I remember after the release of the Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee starrer, Bunty Aur Babli, my friends and I were all on board with the short, collared form-fitting kurtas trend adorned by Rani. If you too danced to Dhadak-Dhadak wearing your version of the "Rani Mukherjee kurta" then the talent to be credited for it is none other than ace costume designer Ameira Punvani, who was a hit from her very first project, Bunty Aur Babli. Followed by this, she worked her magic in movies such as Badmash Company, Benares, Zinda, Teen Patti. For both Rustom and Guru, she was nominated for Best Costume Design award.
We caught up with Ameira as she is all set for her next project, Raid, where she has styled and designed the wardrobe for the lead heroine of the film, Ileana D'Cruz. Read on for an insight into what went behind the costumes of this period drama.
PV: What is the life of a costume designer like? Can you give us an insight?
Ameira Punvani: You eat, sleep, breathe clothes! I am totally consumed by a film when I work on it. The costumes are a very intrinsic part of the creation of a character, particularly for films since it’s a visual medium.
The first thing that brings out the character of the actor is his get up. Your costumes have to be such that the actor forgets himself, his persona and is transformed into the character he is portraying.
My job starts right at the beginning of a film when the film is perceived. I am one of the first people who comes on board. It is a very exciting prospect because you are working very closely with your Director who has envisioned a certain kind of character; then you bring that to life with clothes and accessories that you give the actor.
PV: How was it working with Raj Kumar Gupta?
Ameira Punvani: It was the most amazing experience working with Raj Kumar Gupta. Normally, when you are working with a director, because it is their baby, they are very protective of their script, film, and character. Every step of the way there is a lot of interaction that goes on with the Director to make sure you’re catering to their vision. However, over here he gave me the freedom to create and that brought out my best! Hence, it’s been a great experience working with him. He is relaxed, open to suggestions and is very approachable as a person. When your director is like that, it sets the mood not only for the entire crew but the entire film as well. So there was a lot of positivity on the film and I hope I can work with Raj Kumar Gupta on a lot more projects.
PV: How did you get on board with Raid?
Ameira Punvani: I had done Ileana's costumes for Rustom and the looks got a lot of appreciation for both of us. I think we have great synergy together.
It was actually on the 28th of August, a day before the recent Mumbai floods that I got a call from Ileana. She caught my attention with the story she narrated to me & the prospect of collaborating with her again (she’s a real favorite of mine).
I didn’t give it a second thought that it was raining heavily on the 29th of August. Armed with my references I went to meet the Director in that heavy deluge. I had to walk back home in waist deep water for two hours, my car did not come back from the garage for 5 months because it got so badly damaged. The only thing I protected were all my references on the laptop which I carried on my head in that rain!
PV: How was it working with Ileana once again? Does she have inputs or does she leave it up to you?
Ameira Punvani: I really appreciate the kind of person Ileana is. She is very trusting and she gives you the freedom to create. She understands that I bring a certain expertise to the table and she allows me to do my job with ease.
Ileana's character is from Lucknow and I am also from Lucknow, so, there was a underlying ease with which I created the look. There was a lot that I remembered from my childhood that I wanted to share and when I made the presentation for Ileana and Raj, both of them were on the same page with me from day one. There were no changes from the original presentation I made.
I spoke to Ileana a lot about the history of why I was giving her a certain costume because a lot of it came from my memory and a lot of it was stuff I have grown up around. I remember my mom and grandmom wearing sarees even on a regular day, it was not an occasion for which you had to wear a saree. I would tell Ileana all these anecdotes, that I remember my mom wearing a saree and the saree remained in a pristine condition, whether she took an afternoon nap or whether she went to the kitchen or she went to a full day of work, the saree remained that crisp through the day and they were just that comfortable in it.
PV: Speaking of the costumes, have you only sourced the garments or are there any custom-made costumes for the character as well?
Ameira Punvani: Ileana is wearing a lot of churidaar Kurtas in the film for which we cut up a lot of sarees to get that matching kind of look. We customized mostly everything for her. We had a lot of sarees done for her because it was a period film, so it had to be specific. For instance, I wanted to use a polka dots, for Malini, who is a very spunky yet subdued character. I did not want to use polka dots that looked loud or too in your face. In order to do that, I had a saree printed with polkas on an earthy base Chanderi saree - I managed to get a graphic print and yet maintain subtlety through the colour I used.
Since it is a period film it is not very easy to get stuff off-the-rack, so all her churidar kurtas and the kind of combination we used were customized in such a way so as to create the character and fit the bill for the period.
PV: Are there any standout pieces in the movie?
