Did you have
any formal training in fashion design?
No formal training. I came into it just by accident.
I graduated in English Literature and also post-graduated
in the subject. There was an opportunity to get into
it and bang I just got into it.
Tell us about
your debut film Roja
I was young and I did not know the job. I just got
into it because they were friends and they asked me
to do it. I just felt that I had an eye for color
and detail and started this very casually. I did not
even realize it was a profession. I used to freelance
as a copywriter and then kind of did this as a great
experience. I didn’t think it would lead me
to where it has led me today.
How was it working
with director Mani Ratnam?
I have done 3 films with him and it was a great experience
specially to start off to green light my career. I
had absolutely no background so I had to learn everything
the hard way, which meant that the director and actors
had to be more patient with me. If I had to work backwards,
I think now, it’s impossible to come into this
profession with the skills I had. It needs more professionalism.
I learnt through trial and error. I somehow muddled
my way through.
What kind of
research do you do?
To call it research is giving too much weightage
to it. There are backgrounds we check when the character
is playing something other than what we normally see
in our lives. However, I have not sat down with magazines
or researched on the net. It’s not like researching
for say a period film that requires constant study.
How do you strike
the balance between fashion and character?
It’s a tightrope. It’s not like we always
do everything that’s fashionable. Sometimes
fashion does not lend itself to practicality. You
can work the ramp but if one has to dance for 3 days
in an outfit, you have to think differently yet bring
in the polish or style of fashion. It’s tough!
We have to figure out whether it will work in different
lights, rain or sun.
Do you find people
wear the designs you create onscreen?
I am fairly certain people are wearing things once
they see a film. A few years ago I went into a retail
store in Pondy Bazar and we were looking for saris
for something. I came across polyester saris called
Titanic saris. That was my first experience of how
these things filter down to common life. Nobody wore
a sari in the Titanic nor anything resembling this
sari but the name has caught on so quickly that they
think name alone is enough to sell. Sometime ago,
Chandramukhi saris were the rage. Everybody is still
wearing them. I don’t know if what I have done
has come into the market place but am positive it
How is your experience
working with director Gautham Menon?
I think Gautham has in recent years become one of
my favorite directors because of the freedom he gives
his technicians. Normally, we would discuss the script
and he would indicate what he had in mind and we would
do a trial and if it works he would let us handle
it. We would take the progression of the costumes
and the character to where it needs to go. What is
important is the trust he has in his technicians and
this translates to professional liberty you can take.
So you have greater responsibility which comes with
the freedom and so I work harder and want to do my
How was it working
for the period portion of VA?
It was not like a film form the 13th century. We
saw a lot of old films of that time. We experimented
a lot for Simran and it was more a gut feeling, more
of what people remembered. I still have the pictures
Gautham sent of his parents at that time, we followed
the glasses, the collar, and the kind of saris his
mother wore. It was more personal, everyone looked
at their personal album and wanted to figure who was
wearing what. We did not want it to be too cinematic
and it was fun.
How did you feel
about the response to VTV costumes?
I am very happy and thrilled. I have never had that
kind of response in the past 18 years of working in
the industry. The costume aspect became a talking
point. We started working based on how real people
look, what would a Syrian Christian girl in a conservative
family wear. What would Simbu’s character be
wearing? Middle class, not earning money living off
his father. What do we know of youngsters of that
age who are hanging around, would they repeat costumes?
For Trisha and Simbhu we decided to break what they
looked like in other films, we wanted a fresh new
look and a natural look. Would a girl earning 25000
a month dress in more stylish saris? Would she change
jewellery in every scene? Would she match her slippers
to her clothes? There was thought that went into it.
What looks casual on screen was not really casual
to work with, we went with the flow. After the first
rush, we knew we were on the right track, the cotton
saris were working, Simbhu looked fantastic, and I
was so surprised with his look! I had a great experience
then and even after the film was released, for the
first time in my career!
In a flashy industry,
how did you convince directors about a simple, elegant
I have done the sequins, beads things too. However,
I have been lucky with the fantastic directors and
artistes. Mani Ratnam, Dharani, Gautham. Palaniappan.
Rajeev Menon - people with their own sense of aesthetics
which has coincided with mine. Therefore the films
I have worked with them, I am very proud of. They
let me flow with what I thought was right, what I
thought worked for the character using natural fabrics,
using subtle colors, not going cinematic. Parallely,
I have also done films that required overdoing. I
have done flashy colors, sequined fabrics. The thing
is to find the balance between what your heart wants
and what you have to stay with. If you get a chance
to do 1 film per year that appeals to your aesthetics
you are lucky.
It was fun. Saran is somebody I really like personally,
a man with a very calm center as a director. I have
done some very nice projects for him like Jay Jay,
Gemini; these are all for me memorable experiences.
He is fine tuned to what will work on screen and has
an element of popularity, yet not compromising on
aesthetics. For instance, for Kiran’s character
we had bright colors and sequins but he allowed me
to do it aesthetically.
In Asal, he gave me very clear instructions on what
he was looking for in Bhavana’s and Sameera’s
characters. He told me the difference between the
two and wanted this to come out in their costumes,
body language, make-up, hair, in every way. If you
look closely you will notice that we split the color
palette between the two, this was the idea of the
director and Yugi Sethu. Sameera was to have come
from France and the costumes needed to speak that
language, we bought brands, we hit bull’s eye.
