Good costume design is key to the movie’s success, ask Pia Benegal, whose creations in ‘Jang-e-Azadi’ will tell the story of Sikhs’ contribution to independence struggle
Besides, the sound and the music, the costumes help the audience know the context in which a movie is placed. Costumes and props are important to scriptwriters. Good costume design allows the audience to judge the characters very quickly, and can make them interesting and believable, sad or funny, good or evil; and sometimes, influence the mind at the subconscious level.
Award-winning costume designer Pia Benegal, daughter of veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who is working on her father’s directorial venture, Jang-e-Azadi, reiterated the role of clothing and fabric in films. Even in the silent era, filmmakers paid close attention to the costumes of every character. The attention to detail scaled up when cinema turned coloured from black and white.
In her views, exclusive costumes, designed intricately, are the secret to a film’s clicking at the box office.
Period films a challenge
Pia has worked with directors such as Mani Ratnam, Hansal Mehta, and Govind Nihalani.
As a designer, she works on the filmmaker’s idea but has the freedom to do own research. It is important for the enormous challenge of creating the look of a period film.
“Jang-e-Azadi” is a docudrama that will tell the story of Punjab’s independence movement at Kartarpur. Recreating Sikh history from the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the attainment of freedom struggle requires a sense of totality, says Pia. “Any period-film project is a challenge. One has to stick to the facts, as there is integrity attached to a historical film, and that means more research,” says the costume designer of “Zubeidaa” and “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero”. “It’s like creating an optical illusion,” says Pia, proud of the belly she designed for Sachin Khedekar’s character in the Subhas Chandra Bose biopic.
All people looking forward to watching Jang-e-Azadi are in for a visual treat. “I enjoyed recreating the traditional look of Sikhs particularly, so the audience will get to see a lot of cholas, khukhas and other religious clothing in shades of blue, orange and white. I had to make sure I had the references right,” says Pia, who studies a number of paintings of the era to bring authenticity into the film’s costumes.
One can’t help asking her why she didn’t become a director like her father. “Planetary position, perhaps!,” laughs Pia, who knew she would always be compared with the great Shyam Benegal, and fearful of that pressure, decided to take a different route when she was, as she says, “thrown into the first project, ‘Antarnaad’, which took me to the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi”.Formal training, she believes, helps artistes survive in cinema.
Larger-than-life films? Why not
Asked if working on offbeat cinema was a conscious choice, Pia says she’s open to taking up popular Bollywood projects as well. So, would she take up a Punjabi film? “Yes, if it is a good production house with a good script to substantiate the story. If these conditions are met, I am open to doing all kinds of regional cinema,” says the designer who holds Marathi cinema in high regard.
Fashion design vs costume design
From page 01 With a lot of young designers turning professional and the Indian fashion industry getting global, HT City asked Pia Benegal to distinguish between fashion designing and costume designing. These were her views:
A fashion designer follows a palette set for a year based on the international trend. A costume designer stylises keeping in mind the market, Indian or Asian etc.
Fashion designers have their focus on trends, while costume designers work on characters, be it a film, television series, documentary, or play.
Costume designers give the film its character or look. In the case of fashion designing, this is subjective, since many fashion designers are moving into characterisation.
Costume designers look at the film in its entirety, while fashion designers create the look of a particular star generally. For example, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla may design Aishwarya’s look for a film but not the film’s costumes necessarily.
Fashion designer’s work can be outsourced and copied by costume designers, but fashion designers have to be original all the time.