Brunch Date with costume designer Niharika Khan Bhasin
1. You didn't start out wanting to be a costume designer…
It was a fluke. I did a masters in public relations and HR from Seattle in the US. I began working in a corporate set-up, but hated it. I quit to take classes in jewellery design, and started working in a store. I even worked as the design head of Tanishq in Bangalore and launched my store called Purple Porcupine [which burnt down]. Then one day, a friend asked me, 'I am doing a film with Sudhir Mishra, can you do the costumes for it?' I had no experience in costume design, so I was like, 'Why don't you call bhaiya? [Her brother Arjun Bhasin did the costume design for Dil Chahta Hai and Life Of Pi]. But hiring me cost was cheaper for the producer. So I got my start.
2. With no degree, prior experience or contacts, how did you manage?
I had my brother on a speed dial. (Laughs). My inexperience, a negative, proved highly beneficial for me. I was an outsider, I had a different perspective. I am half-Punjabi, that's where my love for colours comes from, the half-Parsi side is responsible for me being meticulous, my education in America makes me extremely good with researching my character and look. So I pass!
3. But you must have gotten stuck…
Yes, I did. Rock On! was a tough project. At least, for Khoya Khoya Chand, which was a period drama, I had visual clues, photographs etc of that era. And since Rock On! was contemporary, I had nothing. I had to create characters' looks from scratch. There wasn't anything out there that I could follow. A fashion designer creates trends with his/her vision and sense of style, but a costume designer creates characters.
But sometimes costumes also become trendy. Bollywood has that kind of huge impact. I walked into this shop that was selling The Dirty Picture sarees, and I wanted to shout and say, "I created those".4. You won the National Award for The Dirty Picture…
But in a lot of ways, Delhi Belly was a much tougher film. In the Dirty Picture, I had to make Vidya look sexy, but in Delhi Belly, I had to create the characters' looks myself. The movie was based on three days, so there had to be a certain continuity. But we weren't shooting scenes in a sequence. This meant the actors would wear a certain shirt now, a different tomorrow, and the third day, they would have to wear the one they were wearing on the first day. So, I got 15 pieces of the same shirt stitched, because no store had 15 pieces of the same shirt. Poor Imran Khan had to wear dirty clothes, because I wasn't supposed to wash them. Imagine Delhi heat, and then imagine the smell.
5. It is tough work…
It is. But I enjoy it. The moment I stop enjoying, I will leave it. I am adventurous and I will try everything once. I will jump in and get my feet wet. That way I am very different from my brother, Arjun, who likes to stay in his comfort zone. I enjoy challenges. So I got in this business, got my feet wet, and realized I am loving it. It's a high knowing what you created will reach millions, who will then give you a direct feedback. Unlike, a corporate job, where how you are performing you will only know through your superior. And yes, apart from the main actors' clothes, I also am responsible for the clothes for the thousands in the audience in Rock On!, and thousand in a few scenes in Kai Po Che.
6. Kai Po Che got a tremendous response. This was the second time you were working with director Abhishek Kapoor.
Yes. Rock On! was great fun. I am very comfortable with Gattu. I understand what he wants and he gets me. A film is like a marriage. Once you get in, you have to make it work. There is just no other way. Kai Po Che was a difficult film. I had to walk the thin line between keeping the look true to the character and yet make it commercial. Also, we were shooting in the 50 degree heat in Gujarat. The detailing was so minute; I could not give Omi (Amit Sadh) shoes because his father was a pujari, and every time he would visit him in the temple he would have to open his shoes. So, even though, he's running a sports shop, he wears chappals. Govind's shirts were fit (someone pointed out that they were too tight), but Govind is a baniya. He probably wear his father's old pants, and uses every inch of cloth to get shirts stitched, to save money. Also, there would be no stylish tailors there to tell him what are the trendy silhouettes. This is the kind of detailing and thought that goes into making the costumes for a film.
7. Your clothes in Band Baaja Baraat were copied by tailors for weddings…
(Laugh) Yes. I had not seen a Punjabi Delhi shaadi. Ranveer Singh and I gate crashed weddings in Delhi as part of our research. We would also gate-crashed college lectures. We would sit in lectures. I noticed that wedding clothes were different in different weddings. The middle class wore more bling, and as the weddings got richer, the clothes were more sophisticated, less colour, and less embroidery. I danced in baraats. It was great fun.
8. So work is fun
Work is great fun. What I don't like about this profession is the temporariness of it all. While a film shoot is on, everyone's spending every waking hour together, and if you are lucky, and get along with the cast, you have a great time, but once the shot gets over, nobody has the time to be in touch. That's when I miss my friends. And I am not a superficial person. I believe in my relationships. And I am a professional. I don't become friends with everyone I work with, and that's when people think I am a snob. I like giving opinions. Now someone like Gattu often listens, sometimes ignores, and sometimes tells me to shut the f**k off and says, 'You sit in the corner, it's my film'. But with other directors, with whom I don't share that kind of a comfortable rapport, I have to keep mum. And I don't enjoy that.
9. Next projects…
Rensil D'ilva's Unglee, Danis Tanovic's international project, starring Emraan Hashmi, called White Lies and Bombay Velvet. I take five/ten days off from locations while filming. That's an understanding I have with the filmmakers. I have two kids, and am a single parent (Niharika was married to actor Ayub Khan), so I have to keep coming back to Mumbai.
10. You were linked to Kai Po Che's Amit Sadh…
You think I would go for someone so much younger than me? Amit is a great friend. and he's helped me lose 25 kgs in one year with the diet plan he gave me. He's a fitness freak and a nutritionist. Though I was always in cross fit and gymming, but it is now I have lost weight.
Films she did costumes for...
Karthik Calling Karthik
Kai Po Che
Band Baaja Baraat
The Dirty Picture
Khoya Khoya Chand
From HT Brunch, April 7
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