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'Tried to create a believable look'

Neela Lulla on designing Kangana’s costumes in Manikarnika

Thriving amid the cut-throat competition in the fashion industry is not what everybody can do. But Neeta Lulla – an ace fashion designer – not only created a niche for herself over the years but also proved that her work is undeniably irreplaceable.

Four times winner of the National awards for period dramas like Jodha Akbar and Devdas, Lulla has once again collaborated with the top-notch director Ashutosh Gowariker for his upcoming venture Manikarnika – based on the life of Rani Laxmi Bai. For Lulla, it was another challenge to recreate the aura, royalty, and fierceness of the queen of Jhansi. But how does she come up with something new every time?

"Designing is a passion for me. Every costume that I work on is not just a piece of cloth but an emotion. That's the reason, I always come up with something new for every film that I do," says Lulla who has chosen Khadi as the fabric for Kangana's costumes this time.

"I have always admired khadi as a fabric. The way it drapes is what drew me to it. I believe, it is comfortable yet luxurious, and makes the wearer feel at ease irrespective of how elaborate the ensemble is," she states adding, "It is one of those fabrics that had been used for the longest time in the past. But today, people misconstrued it as a thick and stiff material which is difficult to wear. That's the reason I decided to take up the task and revive Khadi. Moreover, the film is a period drama based on the life of a patriot. There couldn't have been a better fabric to bring out that era."

Talking about what goes in for designing the costumes for a period drama, Neeta says, "It starts with a narration from the director. Post that, I read the script two to three times to get the essence of it. Before I start working on any costume, I need to understand what the story is all about, how the characters behave, what is their background and a lot more. This is followed by an extensive research which itself takes more than three months. And lastly, I try to create a believable look – costumes that the contemporary audience would identify with. And that's what I have tried to do In Manikarnika"

Neeta doesn't believe in compromising with the authenticity of her costumes for period films, but at the same time try to create outfits that could be accepted as the garment of the bygone era.

"Talking factually, we don't know what was prevalent at that point in time. The reference and evidence that we have in the form of paintings may just be the creative interpretation of the artist of that era. So, unless it's about 20s or 30s where photography became popular, I don't stick to the evidence. If we don't have photographic evidence, I prefer taking inspiration from what's there in books or paintings and use my own creativity thereafter," she mentions.

Besides movies, Neeta has also been designing beautiful outfits for the general public. Drawing parallels between the two, the designer feels that making clothes for general people gives you more freedom, where you can consider factors like what's in trend, what fabric would look good on the person, what colors are in etc. "Mainstream designing is always about creating something that your consumer wants to relate to and wishes to wear. However, when you are designing for the film, it's more of the director's perspective and the script's demand. And it's really challenging to understand somebody's thought process, work according to their idea and yet give them better than what they can imagine."

Commenting on how costume designing cannot be a secondary career option anymore, Neeta says, "When I stepped in the industry, there were multiple things to do. Apart from designing bridal outfits, I was also doing styling for films. After spending 34 years in the industry, it has become a way of life for me. But today's generation needs to be more focused on one aspect of fashion. Keeping in view the kind of technology and education we have now, one cannot think of multitasking. You need to give enough time to one aspect.

There is a lot that goes into costume designing," concludes Neeta.

Syeda Eba

Syeda Eba

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