Isha Mantry - Bollywood works on Jugaad

Isha Mantry

Isha Mantry – Bollywood works on Jugaad

Bollywood is perhaps the only film industry in the world that manages to capture beautiful heroines in an even more beautiful chiffon saree right in the middle of a snow capped mountain!  This clearly goes on to show the unpredictable challenges and quirks that a costume designer goes through especially in Bollywood. After all, how do you convince the audience of the sheer beauty of wearing a chiffon saree in cold! Perhaps no other department in the film industry faces a challenge as do the costume design. Designer Isha Mantry talks to Pandolin about her experience on her film “Ankur Arora’s Murder Case”  as a costume designer in the film industry and the various “Jugaads” as she would like to put and the insane management that one goes through as a Costume Designer.

Could you share about your first break in Bolywood?

After passing out from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), I started working as an assistant to Nidhi, who has worked on various film projects like 1920, Haunted, Dangerous Ishq and many others. After working on a few projects for almost 3 years, Nidhi suggested my name as a second costume designer on a film project; therein I worked on films like, Zilla Ghaziabad and then worked independently on Kismat Love Paisa Delhi and Raaz 3.

What was your job profile as an assistant?

My job profile was mainly to see to it that the sets for the days shoot are well prepared in advance and arrange clothes for all the characters and attend to their fitting and other needs. Costume budgets and breakdowns had to be prepared.  So apart from shoots , there is a lot of paperwork and number that I had to deal with. Basically you have to be at the beck and call of the head Costume Designer, run any errands related to costumes without any complaints.

What was your learning experience like?

To begin with I knew that I required a lot of physical energy as well a high level of tolerance level. A Costume Designer’s job , though creative involves a lot of inventory handling and management on sets and you need have a lot of patience and a genuine passion for your work to follow through this. The most important skill I learnt is people’s skills. Since the costume designer is the link between the director and the actor, you have to be diplomatic and know how to tackle people on set, since everyone is going through some level of stress.

What is your job profile as a costume Designer and how do you go about your process?

As a costume designer, I am mainly linked to the director who briefs me on the concept and the script and the characters and the look of the film. From here on, the research work begins and samples and designs are eventually sent out to the direction team who get back with their feedback and other changes. This goes on till the main look of the characters are locked. I also meet the actors to check their personality and what colours or cuts would suit them. The actors also have their main idea about a character and what they prefer, that too is taken into account before finalizing a look.

What do you think about the growth of costume designing in the film industry?

Bollywood functions very differently than any other film industry. There is strong emphasis on styling. This works both as an advantage and an opportunity for costume designers. There is mix breed of films being made, there is the stylized films by YRF, Karan Johar, then there are new age directors like Anurag Kashyap and Dibaker Bannerjee who believe in keeping the look as raw and real as possible. Hence, the scope for costume designers is massive. There is a place for every type of stylist and costume designer. At the same, the budgets are not always in favour of designers and we have to work around fixed budgets and still manage to give a stylized look sometime. The growth has certainly taken a leap in the past ten years and now people are open to varied interpretations of a character’s look that adds to the depth of the character. As a costume designer, I also feel blessed to have vendors and suppliers who are extremely sincere and progressive and will work hard to provide me exact samples. This only shows the overall enthusiasm of the industry and their positive attitude. I also feel that I have the ability to think different and I am very eager to do so and this enthusiasm is what is deeply appreciated by directors who are only looking for a passionate and hardworking team.

How would you describe your strengths as a Costume Designer? Bollywood

My style is pretty quirky and individualistic. I like to experiment and think out of the box. I am open to interesting prints and colours. The look does not have to be necessarily glamorous. I like to experiment with looks which are androgynous and chic at the same time. On a film, I like to specifically get into the skin of the character. For example, for Mahabharata we did an extensive research on the designs and other mystic element which were incorporated and there were many intricate details add to the ornaments.

Could you share any incident that helped you realize the importance of costume designing in the film making process?

Everyday is a learning experience and with time you probably get used to a job. However, costume designing in one department where utmost care and attention has to be given on the sets since there are tangible clothes and items at stake . Even small error could mean hours of labour and time wasted. For example, this one time I accidently passed on an original shirt for an action sequence which obviously spoiled the shirt. The next scene required the actor to wear the same clean shirt. Since, I gave the original and did not have a backup , it meant arranging one as soon as possible. That day I realized the importance of costume designing and maintaining logistics on sets.

What are some of favourite works?

In recent times, my favourite’s would be Niharika Khan’s  work on Dirty Picture , Aki Narula’s for Ranbir’s Styling in Rockstar and Barfi and Sabysaachi for Black and Kahaani . However, my most inspiring designer is Bhanu Athaiyaji . She designed for Gandhi and has an Oscar to her credit.

What kind of style inspires you?

As a designer and creative person, anything that challenges my boundaries. Period costumes or concept based films are challenging and help me push my boundaries of thought and expression. Executing such costumes and seeing them on screen is an exhilarating experience!! Still waiting for a project that will push me to my creative limits!

Tell us something about your experience on your film “Ankur Arora’s Murder Case” ?

“Ankur Arora’s Murder Case” is a thriller drama starring Tisca Chopra and KK Menon and many more. The look of the film demanded characters dressed simple and yet stand out as strong and unique personalities .It was a delightful experience. The film is a thriller/ drama so of course I had to keep the look real and the characters had to come across as real as possible. It was a delight and an honour to work with actors like Tisca Chopra and KK Menon.

Who is your favourite style celebrity?

Sonam Kapoor is extremely stylish. She always experiments and has something new to offer which is refreshing.

Would you like to share a message for struggling designers who want to make it big in Bollywood?

Firstly, you have to be passionate about films and designing in particular. The journey is not that simple but the key is to believe in yourself and your unique style. Also it is important to learn as much as you can from your team. There is a line by Anurag Kashyap here that always keeps inspiring me “Stay Hungry , Stay Creative”. You have to have the creative hunger in you and keep it alive and stay positive.

As told to – Anuradha Turner

Article Name
Designer Isha Mantry talks to Pandolin about her experience on her film “Ankur Arora’s Murder Case” as a costume designer.