The journey of Highway was very organic. Since I have worked with Imtiaz (Ali, the director) before, on Rockstar, I was more than excited to be back on another project with him. Imtiaz is one of the best sounding boards and we trust each other’s instincts. Highway is a film based on the extraordinary journey of a girl, Meera Tripathi, played by Alia Bhatt, and it travels through six states, and naturally the look too had to reflect the elements of each state. To get it right, I travelled with the crew for three months.
The films’s shooting was a linear process, and we went to one state at a time, layering the characters with the flavour of each region. From Alia to Randeep Hooda to the odd truck drivers, dhabha boys, other characters in the film and passersby, I designed everyone’s look. And this ‘costume screenplay’ started right with the narration of the film. The brief was clear — we had to keep it as real as possible, and tweak the look with the changing landscape, which travelled through Delhi, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.
The look is also reflective of the story, it moves and unfolds with every milestone in the film. It’s been one of the most interesting and creatively satisfying projects for me because it took me to the interiors of India. We visited the second hand markets of Raja Garden in Delhi, which open only between 5 am and 7 am, the homes of Gujjars to capture the personality and appearance for Randeep Hooda’s character, to the villages of Punjab where we picked handmade phulkari fabric. We even picked hand-knitted mittens from an elderly lady in a remote village of Himachal Pradesh, and we have also showed the beautiful bakarwal jewellery of Himachal and Srinagar. Dressing Alia was most important because she is playing a city girl, who is exposed to a certain kind of lifestyle, and gets abducted in the film.
How she finds freedom is what her journey is about. Naturally, the look too had to strip all brands and become liberating en route. So her accessories, clothes and body language had to be de-glamourised. This meant borrowing ill-fitting clothes for her look. We found ourselves in quaint hill station markets, indulging in street shopping, even rummaging through wardrobes of people’s houses for second-hand stuff, making Alia wear this vintage hairpin from Srinagar, wrap a muffler as a turban, slip on over-sized shoes, and carry an antique phulkari shawl from Ferozepur.
The idea is to deconstruct and bring alive the director’s vision and customise it accordingly. I did the same in Barfi, Dostana, Don, Bunty Aur Babli and Rockstar. Such experiences have to be out-of-the-box and one has to be open to everything.
By Aki Narula