What It’s Like To Style Rajinikanth

National Award winner Niharika Bhasin Khan on designing the superstar's wardrobe for the Karthik Subbaraj film Petta
What It’s Like To Style Rajinikanth

Rajinikanth's snazzy wardrobe gets a shoutout in the recently released Petta trailer. "You look so young and stylish", a young woman tells him. "Stylish?" he replies, "naturally". His look was put together by National Award winner Niharika Bhasin Khan, known for her work on Band Baaja Baarat, The Dirty Picture, Bombay Velvet and Shivaay, which is what caught the attention of Petta director Karthik Subbaraj. A furtive narration and presentation later, she landed the gig. Khan spoke about what it's like to style the superstar – right from the secrecy shrouding the production to how much input Rajini gives on his costumes:

"When it's a Rajinikanth film, they're really really secretive. So I had to go down and get a narration of the script because I was like, "I'm not going to work without the script." A lot of the film is set in north India and they wanted one major look change that was time-relative – the film moves back and forth between the 90s and present day. They wanted to see designs related to those two periods. So when we did our presentation, they really liked it. Karthik Subbaraj wasn't very succinct in his brief, but he was clear about what he liked or didn't like while he was looking at it. That worked well for us. He's not an overtly talkative director. A lot of it was just him making me understand what he liked, which was interesting. We have a lot of referential material in India for the 90s, which we went through. I didn't want to do things I had done before. For me, the movie was like a brand new slate.

I wanted the portions set in the here and now to be more sophisticated and stylish so we've used darker colours. He wears lighter colours in the portions set in the 90s. I sourced the clothes from everywhere, all over India to create the look we wanted. I went to Bangkok and got some winterwear because I couldn't find the kind I wanted in India. I got some more from Delhi.

Anything Rajini does is already massy. I can do anything, it doesn't matter. At best, it just adds to it. I wasn't looking at it from a mass standpoint, I was just looking at creating something different and doing something unusual with him, making it interesting enough for people to want to watch the film. He's incredible. He's the most professional gentleman. His only inputs are about comfort – "If I'm doing this action scene, could I get something more comfortable, something lighter?" He would just come up to me and say, "Superb, Niharika! Superb!" So that was amazing. He was enthusiastic about the clothes."

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