Costume Designer Veera Kapur Reveals Why Phillauri’s The Best Film She’s Done
Every Friday release comes up with its own share of expectations, box office ratings, and critical reviews. But here at MFG, what we are most concerned about is not how a script makes or breaks a movie or how the actors perform, but every sartorial detail of the film. Be it the costumes, styling, and makeup of the characters involved in the movie or a star’s off-duty ensembles on promotional gigs, we spot, review, and even get in touch with the people behind-the-scenes who help build an actor’s style file both on and off screen.
After several successful films to her credit including Piku and Jolly LLB 2, costume designer Veera Kapur has spelt her sartorial magic in Anushka Sharma and Diljit Dosanjh’s upcoming movie, Phillauri, as well. Talented and brilliant as she is, her most striking quality continues to be her innate modesty, something she unconsciously exhibits every time; be it in the humble way she accepts a compliment or in extending due credit to her entire team.
With the release of Phillauri right overhead on March 24, 2017, and with Veera completing 15 successful years designing costumes for several Bollywood A-Listers, we got in touch with the lady yet again to find out more about her journey in Bollywood and also her journey as part of Phillauri. Excerpts…
How has your journey been so far?
My journey of the last 19 films has been a gigantic learning experience, I’d say. Because with everything I have learnt something new about the craft and grown. That, for me, has been the most exciting aspect as a costume designer.
Any movie in particular that you had the most fun working on?
It is hard to pick one, given that I’ve immensely enjoyed working on each and every film, but I think I’m a little partial to Piku for the kind of respect and recognition it brought along.
Any celebrity that you enjoyed working with the most?
That’s one of the hardest questions to answer because I’ve been really blessed to have worked with such great. Say Mr. Bachchan, for example, has been such an amazing colleague or even Anushka for that matter has been so wonderful. It was like a dream to have worked with her on Phillauri.
Given that most of the films you’ve done have been contemporary, how was Phillauri different with a major chunk of the movie is set in pre-independence Punjab?
Costume wise, I think Phillauri has been one of the most exciting movies I’ve ever done. The movie has such fable feel to it, so much soul, that it is easily the best film I’ve done. My journey with Phillauri, I’d say, has been a colourfully beautiful one. So we’ve dealt with a certain period and used certain colours in that timeframe and then we’ve also worked on the present timeframe, used very vibrant colours that are in the contemporary Indian wedding zone. So it was interesting and challenging at the same time. The period part was definitely more challenging because when doing a period film, there are certain types of hues that we usually come across in films, but with Phillauri we’ve pushed that boundary. From what I’ve seen, observed and learnt, period films tend to work around with a lot of whites and greys and other neutrals, but with Phillauri, we’ve experimented with a different colour palette altogether. Experimenting with the colours and fabrics has been the most exciting part for me.
Would you say that the colours and fabric are in synch with the era they are placed in?
Yes, definitely! We have experimented with colours but not used any colour that wouldn’t have been available in that time period. Colour, was always there, right? There are references from the past where we see so many pretty colours.
How did you finalise on the accessories?
We actually put in a lot of research and study on the cultural history of Punjab. My director, Anshai Lal, gave me this beautiful book from Punjab which became a bible of sorts for us. There we saw some really different things from that period which we’ve never seen in films like Anushka’s earrings for example. We’ve always seen in period films set in Punjab, we’ve always seen the bali and other similar, simpler versions as predominant ornamentation. But we saw some references from that time period of women wearing more than just that. We saw women wearing these elaborate silver neckpieces, heavy earrings, bold anklets and bangles. Not just that, there were women wearing shorter kurtas or this salwar which is half churidar, half Patiala salwar. So we thought why not use this as part of our look for Shashi (Anushka). And the results were great. I’ve never seen Anushka look that beautiful before. There is this irresistible simplicity about her look.
What was your treatment of the characters keeping in mind the cultural and period influences?
Setting look in a specific period is very different and a lot more difficult as compared to a contemporary look. In contemporary, you can do anything; you have a lot of liberty to play around with different pieces that are available today. For example, a girl can wear short with a Nehru jacket and it would be fine. In contemporary, they don so many different styles, from jeans to a salwar kurta to a beautiful georgette saree. But in a period film, you can’t take that liberty. When you’re setting the look of a person in a period film, there is very little to experiment with; apart from some textures and fabric and a little bit of colour. Otherwise, you stick to the zone of identifying with the character. With Phillauri too we’ve tried to be as close to realism as possible while also capturing the beauty by way of colours.
You said you’ve experimented with fabrics. How did you manage that while also keeping the fabric relevant to the given time period?
