it.
Design thought for Bajirao, Mastani and Kashibai
Any film requires a little bit of script reading. So, during the script reading sessions with the help of scene descriptions, dialogues and actions I visualized the story in front of my eyes. I think script readings help accelerate your imagination and help you pick colors for the scenes and characters. I didn’t design the costumes at one go. I created costumes as the script progressed. I wanted to organically and emotionally style clothes for the characters.
But I knew that the costumes required for the film would have to be old-style. Unfortunately the old-time textures and weaving isn’t easily available. Luckily, I have been with the art and crafts centers and regularly interact with weavers across the country. So I developed special fabrics with old-style weaving and textures. Weaving styles like Shikargah, Ambadal were incorporated in the fabrics used in the film. Back then weavers told stories through their designs and every object was symbolic, for instance peacocks depicted prosperity. So, I tried to capture such nuances through embroidery and printing. Accordingly, I picked colours and jewels so that the clothes would be authentic.
It was a huge responsibility for me to design costumes for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s dream project, a magnum opus. And we both are perfectionists, so I was a little stressed about it initially. But once I was on board it was not difficult.
To begin with, the biggest challenge was finding and developing the fabrics that were available in the 18th century, however we have weavers who have that craftsmanship. It’s just that such old styles isn’t popular anymore, so they don’t weave such fabrics. While working on Bajirao Mastani I realized that the film is doing a great service to the Indian art and craft industry by reviving old fabrics and designs. I love working with Indian styles but because of the movie I could go deeper into the subject and come up with new and spectacular costumes. I also visited a lot of textile dealers in Nashik and Pune to source old style fabrics.
Once that was cracked we faced other issues like finding the original Nauvari sarees for Kashibai’s character. Nowadays, you will mostly find six-yard sarees but at rare places you do find the original Nauvaris but they are typical colors like maroon and brown. However Sanjay Leela Bhansali didn’t want that. Kashibai’s personality was of a nice, lovable, innocent and playful lady, so the colors he wanted were hot pink, yellow, mint green, lilac. And the sarees had to be in thin muslin so that they would drape beautifully and not make Priyanka Chopra look frumpy in them. I went back to my weavers and came back with almost 1000 meters of fabric for her sarees. I created 40 sarees for Kashibai’s character.
Then, not many know how to drape a Nauvari saree in the Peshwa style. But we managed to find a 70-year-old who knew it. We showed her paintings of Raja Ravi Verma to understand the draping style. Again, since there were no cameras at that time we relied on the paintings, museums and books for accuracy.
Meanwhile, Mastani is a Persian / Muslim character. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s brief was that she is fragile and dainty and should look completely different – like an alien – in the Maratha Empire. Even her jewellery had to be different. So, we created shararas, long kurtis with dupattas, etc. I then had to figure styles of shararas and kurtis of the 18th century. I made around 30-40 patterns of shararas, in styles like voluminous, Afghanistani, Pakistani, etc. Again, getting the right fabric was a challenge.
I think the kind of costumes and fabrics we have created and developed for the film is going to be a revival for the weavers. All these fabrics, designs and styles will be back in the market. With Ram Leela the mirror embroidery, Gujarati lehengas, and. the craftsmen of Gujarat were in crazy demand.
I think it is a nice way to service the society. I could have cheated with the fabrics and designs, but that is not my style of working and Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a bigger perfectionist than me. If we ever sent out mediocre work he would quickly bring it to my notice. Overall we made 300 outfits for Bajirao Mastani and we were sending couriers every day while the shooting had started.