Noor Jehan to Meena Kumari: Rimple-Harpreet Narula on inspiration behind ‘Heeramandi’ costumes

Known for their bridal wear in India, Rimple and Harpreet (RAH) made hundreds of costumes for the show.
Last Updated : 01 May 2024, 08:29 IST
Last Updated : 01 May 2024, 08:29 IST

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Mumbai: From museum visits to old book covers and the personal style of legends like Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum and Meena Kumari, designer duo Rimple and Harpreet Narula say they went through different sources to find inspiration for the exquisite costumes of Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar.

Known for their bridal wear in India, Rimple and Harpreet (RAH) made hundreds of costumes for the show.

"Anything between 280 to 320, we have lost count," Harpreet told PTI.

"Most of the inspiration came from the script itself, which was beautifully written. But beyond that, we wanted to relate it to different people from yesteryears, like we were looking at how Noor Jehan or Shamshad Begum or Meena Kumari would dress up,” he added.

The period drama series, which marks filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali's grand debut in the streaming space, is one of the highly anticipated titles to come from Netflix. It stars Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Richa Chadha, Sharmin Segal, Aditi Rao Hydari, and Sanjeeda Shaikh.

Set in pre-Independence India, the big-budget show, which is set to premiere on May 1, revolves around the lives of courtesans living in the red-light district of Heeramandi in Lahore.

"When you are making a period project like this, research is your base, after research you develop your samples and then you beautify them, and the research has to be on point," Rimple said, adding that they travelled to places such as Lucknow, Agra, Varanasi and Gujarat to source the fabric.

Giving the example of how Meena Kumari would wear 'a lot of white and pastels' at a time when bold colours were in fashion, Harpreet said actors in that era had a strong individual style.

"There were no stylists or designers at that time. Bhanu ji (late costume designer Bhanu Athaiya) came much later. It was a time when most of these people were taking care of their own wardrobe and that used to bring in a lot more personality."

"If Sadhana or Meena ji were in a film, you would know how they would dress up. Even later, if you see Mumtaz ji, she would always have an orange colour (outfit), which was her favourite. You don’t see that today," he added.

The designers took a similar approach while creating the costumes of the leading ladies, which had to look distinct and uniform at the same time.

For Sinha, who stars as Fareedan, a courtesan on a mission to avenge her past, Rimple said, they have used a lot of dark colours.

"I'm not going to reveal but the kind of role she's playing, we chose the darker colour palette and mixed it with her own personal style,” she said.

The women in the show are seen wearing gharara, lehenga, anarkali sets, saree sets, while the men are seen in kurta pajama, sherwanis, angarakhas, jamas and bandhgalas as well as modern suits, jackets and cravats due to the British influence in that era.

“We wanted all the women to look enchanting... We've kept the costumes according to the scene and the mood, and what the character was going through, and the colours were also accordingly driven by that,” Harpreet said.

Bhansali approached the designers for “Heeramandi” during the post-production of his 2022 film “Gangubai Kathiawadi'.

"He visited our factory because this project is dear to him. He kept expressing how he wanted every character to have an individual style and yet be very uniform,” Rimple said, adding that the 'ghararas' and 'shararas' had to be true to the style worn during the pre-independence, undivided India.

"The gharara has to be a Farsi gharara, which is flowing on the floor, no compromises were made, even the girls were told that, ‘You have to dress up in a particular way’. The creative freedom given to us to produce these garments and present this to the world was a very good experience,” Rimple added.

The husband-wife designer duo, who earlier collaborated with Bhansali for the 2018 historical drama “Padmaavat”, said the script was an inspiration in itself as it gave them a lot of scope for world building.

Their research also extended to studying archival textiles from renowned museums.

“We did two trips to Calico Museum in Ahmedabad to have a look at their archives of all old textiles because they’ve a lot of samples for that particular period. The French chiffon had already come into the Indian elite circles. So, we were getting a lot of those kinds of textiles, lace, and sequins,” Harpreet said.

“Also, a lot of our prints came in from the covers of old books, both English and French, which we had to replicate, and a lot of Manchester prints because that was the time when a lot of European prints were being sold in Indian markets. The elites of India were looking at Western and European textile into their clothing as it had novelty value,” he added.

The couple, who have also done costumes for films like Housefull 4 and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, are now keen to craft outfits for 'a science fiction movie'.

“We’ve done costume-driven period films (largely); but now we would like to do something modern. I hope we break that typecast about us that probably ‘we are into costume for period films.’ We'd like to do something modern as well, even science fiction for that matter,” Harpreet said.

Published 01 May 2024, 08:29 IST

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