Production Posts: Lipstick Under My Burkha
From being rejected for being ‘too lady-oriented’ to finally getting a theatrical release, it has been an arduous wait for the team of Lipstick Under My Burkha. Making a film, which can create an impact of this magnitude and defy all norms, takes enormous effort and talent. We are not solely talking about the talent in front of the camera, but about the team that creates the magic behind the scenes. From the casting to costumes and everything in-between there is a huge pool of talent that works on a film.
To know more about the making of this highly-awaited film, Pandolin connected with Costume Designer Rohit Chaturvedi, Casting Director Shruti Mahajan and Cinematographer Akshay Singh to understand their experience of working on Lipstick Under My Burkha.
How did Alankrita (Shrivastava, Director) describe and envision the look of the characters?
Alankrita gave me the script to read and then asked me what I felt about the characters. She wanted the look to be authentic and local for each of the characters. They had to feel and look like they belonged to Bhopal. The biggest thing for us was to make these characters appear believable and as real as possible.
I really wanted Ratnaji to be awkward, I wanted that swimsuit to stand out
The four central characters are quite diverse, how do their costumes reflect that in terms of colours, fabrics etc. Was there a particular costume or look that you found extremely challenging?
The biggest distinction is that their stories and backgrounds are very different from each other. The characters were etched differently and clearly from the writing level itself. Therefore, there was no confusion in their looks. Ratna Pathak Shah’s character is a matriarch and a widow, so I have used desaturated colours and cotton sarees. Once you see the film, you’ll also realize that a number of small details have gone into creating the look of each of the characters. For instance, the kind of chabi ka gucha and the old navratan ring that Ratnaji wears shows how she has held on to the old days and that is also her idea of power and authority.
While Alankrita and team were reccing the locations, I was clicking pictures in the markets of Bhopal to understand the kind of clothes and accessories worn by the women. Konkona Sen Sharma’s clothes have quite a lot of shimmer and were made of shiny fabric. In fact, Konkana would often ask me why I was making such clothes for her (laughs). But one day, while shooting in the market area, one of the locals came up to Konkona and told her that she was wearing clothes just like them. That’s when she understood what I was doing. Creating Konkona’s entire look was the biggest challenge for me.
Aahana Kumra’s character is a little more colorful and funky. She wears backless kurtis where the back has crisscross designs with puffy sleeves. I have tried to use a lot of floral prints and pop colours for her costumes.
For Plabita Borthakur’s character, the most interesting thing was designing her burkha. It is something that nobody has spotted till now. The burkha that Plabita wears doesn’t exist in the world. It is a design that we came up with; a mixture of a Bohra Indian burkha and the Iraqi burkha. The wrap around her head was inspired from the Iraqi burkha, but the kind of flair and body that it has is a mixture of the Iraqi and Bohra burkha. We created it because we wanted a certain flow to the burkha while she is moving around in a cinematic sense and hence we incorporated these three-four influences and made our own.
Ratna Pathak Shah has also donned a swimsuit in the film. What went into designing that piece?
It was difficult, but that was the most fun outfit that I did in the film. I really wanted her to be awkward, I wanted that swimsuit to stand out and so we added a cap to it. Later, a bow was also attached to it and under the water, the bow starts to droop, making it look weird, which was a conscious decision.
Which markets were the costumes sourced from? Along with the burkha, was there any other costume that was created from scratch?
The fabric was entirely sourced from local shops in Bhopal. Apart from some typical ready – made clothes, we have created everything, from the lehenga to Aahana’s outfit . Even with the ready – made ones, I’ve added a lot of details like the purses used for Konkona’s character were embellished to make it look more local. Our job was to look into the details and make them area and class specific, make them more local.
The burkha that Plabita wears doesn’t exist in the world. It is a design that we came up with
Coming to the men in the film, what was the design brief for them?
It was equally tough to design for the men, but again it was a lot of fun because Vikrant Massey’s character is this shady small-town photographer. I had a lot of fun making suits for Vaibhav’s character who is cast opposite Aahana. I wanted to use those typical old – style shimmering suits with ties that had stones on them. Though it was challenging, it was great fun creating the looks for the male characters as well.
When it comes to the casting, were there any actors that Alankrita had in mind from the scripting stage?
Alankrita only had Konkona in her mind. The rest of the characters had to be cast. But she was very clear that she wanted actors and by actors, I mean that she wanted great performers, someone who could do justice to the role. Every character, every woman in this film is different. If you see Plabita, there is a freshness about her; she has the vibe and energy of youth. On the other hand, Aahana’s character is very vibrant and it had to be someone who could carry off that small-town vibe well. But at the same time, she had to be sensuous along with being a great actor.
For Ratna Pathak’s character, we were clear that we wanted an outstanding performer with great and subtle comic timing. We auditioned for the character, but the minute we thought of Ratnaji, we couldn’t think beyond her.
Was there a specific character that was tough to cast?
