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Costume Designer Sheetal Sharma Decodes Shah Rukh Khan’s Look In Raees

by Simi Kuriakose

Every Friday release comes up with its own share of expectations, box office ratings, and critical reviews. But here at MFG, what we are most concerned about is not how a script makes or breaks a movie or how the actors perform, but every sartorial detail of the film. Be it the costumes, styling, and makeup of the characters involved in the movie or a star’s off-duty ensembles on promotional gigs, we spot, review, and even get in touch with the people behind-the-scenes who help build an actor’s style file both on and off screen. 

Costume Designer Sheetal Sharma Decodes Shah Rukh Khan's Look In Raees

Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) fan or not, the one film that has got us wanting for more right from the time the actor announced the film through its teaser is Raees. Amidst the many reasons why Raees is touted as one of the next big releases, watching SRK in a never-seen-before avatar is only adding to the anticipation. No urban vibe or suave looks of the good old romantic hero; instead what we see is SRK as a shrewd bootlegger from Gujarat, looking unconventional yet authentic donning a pathani, glasses, surma et al.
The styling of SRK in Raees is not just experimental and unconventional for the actor himself, but draws zero resemblance to any protagonist we’ve ever seen in Indian cinema. This only helps add to both the authenticity and newness of the character and the film. Costume designer Sheetal Sharma has designed the looks of SRK as well as the characters of Raees — a task not easy, given it is a realistic film based in the 80s. We got in touch with Sheetal to discuss the look and feel of SRK’s character as well as on designing costumes for the film. Excerpts from an interview. 

1. There’s a significant use of 80s fashion given the timeline of Raees. Give us a view on the looks of the film, keeping in mind that era?

The director of Raees, Rahul Dholakia, wanted the film to be an organic and comprehensive one. Thus, while we had to make it look like it was set in the 80s, it also had to be realistic enough to belong to a small town of Gujarat. So, we started our research with old photographs of friends and their families from Gujarat from the late 70s and 80s. We scanned and zoomed these snaps to pull out elements that could become a part of our characters and costumes. The film is not about only the flamboyant 80s. In fact, the research helped us discover more casual details like boot cuts, collar patterns, peculiar pocket styles, embroidery details on kurtas, dupattas and shirt fabrics, with everything kept as simple as possible. I have used fabrics like gabardine, corduroy, cotton and mulmul with small and subtle prints and tried avoiding polka dots as well as bold prints or patterns.  It’s the simplicity of patterns and the intricacy of details that bring out the character well.

Raees Shahrukh Khan Film 2017

2. Assuming that interpreting a character in a particular period is more difficult than showing them in a present timeframe, what do you keep in mind so the looks are more relatable to the audience?

I try to keep the costumes more subdued and accentuate the characters by adding some personal traits. It helps to blend them well to the surroundings. For example, Raees, being based in Gujarat, had to have an add-on of colours to maintain the authenticity, I stuck to muted pastels like amber and rust instead of brown, and shades of blue and tones of green that would complement the old architecture of Gujarat. We scanned through every old street, flea market, old mill of Ahmedabad and Baroda to source fabrics that could look vintage and pass off as if it belonged to the 80s.
For a period drama, every character needs to be designed from scratch. A lot of safas (turbans), scarfs and handkerchiefs have been used to bring in a small-town feel. Kurtas and pathanis speak well of the mohalla shown in the film. Also, state-owned Khadi Gram Udyog is a good place to incline the film to a particular state, so a lot of our fabrics are sourced from there too.

3. Gangster films have always been a rage in India. Were there any past films you particularly took reference from?

Rahul is a realistic filmmaker, so we avoided referencing from films of the 70s and 80s. Like I mentioned before, to get the details correct we largely restricted ourselves to old photographs of that era.

4. What was your research methodology when designing Shah Rukh Khan’s (SRK) looks? Everything from the pathani to the eye makeup, etc… was there a particular inspiration behind it?

We wanted SRK to look menacing, something he has never looked before. While panning through real-life crowd pictures of the 80s, we came across one such image of a man wearing surma in his eyes. We all have seen people sporting kajal or surma, it’s something very common but it’s never been tried on Shah Rukh. And yes, I was a bit skeptical about the surma because the character was already wearing specs and SRK is known to express and act with his eyes, but he was very excited about it and it worked wonderfully for the character.
I still remember, on the day of the look test when SRK walked out of the vanity wearing the black pathani with surma and specs, as well as the black leather sandals, everyone stopped and turned to look at him. Pathanis add immense masculinity to the look. In fact, we noticed that the women in the crew were completely flattered with the demeanour he put up on the set.

Raees Shahrukh Khan_2017 Film

5. Those glasses SRK has sported in the film, we hear they’re sourced from Chor Bazaar… Tell us more.

When I first read the script, glasses were a part of the character. The protagonist of Raees (SRK) progresses with time in the film and it was crucial to convey the same with his looks. So the glasses played an important part of his personality. The Bakelite specs that SRK is sporting are very early-80s; we picked it up in a disheveled condition from Chor Bazaar. I was slightly skeptical to even suggest these frames and had kept some more options bought from local shops in Bandra. But to our surprise, SRK chose these himself.  
His look post the interval is more mature and you will see him in metal frames in colours of steel silver and gold rims (customised to suit the era).