Have you had
clashes between 2 heroines in the same film?
When I have done 2 heroines films, it’s been
very peaceful. Big example should be Kandukondein
Kandukonden where I did both Aishwarya and Tabu and
then in Asal both Bhavana and Sameera. I have never
faced any problems; it really depends on the artistes.
If they are confident with themselves it does not
working with Suriya
Suriya is someone who works harder on the costumes
than I do! Normally he will do a lot of research;
he would have even tried out many different
ways of wearing a shirt. Normally, it’s
a combination of his defining his own character
and how we are defining it. For instance in
Ghajini, a lot of what he wore was what he worked
over, he thought he should wear some colors
and we got it okayed from the director. Usually
with his costumes it’s a lot of team work.
He would have thought about the character a
lot more than I would. We do listen to him whenever
we work with him.
Suriya is someone who works
harder on the costumes than I do
How is it working
I have done only one with her – Ayan. As far
as Ayan is concerned, it was the whole film I was
handling. Then everyone gets important, everyone has
to be looked after and catered to, Jagan, Prabhu...
You need that much more energy going. Some of the
looks we created for Tamannah were very cool. In many,
the direction was pointed by KV. Anand. The hippie
look we generated for Tamannah in a song made her
look very cute, The look throughout the film was that
of a middle class girl who would wear unusual combinations
– T-shirt and pavadai, formal shirt and wrap-around
skirt. Just an ordinary girl caught in an extraordinary
situation and we managed that.
costumes recently are quite similar. Any reason?
I don’t do all her films. In a sense, probably
a smell of duplication comes from the kind of films
you take up and characters you take up. If people
have seen her in a certain kind of a look, they say
that looks so good, why not we do something similar
to that. So what happens is we come upon a kind of
look that has worked for her and sometimes stay by
Vijay is ready to experiment, we
have tried new looks with him
is it working for Vijay’s costumes?
hardly talks but when he gets going he is great
fun. I have done 10 films with him. The first
film was Pokkiri and I was afraid all the time.
But it was Prabhu Deva’s show all the
way. Vijay is ready to experiment, we have tried
new looks with him in Pokkiri, Villu and Azhagiya
Tamizh Magan but we try them out little by little.
We won’t rush and create something totally
contrary to what he was doing earlier, somewhere
with the film; we have to keep to certain boundaries.
Little experiments like getting him to wear
wild shirts and different kinds of boots are
fine. To Vijay comfort also matters a lot, we
experiment only as long as the artiste is game.
But he can surprise you, suddenly be game and
in Pokkiri for instance he wore a full heavy
Kavacham in a song and he danced with it, we
were so surprised, it was cute. Or take the
nadaswaram costume in Villu.
are the best in your career?
With each director, I have one film that I feel strongly
about and it’s changed my life. Bombay changed
my life, it’s only after that I realized that
this was the career path for me and I started doing
outside productions for other people.
Kandukondein Kandukondein changed my life in a way
I did not realize. It’s special to me because
a cameraman who turned director can take your costumes
to a level you simply cannot imagine. I saw the strong
sense of aesthetics when Rajiv was directing the film,
so many ordinary things were made to look so beautiful
onscreen. It opened my eyes. Gilli with Dharani is
one of my favorite films and a challenge as the hero
and heroine are wearing the same clothes for half
the film. Nothing can look boring but the film was
taken that way. It was a fun team.
In Khakka Khakka, for the first time my costumes got
noticed because it was such a makeover for Jyothika
and Suriya. The contrast between what Jyotika had
worn earlier and what she looked like in this film
was obvious. I realized costumes could make that kind
of impact in a film. It brought me in touch with Gautham
as a director and we have stayed friends ever since.
On working for
VTV the kind of a film where you did not even realize
the strain of doing a film. It moved smoothly, no
How do you handle
last minute contingencies?
It happens day in and day out. We start a film thinking
that we are prepared but there are many unexpected
things that happen. Reshuffling of dates and cancellation
- suddenly a Canadian visa gets sanctioned and a song
sequence is to happen there. If you have to work in
the industry you have to be prepared to handle chaos,
last minute changes and think on your feet.
Any recent incident
On every film this happens. Even 5 days ago we had
a party sequence, we knew it was coming but not confirmed,
we scurried around and put it together. Every designer
are the best costumes you have done?
Manisha’s in Kannalaney, Aishwarya’s
white one in Kandukonden Kandukonden. In Khaaka
Khaaka we did a white sari with a red print
for Jyothika that’s not in the film but
that image stays in my head. Vijay’s costumes
- for the foreign songs in Pokkiri, we gave
him printed flowered shirts with blazers. We
felt it was something new and very young. For
the first time we tried giving Nayanthara long
gowns in Satyam, for the song in Turkey. We
did a turquoise blue shot against a completely
white background. I can’t forget that
image of her in the blue flowing gown. I had
fun designing Rajini’s Egyptian king costume
in Kuselan and watching both Rajini and Nayantara
performing in the Egyptian costumes.
I had fun designing Rajini’s
Egyptian king costume in
What are your current
We are finishing Kaavalan and one
schedule of Velayudam. We are doing some background
work for VTV Hindi and Nadunisi Naigal is almost coming
to an end.
What is your
I am still waiting for a director to call me for
a period film. Shobana and Harikesh without whom I
cannot take credit for my work are dying to do so
too. I am hoping before this time next year somebody
calls me for it, that’s my dream.