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Designer Anju Modi on how she brought alive Leela onscren

Anju Modi has been the costume designer for Deepika Padukone in 'Ram-leela'.

Written by Kimi Dangor | Mumbai | Published: November 8, 2013 1:18:10 pm

Modi worked with ‘desi’ fabrics,which were sourced from all over the country — “khadi from Andhra Pradesh,bandhani and mashru silk from Gujarat and gauge cotton woven down South”

When Deepika Padukone twirled in a red and gold tiered ghaghra,while filming for the song Nagada sang dhol baaje,designer Anju Modi recalls how director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was thrilled with the skirt’s undulations. “Sanjay has a great eye for detail. He will notice every little thing about the costume and will do justice to how it is presented on screen,” says Modi,who takes her Bollywood plunge as costume designer for Bhansali’s long-awaited Ram-leela.

The designer,with over 20 years of experience in fashion design and working with traditional crafts and textiles,was surprised when she received a call from Bhansali over a year-and-a-half-ago,on the recommendation of actor Sonam Kapoor. “It was a dream come true for me because he is a film-maker with vision,someone who appreciates the role that costume designing plays in a film and gives emphasis to research,” says Modi.

Having been handed the responsibility of creating 30 outfits for Padukone’s character Leela,the designer set about doing “in-depth research,looking at reviving old techniques and arts and then giving it a contemporary twist,which is my signature touch,” says Modi. The film-maker’s brief was succinct. “Sanjay is a man of few words. He said,‘I want the heritage and craft to be kept alive and vibrant,but give it a fashionable tweak. Don’t restrain your creativity. If you feel like going over-the-top,do it. Only,maintain the characterisation’,” recalls Modi.

Armed with a scene-wise break-up of Leela’s appearances,the designer set about creating a look for the protagonist,a modern-day Gujarati girl who lives in a port town. “She’s a firebrand non-conformist with a vivacious character and a rebellious streak. The design quotient had to be there. She couldn’t be just another gaon ki gori,” she says. Modi created a unique take on the lehenga for Leela,a ghaghra with three different layers of fabrics and borders,but in a leaner skirt-like silhouette. The dupatta was folded into a thin strap and artfully tucked into the ghaghra,taking advantage of the leading lady’s physique. “It isn’t easy,creating a sexy garment out of ‘khaddar’ cotton,but Deepika’s looks and her persona were definitely a plus point. I was lucky to have dressed two women with the best bodies in the industry — Deepika and Priyanka Chopra,who has a special song in this film,” says Modi.

Modi worked with “desi” fabrics,which were sourced from all over the country — “khadi from Andhra Pradesh,bandhani and mashru silk from Gujarat and gauge cotton woven down South”. Prints were sourced or specifically created for the film. Methods such as vark (gold foil) printing,metal embroidery,mirror-work and Kutchi embroidery were employed. Modi also made various trips to Bhuj to source antique lehengas,borders and embroidered pieces from the locals. The designer was often accompanied by Bhansali on her sourcing trips,such was the film-maker’s interest in the costume design process.

“In fact,Deepika also took a keen interest in Leela’s appearance. When we presented her with both,modern and traditional options for footwear,she insisted on wearing jootis that were true to the character,” says Modi.

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