Ameira Punvani: Ileana’s look in Raid is very simple compared to Rustom, where the costumes were very elaborate. Here, in keeping with the character I wanted to bring out the fact that Malini is strong yet gentle & feminine. I wanted to use a lot of colours and prints so as to make the Costumes visually appealing yet maintaining their simplicity.
I was pretty adventurous with the choice of colors, for instance, I picked an emerald green churidar, kurta and dupatta set for her. People don’t dress like that anymore, people contrast everything now - if you are wearing an emerald green kurta you will probably offset it with another colour. But at that point in time, it was a very matching kind of a look that everyone wore. Ileana just carries everything with such ease that when she wore it, nobody could take their eyes off her!
Even in the song "Nit Khair Manga", she is wearing a yellow churidar kurta, for which we had Rampuri applique work done because at that point in time that work was very much in vogue. We had that done for her and it turned out beautifully in the song. We also used silver buttons on chikan kurtas.
PV: Does the fact that Ileana is a big celebrity, stop you from experiments because she is always critiqued for what she is wearing?
Ameira Punvani: The thing with Ileana is that, if she trusts you, she is willing to go that extra mile. She herself gets into the skin of the character, so, if something is not going to work on a particular costume, she is very astute and she will actually tell me that. She will bring up very small suggestions that are important for the character and make a huge difference in the larger perspective.
PV: Considering Raid is a period film set in the 80s and you have also done Rustom and Guru, which were period films too. Do you face challenges of maintaining the authenticity of the costumes, while still making them look relevant to the audience?
Ameira Punvani: When you are doing a period film, the costumes have to be authentic, because you are depicting a certain period and if you do not bring that out then you are missing the point. So, I always make sure everything is authentic and what you see you can relate to or recall. I usually stick to authentic stuff, down to even minor details such as buttons. Normally, people will not even notice small things, but because I have done the research I like to stick to stuff that is restricted to the period.
PV: Where were the costumes made?
Ameira Punvani: I picked up quite a lot of stuff from Lucknow because I wanted to use a lot of chikan embroidery for Ileana and the best and most authentic place for that is Lucknow. The other things were done in Mumbai as I started to shoot very soon after I came on board. I had only about two weeks before the shoot commenced.
PV: Can you tell us about the textiles and crafts used in the film?
Ameira Punvani: I used a lot of chikan embroidery in simple white chikan thread work. I also used Rampuri Appliqué work. For sarees, I used chanderi cotton because that was the fabric popular at that point in time and Chanderi has a very nice texture with a very light feel to it. The motifs used were very traditional and not very overbearing or in-your-face. I also used a lot of graphic prints such as zig-zag prints and polka dots that were in fashion in the 80s. The colour palette I used was very vast ranging from subdued colours to very bright colours.
PV: Bollywood is the biggest fashion influencer in India, so what trends do you think will be picked up from Ileana's costumes in Raid and become popular with the audiences?
Ameira Punvani: I think the chikan work because it is a very relevant fabric and being light, is just perfect to wear in the summers. It is cool and the embroidery is always exquisite. You can wear chikan work kurta/ top in an ethnic outfit, which is with a churidar and salwar or you can even wear it with jeans. Sometimes, I wear chikan kurtas that I chop off and they become crop tops. So, I think chikan is something that is wearable and can connect with people of all age groups.
PV: What was the research process like?
Ameira Punvani: Malini, the character is not a simple housewife, she is very spunky and is the backbone of her husband. So, for her character, a lot of the ideas came from my memory and personal photographs.
When I went to Lucknow I went to people who have been in the business for a very long time, so, I went and discussed motifs and embroidery from that era so that I picked up the correct pieces. My research was very organic and of course, I watched a lot of films. I like using a lot of real references, even for Rustom I went to a lot of Navy Officers so I could get a lot of real references.
PV: Any movies you find inspirational in terms of costume designing?
Ameira Punvani: I think Umrao Jaan is one film which was so beautifully done. It is one film I have watched many times and loved the styling of the film. When you look at the jewelry that Rekha is wearing, it doesn't look fake from any angle. Even the dupattas and gotta work, everything was very authentic and beautiful. It is a film I thought was done in a very tasteful way.
PV: Fashion and style tips for the summers?
Ameira Punvani: For summers, going minimal and natural for the fabrics is always the best way, because it just gets so hot, so wearing breathable fabrics and stuff that is lighter is better. The more comfortable and minimal you are the better you look. In the summers, overdoing it is a real no-no for me.
Well, now we cannot wait to watch Raid only to catch a glimpse of Ileana D'Cruz's outfits. What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments below.