In a white kurta and Gandhi cap looking gaunt, his arm casually flung around the back of his chair we got the first glimpse of Arjun Rampal as Arun Gawli in Daddy. And his transformation in the soon to be released film is nothing short of stunning. “If Arjun didn't look and feel like Gawli, I wouldn't have done the film,” says Ashim Ahluwalia, director of Daddy who took one of India’s best-known male supermodels and transformed him into a Maharashtrian everyman-turned-gangster-turned-politician from Mumbai’s Dagdi chawl. And the process wasn’t a simple one. Ahluwalia, or as Rampal calls him – a reluctant Bollywood filmmaker – left no stone unturned in researching the life and times of the protagonist and then recreated everything onscreen in painstaking detail.
The styling of the characters was an important part of this process. You can’t take the model good looks out of Rampal but the darkened skin, the hairstyle, the prosthetic nose and the clothes bring him pretty close to the real guy.
It is merely a co-incidence that Haseena Parkar, which also releases this month, is about Gawli’s BRA gang’s arch rival Dawood’s sister’s rise as a crime lord in Mumbai. Both movies trace the characters’ lives from the 70s to the noughties. Shraddha Kapoor’s turn as the mafia queen with the full figure, grim expression, kohl lined eyes, oiled middle parted hair and synthetic salwar suits take you back to images of Haseena Parkar that you have seen in the media.
The research required is so intense, the stylist for Haseena Parkar, Eka Lakhani, came on the project even before Kapoor. “We met Haseena aapa’s daughter and she told us everything about what she liked to wear,” says Lakhani. In fact the family lent her the original D&G glasses that Parkar wore. “Her nose pin had 11 diamonds and we got the exact style made. When she was in the chawl, she had to cover her head and was told that it would be nailed to her head if she was ever found without it. A person’s character and personality comes from what they are doing in their day to day life. With these references, the actor doesn’t look over styled, but looks like the character,” adds Lakhani.
The process of styling for a period film is harder, says Ahluwalia. Their research came from police photographs and family albums. “I loved the saris Asha Gawli used to wear in the late 1970s and early 1980s with these cool geometric prints, but unfortunately you just can't find that stuff.” A lot of prints and fabrics aren't available today, so they decided to manufacture the fabrics themselves.
Cut From The Same Cloth
To age Kapoor from a girl of 17 going through marriage, motherhood and finally becoming ‘Haseena aapa’ at around 50, Lakhani used full body padding and gel fillers in her mouth. “We went to shops near the station and on the roadside to style her look when she was younger and had no money. After marriage she starts dressing up so we added embroidery, more colours such as pinks and reds, and jewellery. Later when she became aapa, she starts wearing darker colours because that signifies power,” says Lakhani. Parkar liked to shop at Sheetal Design Studio in Mumbai, so Lakhani dug up the store’s design book from 10-15 years ago for references. They also found the same dark burgundy shade of lipstick that Parkar would wear.
As part of his brief to stylists Nidhi and Divya Gambhir, Ahluwalia told them that the film requires multiple flashbacks and it would be the costumes, not a date on screen, which would help the audience identify the decade. It was only after his first jail arrest when Gawli started wearing his signature white kurta and topi. “We have a colour palette for each decade. The 70s have more earthy tones in fabrics like cotton and khadi. Colours such as turquoise only came in 80s, ombre came about in 1984-85 so we kept those details in mind,” says Nidhi. Since the film wasn’t shot in sequence, all this detail, alongside changing Rampal’s prosthetics and make-up to show age made it very difficult to film to make. “We had to keep track of how old everyone looked, and what their styling was during that particular phase of their life. It was a massive logistical exercise,” says Ahluwalia.
Styling a period film is always tricky, but the one thing that she stylists on both films were clear about was they didn’t want use the usual Bollywood cliches of big collars and wide bell bottoms to present a period film. Rampal wore grimy, old clothes that were bought on the street in Mahim. As Ahluwalia, who likes to stay away from the usual Bollywood tropes, puts it, “The biggest problem with Bollywood period films seems to be a total disregard for history. People just wear anything, it doesn't matter if it was around then or not, and that's quite filmi.”