The biggest challenge is to recreate the ordinary: Ankita Jha
Costumes play a vital role in making a character believable and bringing the milieu alive on screen. That is the vision that Costume Designer Ankita Jha worked with for her latest film Shubh Mangal Savdhaan. Jha who has earlier been part of movies like Haider and Raanjhanaa, shows her talent by exploring the simplicity of two middle-class families in a real and accurate manner.
From hunting for references on Facebook to creating all the costumes from scratch, Ankita talks to Pandolin about all that went into making the perfect costumes for the cast of this light-hearted family film.
What kind of look did director R. S. Prasanna have in mind for the characters? Where did you draw references for these looks?
I first met Prasanna during the narration of the film, but I had read the script before that and I loved the story. We both were sure about one thing; we wanted to set the milieu of this film correct visually. We aimed at creating an ordinary, awkward and middle class absurd look, which would be able to connect to a wider audience. Moreover, the fact that the script was so well-written helped us mark the boundaries of the world we were dealing with.
Prasanna marked a few pointers and asked me to see it as an arrange marriage set-up. In the story Mudit (Ayushmann Khurrana’s character) and Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar’s character) are trying to impress each other. It is their first love and we have tried to keep the middle class flavor alive. That is the reason both these characters look different at the work place because it’s there that they see each other. In their own respective home environment, they dress differently.
For Mudit, the challenge that Prasanna gave me was that at first glance, he should look the responsible kind because that is how Sugandha will trust him. That was quite a challenge and I came up with a solution where I gave him a t-shirt inside the shirt look. If you notice, this immediately makes a person look neater and responsible. On the contrary, if you open the first few buttons (of the shirt) without a t-shirt inside, you end up making someone look like a roadster.
As a costume designer, I feel the biggest challenge is to recreate the ordinary. If the film’s costumes are not accurate, the film loses its credibility. I began my work by narrowing down each character’s traits and concentrating on the necessary ones. I call this is a deductive process. For this film, I pulled out references majorly from Facebook. I went hunting on Facebook and found images of the Sharmas of Delhi and Gurgaon, their friends, their wedding pictures. I was surprised to find a rich visual treasure, which was fresh, real and quirky. When I finally showed the presentation to Prasanna, he said that I’d shown him the film! I knew we were on the right track.
Which colours did you largely worked with for Bhumi and Ayushmann’s characters? What was the colour palette for the other actors?
Once we got the complete look right for Mudit and Sugandha, it was time to think about their journey in colour. I kept the first half vibrant and fresh for both of them. I continued this till the problem arises. Once they are aware of the issue, we move towards darker shades keeping the same silhouette. The tricky part was the second half because here they dwell in the wedding preparations, but the contradiction between the wedding colours and their problem worked for good.
I was very lucky to have Bhumi and Ayushmann as my leads because any colour suited them. Their confidence of carrying what I created resulted in beautifully building the look of the characters. It’s very important that the actors make the costumes their own, find comfort and make it a part of themselves. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about that with Bhumi and Ayushman.
I was also designing for their families and friends. As I belong to a North Indian middle class family, I could relate to these parents. I was catering to a middle-class world, a world that I would call a bit absurd as they buy clothes keeping their economy in mind, which gives room to an absurd sense of dressing. I had to show a slight class difference between the two families. Sugandha’s family is the struggling middle-class family whereas Mudit’s family are the well-settled ones, trying to be modern. Mudit’s mother would go to a mall whereas Sugandha’s mother would save money by buying fabric and getting it stitched for herself and the family. So, the clothes and accessories were sourced keeping this difference in mind.
We aimed at creating an ordinary, awkward and middle class absurd look, which would be able to connect to a wider audience
What fabrics and accessories did you opt for? Which markets did you source from?
We made around 40 suits for Sugandha with fabric sourced from several places. I was told that she is a girl who follows trending brands. But since I don’t believe in off-the-rack styling, I re-created the middle class, everyday type of clothes making all her suits from scratch using a wide variety of fabrics. A lot of her suits are made from chanderi dupattas while some have a patch of kantha embroidery on them. Many of them have been made from handloom saris creating an inbuilt texture and pattern in them, thus enhancing the feel of readymade clothes. For Mudit, all the fabric for his shirts is individually sourced from Delhi and Bombay.
The costumes for the families were created from the markets of Delhi. For each character, I would think like them, understand their choices, their preference and economic status. For instance, Sugandha’s friend Ginni is someone who gives wisdom and doesn’t not believe in spending much on her appearance till there is an actual occasion or chance. She is the kind who would not mind the print on print. Therefore, her look was from the local streets of Delhi and involved creating a weirdness of the character.
Were all the costumes created from scratch?
All the costumes (apart from the sweaters) of each character are created from scratch. I like to build costumes more than just source them, unless the character has that requirement. This is a more satisfactory journey for me. It also deducts the chance of clashing with someone else’s work visually.
It’s very important that the actors make the costumes their own, find comfort and make it a part of themselves
Any particular outfit that stood out for you? What was the thought process involved in creating it?
The most thoughtful point for me was Mudit and Sugandha’s costumes in the lovemaking scene. Here the romance between them is at the epitome and they are clueless as to what is going to happen next. They don’t know how big of a problem they will be facing, and so, this is the turning point of the film. Hence, I wanted Bhumi to look desirable and sensuous, blooming with love. My middle class sensual sensibilities lead me to a fine chikan work kurti and I kept it white, symbolizing purity. The lehariya dupatta is a very common typical middle-class phenomenon which is paired up with oxidized jewellery. I think Bhumi looks outstandingly beautiful in this one. Mudit on the other hand, is in a bright green shirt. This is the brightest you will see him in the movie and I feel it worked in enhancing the mood and the feel of the scene.
Recently, there have been several stories set in small towns, how did you strive to create a different look in this film?
I believe that we all have different visions and no two costume designers can ever create same worlds. They can be similar, in the sense that they have small town tendencies and understanding, but yet knowingly or unknowingly, I will have my own design path and that will differ from the rest. My observations of the middle class, small town are based on very personal experiences and I highly doubt that it can be matched with others and vice versa. Details that I register and recreate can only be done by me.
I get very excited when other costume designers throw fresh visuals of the same class. I find it a healthy exchange of interesting visuals. Neither me nor Prasanna ever worried about the other contemporaries.
I like to build costumes more than just source them
What kind of feedback have you been receiving for the film?
The biggest compliment is when people come and ask me if the families shown (in the film) have worn their own clothes. These questions are coming from people who are unaware about the process of filmmaking or costume designing. If the world I create makes them wonder if the clothes were the character’s own, then that is a victory for me.
Is there a set process that you follow while creating the costumes, how do you understand the requirements of the characters?
Yes, there is a process I follow. It begins with reading the script a couple of times, without visualizing the costumes. I like to then slowly delve into each character and bring out its choices and preferences, giving each a bracket. Then I like to think about each character’s backstory. For instance, the way I mentioned Ginni. This allows me to minimize my territory for the character.
Then comes the referencing followed by a presentation, which involves setting the mood and feel of the film. Once we figure out the basic silhouette for all the characters, my team and I enter details of each costume. The colour and mood for all the scenes, fabrics, accessories, what will work cinematically, if we can go absurd or not, and other minute details are dealt with. Then there are look tests and fittings where we finally see our characters coming to life.