Costume has a pivotal role to play especially since there is a lot of information about the film in the way the characters are dressed — the period the film is set in, the profession of the character, the financial status of the character and much more.
An often overlooked aspect in films, still an inextricable part of it, costume designer Smriti Chauhan (Monsoon Shootout, Tumbbad, Delhi Crime) claims, “In a simple film where everybody thinks that costume has not played an important role, it has actually played a significant role for the fact that one believes this. You have to admit that you believed in a certain film or a character because he/she was made to look like that in the first place.”
“I feel that costume department is not given recognition until and unless it is a period film. For instance, in a simple film, a man sitting inside a paan shop in a locality is looking like one to you because he/she has been made to look like that. You don’t know whether he/she is an actual shopkeeper or an actor. I don’t feel that till today, until it is a period film, the costume department is given enough recognition and thought. Costume designers don’t just buy clothes, there is a lot more to it.”
Smriti has designed the costume for Tumbbad, along with Sachin Lovalekar, and she discusses the thought, research and efforts that went into making the period-horror film come alive on screen, costume-wise. “We had a point of reference for the film (refers to a storyboard made by director Rahi Anil Barve) and the brief that we were given was that everything had to be realistic. The period that we covered in Tumbbad was from 1918-1948. There was research done to the extent of what kind of fabric was available during the time, when did they actually arrive here and whether we could use them in the film or not.”
“Everything we used in the film, from a small bag to the costumes were cross-referenced, was insanely well-researched and re-confirmed. The costumes used in the film had to be distressed and aged to match the period and that adds to the believability and realism of the look and feel of the film.”
In films, the costume designer embodies the vision of the director and delivers it through the artist, who wears the outfit in turn. When asked about how a designer does a balancing act between the actor’s comfort and director’s idea of the scene, Smriti says, “During the shoot of Tummbad, Soham Shah was supposed to be in very tricky scenes. We used to tie ropes made of jute on his hands and feet for action sequences, but he never once complained. I remember shooting the kotha sequences during the height of heat in a set in Mumbai. The actors had layers of clothes on their body and they used to be really dying in the outfits. But thankfully they all accommodated, even beyond my imagination at times.”
On the flip side, Smriti says, “Costumes are the easiest to pick on by an artist. If someone has a even a little bit of a concern, they can come out and say that the costumes are not fine. Now changes take time. The fit of a costume can delay an entire shoot. The details has to be to the T. A half an inch here and there can lead up to an hour of delay of shoot time which costs up to approximately Rs 2 lakhs to the producer.”
Smriti and Sachin are in the running for the Best Costume Design trophy for their work in Tumbbad at the Reel Movie Awards 2019, where they are pitted against the likes of Karishma Sharma (Pataakha), Sheetal Sharma (Manto), Shahid Amir (Love Sonia) and Prashant Sawant (Manmarziyaan). About being nominated, she says, “I feel awesome. I hope to do better work in the future and there is much more to learn and imbibe.”
Smriti admits that there were references, in the form of images and YouTube videos, that were taken for the film (Tumbbad) from the internet and that it came in handy at times. Even though the web is a good source, she insists that upcoming filmmakers do their research on-field, which, she says, helps in designing and understanding characters better.
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