‘I am a very character driven costume designer’

Debarati Palit Singh
Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Eka Lakhani, who has done the costume design for Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju, says that she was told to make them as real as possible

A biopic is about relatability and there is no point if people can’t relate to it,” says Eka Lakhani, the costume designer of Rajkumar Hirani’s upcoming biopic Sanju, based on the life of actor-producer Sanjay Dutt. Lakhani, who is one of the popular designers in Bollywood, has created costumes for films like NH 10, OK Jaanu, Raavan and several others in the past. 

For Sanju, the brief given to her by the director was to make the costumes as real as possible. “It just had to make the audience believe that they are seeing Sanjay Dutt and not Ranbir Kapoor,” she says.  

Studying the character 
While researching, Lakhani had to study the different eras from the ’80s to the ’90s to 2000. “We had to look at Sanjay Dutt in these eras and his transformation with reference to style and physical changes. We studied his life and how it had affected his body, and clothing. His life story was an encyclopedia, so we kind of took each bit from his personal style and recreated it to fit the outline and work within,” says the designer. 

There are two aspects to an actor’s dressing: his onscreen image and his personal style. But in the ’90s, ’80s or before that, we did not get to see too much of their personal fashion because there was neither social media nor were actors media savvy. Was it a challenge to research on their personal fashion then? 

“Somewhat. For Sanjay Dutt, his earlier looks were not really driven by any movies because he was still not an actor then. So we looked through the family pictures and realised he was big on leather. He also went through a drug phase, so he used to wear loose clothing probably to feel comfortable. We have kind of done that as well. Then in the ’90s, he got completely into bodybuilding, so he started wearing fitted  T-shirts and clothes. Also, more than his films, it was his personal life that was influencing his day-to-day fashion,” says Lakhani.

Keeping it organic 
In Sanju, Paresh Rawal plays Sunil Dutt and Manisha Koirala plays Nargis Dutt, so Lakhani had to study the previous era as well. “But we had Raju sir working with us, so he was the one point contact for everything. We just went to him to recheck and confirm every detail. He has taken everything from his (Sanjay) real life,” says Lakhani adding, “If you notice, there are two phases in Sunilji’s life — the actor and the politician. For the ’70s scenes, we shot with him as an actor, so we gave him style and grandeur like denim on denim, and jackets. When he became a politician, you will see him in kurta-pyjama with walking sticks. We have shown the looks in a natural, organic way and not something forced.” 

She says that as far as Manishaji’s looks are concerned, which is already creating a lot of buzz on social media, it was important for the audience to relate to the looks. “So, we took her (Nargisji) iconic images and movies, and recreated them for Manishaji. The result was kind of surprising and exciting for us too because she beautifully transformed into Nargisji.” 

A challenging project 
Lakhani says that the challenge was dressing up somebody as somebody else. “It was not just the clothes, they had to suit the body type of the character they were playing so different types of body padding were used to make him (Ranbir Kapoor) look the correct size as Sanjay Dutt. It was not just the costumes that they were wearing but also the ones worn inside that made a lot of difference,” says she adding. 

There were lots of trials and errors before the final look. “It was a lot of back and forth and it wasn’t easy. But once we cracked the look, we were in a safe place.” 

Clothes, just a part of films 
Ask her how much relevance costumes have in a film and she replies, “In spite of being a costume designer, I feel clothes should never be the highlight of a film. They just need to support your story unless it’s a fashion-based story. I believe in realistic films and clothes need to be as harmonious as possible with the story. You shouldn’t notice a costume separately. But while speaking about a biopic it’s an important aspect because the first thing you notice when an actor plays another actor, is how much they resemble the other person. When I say resemblance, I mean hair, make-up and wardrobe because that’s what you notice. Personally, I am a very character-driven costume designer. I don’t do films which are extremely stylised. I believe that whatever the actor is wearing needs to have a reason,” says the designer who is also working on films like Soorma, Fanne Khan, Total Dhamaal and a Mani Ratnam untitled project.

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