We’ve experimented with the fabrics, but not by a very wide margin. We’ve kept our fabrics limited to cottons and rougher textures that come with khadi and khaddar, all of which we had to hunt for. Yes, we’ve experimented within that range with textures and colours, but I haven’t used any fabric that would be totally out of context or that wasn’t available back then. It’s not like tailoring is new concept; people were tailoring clothes at that time, people were dying fabrics at that time, people were doing embroideries too. Phulkari (a type of beautiful embroidered fabric of Punjab), for example, has existed for ages. It was present even in the 1600s, according to one article I read. In fact, we were very fortunate to have found some actual ancient Phulkari dupattas that the villagers from the place we were shooting had handed out to us. These dupattas are seen on some of the women in the crowd in the film. Of course, we didn’t want to overdo it. So we’ve limited the use of Phulkari for certain happy occasions in the form of dupattas or a little embroidery around the neck.
Interpreting a character in a particular period is difficult like you said. How did you make sure that the looks were still relatable?
Honestly, relating to any timeframe today is not very difficult given that we so much exposure to written material by way of technology. And the time reference in Phillauri is not that far back that no one would have ever heard or read about it. Then the silhouettes themselves are not drastically different; people still wear a chadra (a lungi), they still wear a pathani kurta and tie a turban. Even women, they still wear Patiala salwars, churidars, kurtas; yes, the lengths of these kurtas do keep varying according to season. So, I think all these silhouettes are very relatable to any time period.
Please elaborate on the designing and constructing processes of the signature ghost lehengas in the film.
Now, like most normal people, I have never had any ghost encounters in my life, none of us did. But we’ve all seen the different interpretations of a ghost in movies. And Shashi, the ghost, is my director’s vision and the team’s vision of a ghost. So, ours is a beautiful, friendly ghost. Even as a ghost, she’s so beautiful. My director wanted her to have this sparkling energy in her which we’ve incorporated by way of gold dots. Of course, they were then enhanced with VFX. Also, there’s a reason why Anushka’s in a lehenga, which you’ll figure when you see the film. And this lehenga is her transition into the ghostly phase. So we wanted to keep it close to her other costumes that she donned when she was alive. But, honestly, we haven’t necessarily stuck to the time frame in terms of fabrics because she’s a ghost and we need her to have a little bit of transparency. So we used light fabrics like chiffons and georgettes through which allow the passage of light.
How was your experience working with Diljit Dosanjh?
Diljit is by far the simplest person I have ever worked with. He’s very quiet too, so when we did the first trials with him, I was clueless as to whether he’s liked the costumes or not. But that’s just how he is, he would trust you completely. During trials, he would just come stand like a mannequin and do what he’s told to. If he has an opinion, he would put it into words very politely and quietly. That’s made my life really really easy because he’s such a simple and understanding person. It was on the second day of trials that he finally said that he was happy with the costumes which meant a lot given that he himself is from Punjab and such a hardcore Punjabi. In fact, he would even tie his turbans himself. I think, it’s just great that he’s playing Phillauri because it just comes naturally to him.
Was your experience with Anushka just as pleasant as with Diljit?
Absolutely! Anushka, in fact, approved everything on our first trial itself. I did not have any trouble dressing her up through the whole film. She loved the period look; the colours, the idea of junky silver earrings, everything. Anushka, I feel, is a very intelligent actress. And she respects other people’s opinions which I think is very important when you’re working with someone. When you’re on the same page with a person, life just becomes so much easier.
Coming to the present-day characters, how did you go about designing Suraj Sharma and Mehreen Pirzada?
Suraj’s character is a Canada-returned one who likes to beat box and is into music. So we’ve kept it very simple, minimal and contemporary. We haven’t used any flashy colours except for a blue leather jacket that he’s travelled in. Other than that, his attire mostly comprises of a pair of cool jeans and a tee and maybe a jacket or a shirt and a jacket. It’s what any well-groomed guy in today’s day and age would wear. Of course, his wedding function attires were a bit more bling and had a few fun elements like the sherwani or the pajama-kurta-bandhgala set which was very interesting.
Mehreen’s look is again very contemporary. She’s a girl from Punjab who’s looking forward to getting married, looking beautiful. So we’ve given her bright hues; she’s a very colourful, chirpy thing in the film. She wears vibrant colours and she’s lively.
Any specific designers you’ve worked with for this film?
Yes, a lot of Suraj’s outfits are from Kora. And Vishal Sarees has a huge involvement with Anushka and Mehreen’s outfits. Mehreen’s wedding lehengas is a Varun Bahl creation.