We auditioned the most for Aahana’s character. I think we auditioned everyone in that age group in Mumbai and Delhi. That was an audition which I thought was tough to crack. The way Alankrita had written the character, it required a certain feel and look to it. She needed to have the small-town vibe, but along with that, she had to be vivacious and gregarious, somebody who was free.
In fact, all the four women in this film had to be free thinkers and actors who were confident and at ease with themselves and their body. We needed actors who were open to experimenting and doing things which were not conventional in the Bollywood sense. All the actors had to understand that this subject is not the regular run of the mill movie.
It was a challenge to cast actors as it was a small film and the treatment was very raw and real
The leading ladies comprise a mix of two experienced actors and two fresh faces. What was the conscious thought behind this mix?
The casting just happened. I think this film had its own destiny from the beginning. From casting to shooting and finally to its release, I feel everything was destined. There was never a conscious decision about whom to cast. Alankrita is very open, she knows what she wants, but she is ready to experiment. She felt that the actors had to do justice to the role, it could then be either fresh talent or a veteran. Also, Prakash Jha too actively got involved in the casting.
While the film is essentially about women, there are some strong male actors, what was the basis for their casting? Being a women-oriented film, was it tough to get the men on board?
I wouldn’t say it was tough, but it was challenging because the men have their own characters that do add to these women. Therefore, their performances and presence had to be strong. I wouldn’t say that it was tough to cast them, but again they had to look very different from each other because the characters were written differently. It was fun to cast for this entire film because most of the people involved in it were young, people who have fire and new ideas. Alankrita, who is also a friend, was great fun to work with because she was open to suggestions and experiments, so it was a collaborative effort.
We auditioned a lot for the male characters. Opposite Konkona, we wanted somebody who was strong, silent and dominating kind. We needed someone who had a strong screen presence. When I contacted Sushant (Singh), he was excited about being part of a female – oriented film. For Vikrant Massey’s character, we did audition many other actors, but when Vikrant came in, he cracked the role quickly.
Coming to Vaibhav Tatwawaadi, I first met him during Bajirao Mastani, so I had seen his sincerity and diligence. He has this innocence about him. When Alankrita described the kind of person she wanted for that specific role, the first person that came to my mind was Vaibhav because that’s how innocent he is in real life too. We knew Shashank Arora personally. He has that college vibe and is a phenomenal actor.
We needed actors who were open to experimenting and doing things which were not conventional in the Bollywood sense
Having cast for commercial entertainers and then smaller, content-oriented films like Lipstick Under My Burkha, is there a change in the approach towards casting? Is one more challenging than the other?
If you see my films, most of them are content driven. I take up selective work and if you go through my filmography, you will see that most of my films are with great directors who make casting a challenge. I have always felt that every film of mine is a challenge in its own way and is a learning process. Lipstick Under My Burkha was a small film in comparison to other films I have done so far, so that was the challenge for me. It was a challenge to cast actors as it was a small film and the treatment was very raw and real. Therefore, to cast actors who understand that was a little difficult.
What was the brief you received for the look and feel of the film?
Once I read the script, we had a few meetings about how the film should be treated. Since the story was realistic, we were looking for real locations. The film didn’t have to go into a grand space, but it needed to look real. Therefore, we decided not to shoot on any set and nothing was to be constructed because we wanted real locations that would fit the story. The biggest hunt was to find the main location and for that we did a lot of recce.
We have kept the film realistic in a way that the audience should not be able to notice that someone is doing great camera work
What were the challenges you faced during the recce? Which locations did you explore?
The entire film was shot in Bhopal and the location recce was hard and extensive. One of the reasons it was shot in Bhopal was because the city still has a lot of old buildings. Plus, we had good production support there. However, a lot of palaces and havelis where movies have been shot previously, were demolished. There was an Ismail Merchant film called In Custody, which was shot in Gohar Mahal in Bhopal, but now the place has been beautifully restored. We needed a place that was decaying and crumbling down.
The local production team kept showing us places and finally we found one which belonged to the local municipality and was scheduled to be demolished in a year or two. It was crumbling down and was the perfect location! We finally locked in on that and it is a big part of the film. Moreover, in the film, the story is that this haveli where all the characters live, is going to be demolished and the builders want to build a mall instead. Coincidentally, that is what is actually happening to that place so it fits very well.
Since the film has four protagonists and their stories, have you used different colour palettes for each of them?
The colour palette had to do a lot with the costumes, but there is an overall difference in the film. It was a mixture of bright and muted colours. There were sangeet functions, so there was a colorful space, but otherwise it was all different. Aahana’s character who is a beautician has a colour palette which is a bit over the top, but for other characters like Ratnaji, it was muted and low-key.
We decided not to shoot on any set and nothing was to be constructed because we wanted real locations that would fit the story
How did the lighting design reflect the mood of the stories of each of the characters?
Lighting was natural and minimal. Even though we were working on a small budget, we never had any major problems. The style in which we shot this film was very practical. There were many scenes where we shot with just one or two bulbs, thus, keeping it realistic. We have kept the film realistic in a way that the audience should not be able to notice that someone is doing great camera work. I feel good cinematography is when the audience forgets that there is a camera.