Ever since the promos of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus, Padmavati (due for December 1 release) were put out last week, we haven’t stopped talking about the film’s fabulous jewellery and spectacular costumes. While Tanishq was tasked with creating the regal jewels, Delhi designers Rimple and Harpreet Narula were picked to craft the costumes for all the lead characters—Deepika Padukone who plays Rani Padmavati, Shahid Kapoor who essays the role of Raja Ratan Singh, Ranveer Singh (Allauddin Khilji) and Aditi Rao Hydari (Khilji’s wife). We spoke with the Narulas about their Bollywood debut and how they went about recreating the grandeur of the Rajputana royals for celluloid.
How did the Padmavati project come about ?
Though this is our first Bollywood project, we have worked extensively on various others with erstwhile royal families such as those of Jaipur, Baroda, Rampur, Mandava, and Kishangarh, archiving and documenting their costumes through the ages and drawing inspiration from them in our own creations. Our last couture collection—Maharadjah & Co— was based on Indian rulers of the Raj era.
This collection, along with our other past work with various royal families, is something that probably caught Mr Bhansali’s eye and he saw in us the potential to create looks imbibing the essence of that era. We got a call from his office and an initial meeting was arranged in Mumbai wherein we did our own background research on the period and carried antique textiles from our personal collection as reference points for what we thought would work for the project. The meeting soon turned into an impromptu look-test with the same textiles and by the end of it, we were quite in sync with his vision and he offered us the movie.
Doing costumes for a period film must have involved days and months of research. Would you give details of where you started and how arduous it was?
Since it is a period piece, we had to be extra careful when it came to maintaining authenticity. To get the looks right, almost six months went into travel and research, collecting old textile samples to study and replicate and procuring various local traditional materials to put the processes in place. During the initial phase, we spent long hours at the Calico and Jaipur museums, studying the various archived samples of old clothing and textiles there.
Our design team visited various forts and havelis in the Mewar region to study murals and frescoes in order to understand the traditional Rajput styling and drapes. We interacted with and engaged various artisans at different craft clusters across Rajasthan to help us replicate the textiles and embroideries that were prevalent in that period. We got hand-woven kota cottons developed which were later block-printed, then layered with varq ka kaam and traditional Rajasthani embroideries. Mr Bhansali’s brief to us was that we would need to create over a 100 looks between the three main characters and each look should leave a lasting impression as well as carry the narrative forward, and that is what we have tried to achieve.
Give us an insight into the specific costumes designed for the main protagonists.
For Raja Ratan Singh played by Shahid Kapoor, the look was created after a visit to the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad where there are a few replicas of the Raja’s costumes. We used organic cotton and mulmul to create the angrakha, dhotis and lungis. Traditional quilting, embroidery and printing were done by artisans from Rajasthan.
For Deepika Padukone, we used gold gota laffas as borders of the odhnis, which were crafted by kaarigars of Nyla in Jaipur. Traditional embroidery like mukke ka kaam, which is done by couching gold and silver wires on the fabric, was used on her ghagras, kanchalis and odhnis. Natural dyes like indigo, pomegranate and rose were used to achieve the natural hues. Given Allauddin Khilji’s nomadic ways and Turkish origins, we travelled across Central Asia to prepare the look. Khilji’s topis and robes were created after studying the Moorish and Ottoman emperor’s wardrobes. In the 13th century, interestingly, wings of glowing beetles were embroidered with zari and badla work—we developed customised sequins to recreate this beetle wing embellishment.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is known for getting involved in every aspect of his films. How was it to work with a meticulous taskmaster?
During the initial stages of the project, he and his team took us through the script in order to understand the flow of the narrative and nuances of each character as the garments had to enhance the same. He did not want us to follow any vague generalisations of costumes that have been depicted in cinema till now and wanted us to step into a “pure zone” and create garments that were as authentic and true to the period as possible.
Also, we were totally unaware of how the film industry works when it comes to costumes till we came on board—maybe that is what Mr Bhansali secretly wanted when he roped in new talent like us—and the creative process of working on the project has been one of constant evolution and learning. Right from our very first meeting with him that became an impromptu look test, Mr Bhansali had been very hands-on in his approach, guiding us through history books, what looks he wanted for each of his characters and how the garments were supposed to bring out their inherent natures and emotions.
What have been your wow moments and tense times in your Padmavati journey?
Every look test that we did with the stars, every frame that we saw being composed and shot so exquisitely was a wow moment in its own. So much goes into getting every single detail just right and it left us spellbound. The process of creating the costumes was one of constant evolution, a new learning experience every day. It was interesting for us as designers how our perception of drama in clothes has also undergone a change while working on the project; how at times “less is more” given the moment in the storyline or “more is less”, how various elements need to be layered for to achieve the cohesive look that is in sync with the director’s vision.
Once Padmavati is released, are there any plans to put these magnificent costumes in an exhibition for lovers of history, costumes and fashion?
The costumes that have been created for the project have been archived with the production house. After the release of the movie, we would love to get a platform to showcase them in order for people to see them in real, see the research that went into creating them and the work of so many artisans and craft clusters that helped us achieve the looks.
The block printers, gota weavers, embroiderers are the ones who made it possible for us to bring to life Mr Bhansali’s vision, and a platform that is able to showcase their craft would bring them into focus and take a step in helping revive these age-old techniques that are losing out to mass production and machine-made fabrics and embroideries.