After the success of Goliyon Ki Rasleela-Ram Leela, the first film that Anju Modi costumed for last year and won a slew of awards in the costume category, she finds herself in the news again. Modi has bagged Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s dream project, Bajirao Mastani; its production budget is approximately Rs 150 crore.
The film is a love story between a married Bajirao, the son of the king of Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and his passion for Mastani, a courtesan. The three main roles have just been announced. Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone play the lovers while Priyanka Chopra will play Bajirao’s wife, Kashibai. Bajirao’s mother, Radhama, a pivotal character, remains to be cast.
Modi’s preparation began even before she had signed on. She had visited the Daulatabad fort and museums. “I wanted to explore Maharashtrian culture. We have all done the South, Benares, and Calcutta,” she says, “But there was nothing on the Marathas. Theirs is a very different philosophy. It’s all about power play. Their turbans and the navvari saris are all very aristocratic, not fragile.”
Of course, Modi’s Bajirao wears the angrakhas we see in photographs of Maratha warriors. But this is a story of his personal life, “so what he wears to bed concerns me more. We had to imagine how he is at home”, she says. The pride of the wife Kashibai is expressed through her clothing — the nath, the flower motifs in the hair, the tautness of the hips via the nine-yard sari. For Mastani, the half-Muslim: “She has a Lucknowi wardrobe, shararas, kurtis, angrakhis and farshis with a lot of flares and dupattas. The Mughal influence on Indian states and their attire had well begun by this time, in the 16th century,” says Modi.
She has tied up with the state government to develop a fabric that is a marriage of tussar and cotton. “Bhansali hates silk, he wouldn’t let me use it. So we needed something that would look rich and still have a softness to drape it,” says Modi. Jewellery also required research. “There was a lot of gold and pearls here too. They had the todi, a beautiful anklet, a traditional necklace called the tanmani and some truly magical motifs like the moon and the sun in their bun hairstyles. Even the men wore earrings around the lobe,” says Modi.
Sitting at Mumbai’s Palladium Hotel, Modi has had a tiring week. The 50-something just finished a very well-received fashion show here at Lakme Fashion Week, where she was showing after 12 years. If there’s anything that’s making the right kind of noise in fashion’s most hoity echelons, it’s the swishing of an Anju Modi lehenga. The same ones worn by Padukone in Ram Leela last year. The ghagra she wore for the film poster weighed 30 kg, had a ghera of 50m and took under two months to make, thanks to its silk border and silver printing.
“Ghagras are in my DNA. I am from Rajasthan and we understand the comfort of a lehenga more than a sari. A lehenga allows you to run. It shows off your waistline. It comes naturally to me, and however I can make it twirl is part of my natural flow,” says Modi, of what is coming to be recognised as her specialty. With Mastani’s flying shararas and farshis, Modi promises to recreate the same magic.