Costume Designers On How To Get Small Town Fashion Right In Films, Film Companion

About three films old in Bollywood, Kriti Sanon has so far played the mainstream Hindi film heroine to its glamorous best. Added to that, her red carpet outings in floor-sweeping gowns and on-trend ‘airport looks’ have made sure the Delhi girl is on the radar as an upcoming fashionista of Bollywood. So when stylist Kirti Kolwankar had to plan her look as a middle class girl from UP for Bareilly Ki Barfi, her biggest hurdle was that everything looked “too good on her”. 


“We had to work really hard to tone it down. Her body language, the way she talks, her make up and hair, we de-glammed every possible thing. We shopped at local stores and even her shoes are from Bata,” says Kolwankar. A Mumbai girl herself, Kolwankar had to go through various stages non-urbanising Sanon’s looks before she finally hit the right note. “I had to change my own mindset too. I went to Bareilly and Lucknow, met many people to understand the UP space and did a lot of research. The kurtas and jeans a city girl will wear are very different, so we had to discard those ideas. Kriti’s kurtas in the film are not like fashionable tunics and they are worn with unbranded jeans,” adds Kolwankar.

It takes a village 

Costume Designers On How To Get Small Town Fashion Right In Films, Film Companion

For every love story unfolding on foreign shores, there is a film based in the small town heart of India that is being made. If you watched Toilet: Ek Prem Katha last weekend, you know you cracked a smile at Akshay Kumar’s T-shirts. Proudly sporting UIMA and NAIK logos on his chest, Kumar is playing a brand loving cycle shop owner in a village near Mathura. The essence of the location has been recreated beautifully by the filmmaker, keeping it as close to reality as possible. This includes making sure the lead actors look the part. “Shree (the director) and I have actually met men in Mathura who wear these kind of T-shirts,” says Darshan Jalan, stylist of the film. 


Bhumi Pednekar’s character on the other hand goes from a young college girl to a newly married woman in the film. Her look had to be more layered, representative of a young, educated woman living in the interiors of India. In her parent’s home it is cotton kurtas and jeans, and after marriage printed polyester saris and cardigans with the pallu drawn up to her head. 

For Jalan, styling for this film was as simple as going back home. Born and raised in Ranchi, he has a deep insight into small town life. “This is what my bhabhis and chachis wear, saris in printed georgette and printed polyester that looks like georgette,” says Jalan, who has also worked on movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015). “I only get offers for films that require real styling. When I worked on Dhobi Ghat (2010), Prateik Babbar’s look was exactly how my own dhobi dressed.”

Small town aspirations

Costume Designers On How To Get Small Town Fashion Right In Films, Film Companion

For Bareilly Ki Barfi, director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s brief to Kolwankar was to create a look as close to reality as possible. If these movies are anything to go by, kurta and jeans seems to be the small town uniform for girls. Sanon plays a bit of a tomboy in the film so sweatshirts and vests have been layered on to her kurta, and the jeans are folded from the bottom. “The hands in the pocket allows her to have a different kind of body language,” says Kolwankar. 

But it was Tiwari’s own inputs that added a hint of the aspirational. Fashion obsessed herself, she owns a collection 60-70 handloom saris and counts designer Paromita Banerjee as a close friend. In fact, in her 2016 release Nil Battey Sannata, Ratna Pathak Shah as Dr. Diwan wore Tiwari’s saris on screen. For Swara Bhaskar’s character she went to Agra to buy saris. They cost Rs. 50, but the cutwork blouses Tiwari added to it gave her look a unique touch.


“I want to stay true to the character, but I have to be aspirational in the milieu, and the clothes have to look nice,” she says. A big supporter of Indian handloom, for Sanon she sourced different types of fabrics – tie and dye, block prints, ikat, ajrakh – from Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of India. “It was important for me to not go to a readymade shop and pick up clothes from there. We even dyed the fabrics on our own and made sure it was vegetable dyeing.”

For Tiwari her love for fashion and handloom means she wants to help the sector in any way she can, whether it is her work with an NGO or bringing it to the big screen. “As a creative person it is important to me to be able to bring new kinds of art and style into cinema. But everything has to come together, no one thing can stand out. It has to be style plus substance in my films.” 


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