Celebrated weaves that wear the national honour

Handloom revivalist Gaurang Shah, fashion designer Archana Rao and stylist Indrakashi Pattanaik Malik are jubilant after winning the National Film Award 2019 for Best Costume Design, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur

Keerthy Suresh

Mahanati, the film wasn’t only about the life and times of legendary actor Savitri, but also lent adequate proof to the ‘old is gold’ adage with its authentic efforts to depict the fashion between the 50s and 70s era of tinsel-town through a sweeping narrative.

The 2018-release was a melting pot of diverse artistic influences coming in from various departments associated with it. Nevertheless, the ‘National Film Award 2019 for Best Costume Design’ was an honour that truly befits the efforts of Hyderabad-based handloom revivalist Gaurang Shah (who has styled Savitri’s portions), fashion designer Archana Rao (behind the costumes of Dulquer Salmaan, Vijay
Deverakonda, and Samantha Akkineni) and stylist Indrakashi Pattanaik Malik. They reminisce what it means to be a part of team Mahanati in a candid chat.

Gaurang Shah
Gaurang Shah

Gaurang Shah

For Gaurang Shah, the honour is a cherry atop his cake, for he won it for his very first film with a narrative that was indeed a celebration of handlooms.

“The award sets the bar high, it puts pressure on me but what is life without a challenge?” he starts off, about the win. “Any film that I do has to suit my clothing and that’s what has happened with Mahanati. When Swapna Dutt (the producer) came to me for the Savitri biopic, I knew Savitri was a contemporary of Meena Kumari (whom I was a fan of). Immediately, I said yes because what I do with my clothing exactly matches the needs of the film,” Gaurang shares.

The diverse fashion choices of Savitri gave him the conviction to take up the project — the blend of organza sarees with kanjivaram blouses, for instance. Elaborating on his working experience, he adds, “The film was a mix of Nag Ashwin’s directorial vision and mine. In certain situations where we had visual references, we had to recreate clothing exactly like what Savitri wore back then. So, we had to stay true to the details, the moods, the colours. With the newly incorporated scenes, I was given complete liberty to imagine what Savitri would have worn. Like the use of chiffon saree with a kanjivaram blouse, a printed sari fascinated me, though these were fashion trends popular among everyday women then.”

He also says that Keerthy Suresh’s ghaghra for the famous Maya Bazaar scene in the film took him three months to make. “Those type of designs are no longer the convention now — getting them made was difficult. I had asked Swapna for sufficient time and she gave me three months to do that. They were fully prepared to invest time in creating intricately woven clothing,” Gaurang says. He hadn’t foreseen the magnanimous response for the film upon its release. “I did my job and forgot about it. The number of calls that I had started getting was unbelievable. People were specific about getting Mahanati sarees done.”

The project also renewed his love for the jamdani weaving technique, that provides flexibility in changing the design and colour of the fabric, unlike the conventional jacquard-style.

Indrakshi Pattnaik Malik
Indrakshi Pattnaik Malik

Indrakshi Pattnaik Malik

Life refuses to be the same since Indrakshi has heard of the National Award for Mahanati’s costume team. She admits that this success and recognition hasn’t quite sunk in yet. She finds herself indebted to the team of Mahanati, for the faith it has had in her. “I will forever be grateful to Nag Ashwin (director), Swapna and Priyanka (producers) for giving me this huge project at such an early stage of my career.” Her efforts with the film involved research around every minute detail pertaining to its varied timelines and backdrops.

Indrakshi had interviewed acquaintances, friends, film personalities and even journos to get her facts right. The most difficult part of her job involved the styling of the commoners of the bygone era. The reference material that she had comprised publicity stills, newspaper clippings came in handy but the crux of the inputs came from Vijaya Chamundeshwari, Savitri’s daughter.

Archana Rao
Archana Rao

Archana Rao

For a designer who is consistently inspired by all things vintage, fashion designer Archana Rao found it to be a dream-like experience to work on a film spanning the era of the 60s and 80s.

“It’s still surreal that we won the National Award for Mahanati,” she exclaims. The interesting aspect for her was to work on fashion true to different eras. While Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha’s costumes had to be in sync with the 80s scheme of things, working on the style sense of Gemini Ganesan was as contrasting as it could get.

“I enjoyed styling for both the timelines. Designing for the character of Gemini Ganesan will always be one of my favourite moments. For Gemini’s character (played by Dulquer Salmaan), we felt it was important to imbibe the essence of both the actor and the character he was playing. Woollen fabrics, biker jackets from the US were integral to his styling,” Archana mainatins.

 

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