6. How much did you have to experiment with in this film given there’s a transformation in SRK’s character?

Raees has three phases in the film. The character progresses from a young and ambitious small town boy to a shrewd businessman and eventually gains a lot of popularity in the political scenario.  This itself offered a lot of experimentation.
In the first phase of the film, you will see him in pastel shades like mint green, ochre, rust and powder blues. In the second phase, we added some detailing to his silk shirts by means of embroidery to collars, yokes, and pockets. We also kept him in subtle pathanis. In the third phase, we gave him deep colour pathanis like burgundy, olive green, midnight blue, charcoal grey, and navy blues with embroidery details around the button plackets, pockets and the back yoke of kurtas.
All these colour progressions were thought over and decided to keep in mind the aesthetics of art direction and the DOP’s (Director of Photography) vision in the loop. On a daily basis, we were dressing about 250-400 people who were made to look authentic in those narrow bylanes of bazaars and mohallas. Occasions like Muharram and other festivals, where crowds of up to 1200 people had to be dressed for a single shot, were more challenging. A lot of co-ordination with art and camera goes into creating appropriate visual impact. We did not want the costumes to overpower the surrounding; everything had to blend in well. This is why a lot of our colour inspiration came from old architecture and the mohallas of Ahmedabad.

Mahira Khan Raees Film_2017

7. How about Mahira Khan’s looks; tell us a little about styling her.

Mahira is a fresh charm in the film and yet she is Raees’s greatest strength and support. Though she is the leading lady of the film, debuting in Bollywood with Raees, we wanted her to be subtle and not glitzy. We have dressed her keeping in mind the old school charm, adding details like beautifully hand-embroidered necklines and puff sleeves. Her kameez styles are more 80s with mixed and matched salwar and ombre dupattas. We wanted her to be the girl next door, very organic in essence. We have used a lot of handwoven fabrics like mulmul with subtle floral prints, soft and flowy cottons with small chikankari motifs and hakoba salwars. To add to the old-school charm, she wears matching bangles and keeps her head covered with a dupatta. Her jewellery is mainly pearl drop earrings and small jhumkis that enhance the character without losing elegance. Even her wedding outfit is a traditional gharara with zardozi work and a lot of net to add both playfulness and elegance. Her jewellery designs were inspired from Nizam-style jewellery, with pearl, emeralds and gold.
In the song Zaalima, choreographers wanted a lot of flow and romance. With references from Mughal paintings, we tried using intricate fabrics with lot of translucence. To add to the glamour, we kept the jewellery minimal… earrings like traditional chandbaali and jhumkas still kept it romantic. Mahira has a beautiful face and we wanted her hairdo as simple as possible, so we have given her classic open waves, traditional braids, and loose buns.

SRK on Raees_2017_Sheetal Sharma

8. Were there any particular designers you sourced from for both SRK and Mahira?

Everything in the film, right from the main leads to the secondary characters and crowds is all made from scratch to add to the authenticity. Fabrics, of course, are sourced from old bazaars of Ahmedabad from where we picked up a lot of old saris, silks, and organic handloom fabrics.

9. Tell us about movies that you find inspirational in terms of costume designing and styling?

My inspirations actually are generally derived out of realistic characters and people around. I am a keen observer and I always try to notice such figures in public and crowds. There is so much around us, and I always try to be prepared to sketch down some interesting details and references. 
With reference to films, I love to watch a lot of world cinema for inspiration. I also love the simplicity and cuteness of Iranian films.
However, In the Mood for Love (2000) by Wong Kar-Wai is one my favourites. Every shot of the film is like a painting that beautifully captures ordinary moments. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is another interesting film, with strange yet captivating costumes that create the drama the film requires. Then, I also love the bizarreness of Tim Burton’s films and costumes. Everything seems magical and yet is possible.

Sheetal Sharma Costume Designer Raees

10. Can you tell us a little about your past projects? Also, are any fashion moments that you recollect from the films you’ve designed for before?

Miss Lovely (2012) was my first film; fortunately a period drama based in 80s. It was a great experience to understand the nitty-gritty of filmmaking along with my knowledge of fashion and fashion history and aesthetics. I went on to work on D-Day (2013) after that, which had a realistic setting too, and it was a great experience working with Nikhil Advani. Then followed Love You To Death (2012), Bobby Jasoos (2014), Hero (2015), Katti Batti (2015). Katti Batti was actually a lot of fun; both Kangana and Imran were super fun to work with. We all know Kangana has a great sense of style, so to work with someone who is always ready to experiment is amazing and probably that’s why we could crack her bohemian looks with a little bit of quirk and a lot of ease. And finally, I worked on Airlift (2016), which was again a period drama in a realistic space. It was great to work with Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur; creating a war zone with the backdrop of the early 90s was amazing to research on and execute. 

11. Tell us about your projects that are in the pipeline; film or others.

I am currently working on Lucknow Central with Farhan Akhtar and Diana Penty. It is a realistic film based on music and characters set within the jail. Apart from that, some more period dramas are in the pipeline, which I may be able to reveal only in coming months.

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