Ashley Rebello Gives Out Exclusive Deets On Styling Salman Khan For Tubelight
Okay, we’ll admit… we are through and through Salman Khan fans and we’ve forever been crushing over the man, his great looks and his even greater style sense. Because well, how many actors in the industry could look that put-together and irresistible even while working basic casuals, right? While we’ve often credited this to the man’s innate charm and his charismatic personality, we’ve easily ignored the hard work his stylists- Ashley Rebello and Alvira Agnihotri (Salman’s sister)- have been doing behind-the-scenes. Yes, silly us!
Having done the costumes for Salman’s upcoming movie, Tubelight, and also styling him for promotions, Ashley is particularly busy at the moment but humble and polite as he is, the man did oblige us with a quick telephonic interview giving out all the details on costume designing for the Khan brothers (Salman and Sohail) in Tubelight, his experience working with Salman for all these years, his take on age-appropriate dressing and a lot more. Excerpts from our conversation with this interesting, and surprisingly modest, man…
You’ve been working with Salman Khan for 10 years now. How has your experience been this far?
Honestly, it doesn’t feel like 10 years; it feels like yesterday. He’s become a part of my family, a very close friend. In fact, his sister, Alvira and I work together, we style Salman together. In this movie too we’ve done Sohail and Salman’s costumes together.
What kind of research and reference did you do before designing costumes for Tubelight, given that it’s a period film?
Well, thanks to Google, we have everything at the click of a button but yes, we did have to do a lot of editorial research. So we went through a lot of books and went around asking people, my aunts and grandparents and other who’ve witnessed that time period, especially those who have lived up north because the fashion there was, and still is, very different from fashion here. Though being completely true to an era can sometimes even backfire like I had someone telling me ‘why have you made Salman wear all these loose-fitted pants he looks so much nicer in fitted trousers.’ Well, of course, I just laughed it off.
How would you say does the treatment of costumes differ in a period film as opposed to a modern-day film?
For starters, a period film is a lot more difficult to work on because you have to keep in mind the availability of materials in that era. For example, in olden days, particularly in smaller towns, you had more of these vegetable dyes, so you did not find these modern colours like pink. I know a lot of people might not buy my point because I have seen the use of certain colours in a few period films that did not even exist in that time period; it was used only because it looks pretty. I, however, prefer to keep myself in check with the research that I have done. So I work around with the fabrics, colours and other fabrications that dominated the era I’m trying to recreate sartorially.
Would you say that period films leave less scope for personal creativity due to the time-frame limitations?
Well, not particularly! If it is a true story or a biography, it is slightly more difficult because you have to relook into what the person actually wore and stay as authentic as you can. But since, Tubelight is not a biography we could play around with a lot of things like the colour, the design, the cuts. Yes, they are in keeping with the period the film is set in but it’s a nice challenge to create an apt look for the character with all that is available, also keeping in mind the actor you are designing for. You just can’t do things that you know your actor will not be comfortable with. Salman, for example, is allergic to wool. He starts sneezing and immediately gets a cold and fever when he comes in contact with wool. If he comes in contact with one, he immediately starts sneezing, catches a cold and is down with fever in no time. Even if a person wearing wool stands next to him, it induces the allergic reaction and he’ll start sneezing non-stop. So we got the woollen sweaters made and then treated them such to get rid of all the tiny filaments that cause the allergy. These are little things you have to keep in mind while staying as authentic as you can.
So were all the costumes customised or did you outsource a few as well?
No, no. All their clothes were customised; we got fabrics woven, we got them dyed, we got them tailored. I do know a lot of weavers, so it was easy to get them to weave a few metres for the film. The checks, though, we bought them off the rack but then we had to get them dyed and stonewashed and get several other treatments done to bring out that old world feel to it. We did a lot of referencing to see what was available in those days. Even the sweaters that you see them wearing are handwoven since that’s what people did back then; machine woven sweaters weren’t available. So we got these aged ladies to knit the sweater who would take their own sweet time, no matter how many times we told them there was a time constraint (laughs). Luckily, we had a lot of time.
Why do we see them in western outfits alone?
Well, because the 1960s India was heavily under the influence of the British Raj. Though we were in our post-independence period at the time, if you check any references you’ll see that our dressing back then was very English. It might not have been a very conscious act, but people ended up dressing in westerns primarily because those were things that were available in the market at that given point because the English had their influx of a lot of their fabrics and ready-made garments sent here. So the cottons and other fabrics were all English-made. In fact, even if you look at our old movies, none of our actors would ever dress up in Indian clothes, they always wore western outfits. Whether we like it or not, we were highly influenced by the British Raj, so very few people actually wore ethnic garments. The women sure wore traditional garments but the men wore westerns.
How much would you say was Salman’s contribution in the designing process?
Well, Salman leaves it completely to the director and the designer with no interference at all, be it with the designs or the colours or the fabrics or anything. Once in awhile, if the character he’s playing resembles one of his previous characters, he would come ahead to remind you to not repeat the look or some other minor detail that he would want to point out. I call this his ‘vishesh tippani.’ Apart from that, Salman Salman just trusted Alvira and me blindly because he knew we’d do the right thing. He just wore what he was given.
How much of an actor’s real-life personality influences the costumes for a character?
If it’s a particular look that you are aiming for, then their real-life personalities don’t influence anything at all. But if you aren’t going for a specific time period or a precise look, then you have to keep the person’s likes and dislikes in mind; the colours they like, the fabrics they prefer, etc. It just makes life easier for you. With Salman, the thing is that I have known him for so long that I know what his preferences are. And I work with his sister, who is also well aware of what Salman will approve of and what he won’t, so we can shop for him blindfolded and we know that he’ll like it. I’d say I get it right nine out of ten times, which honestly speaking, is not bad.
How would you say your treatment for Salman’s costumes differed from that of Sohail’s?
It was decided much in advance that given that Salman and Sohail are brothers in the movie who live together, so they would be wearing and borrowing each other’s clothes. So you see them wearing the same jackets, the same shirts, etc., in different scenes, of course. I don’t know if as an audience you notice it or not, but as a costume designer, I’ve tried to keep things as close to reality as possible.
If you were to describe Salman’s off-screen style in two words, what would they be?
Well, I’d say Salman’s style is very relaxed and casual. Though occasionally he does opt for a nice sharp suit too. But when I’m styling him the one thing that I always, always, keep in mind is to dress him up according to his age. You know, there are a lot of actors who are nearing 50 and 60 (in age) and they dress up like Varun (Dhawan) and Sidharth (Malhotra). It doesn’t work like that. They are younger so their dressing style is also supposed to be youthful. I’d rather go in for a more classy and a less pretentious vibe for Salman. Whether he’s wearing a t-shirt or a sweatshirt or a pair of shorts or tracks, they are all unpretentious because that’s what he wears in real life too. That’s one of reasons why he always looks great because he’s always himself.
Pick one… Salman Khan in casuals, Salman Khan in suits or Salman Khan in ethnics?
Definitely, Salman in suits. Though also looks great in smart casuals- a tee, a jacket and denims- but I think I’ll go with suits here.