Last month, Mumbai-based designer Nachiket Barve took home the award for best costume design for the Marathi film Ani… Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar at Zee Chitra Gaurav Puraskar. However, it wasn’t the first time that the soft-spoken 38-year-old bagged accolades for his achievements in costuming. Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, another Marathi film, was the first to get Barve a Maharashtra State Award, back in 2016. And, while regional cinema has given Barve the chance to wield his skills in costuming, the designer is currently busy with his maiden Hindi cinema project, Tanhaji (the film was earlier called Taanaji: The Unsung Warrior), which stars actor Ajay Devgn, Kajol and Saif Ali Khan, set for a January 2020 release.
In 2007, Barve showcased his designs at Lakmé Fashion Week’s Gen Next category, bringing his eponymous label into public consciousness. Now, more than a decade down the line, the designer is a household name beyond the runway realm. Barve, who comes from a family of doctors, broke away from tradition to study at National Institute of Design (NID), where he also learnt the intricacies of costume designing. But, it was only after veteran actor Jaya Bachchan encouraged him to dress her for an advertisement for jewellery brand Tanishq that he got his maiden taste of costuming. Barve went on to style the actor alongside superstar Amitabh Bachchan for the ad in 2009, and for future TVCs with Kalyan Jewellers.
While the designer’s connect with cinema has always been strong–from Bollywood showstoppers and long-time friends in the industry to an Instagram page often studded with A-list company, his foray into feature films has not been star-oriented. Barve’s costuming career started with two critically acclaimed Marathi feature films, both challenging in terms of character and clothing.
Here, Barve speaks about balancing the business of prêt and protagonists.
The Fashion and Film Connect
Barve made his major costuming debut with Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, the Marathi film based on two warring musical families in the 1800s. One family, a Hindu gharana (a distinctive school of musicians belonging to a certain region/family) with a panditji (master) required a completely separate aesthetic as compared to the Muslim gharana at the royal court. These nuances made the film stand out. “At that point, the runway clothes that I had been doing were so remote as compared to the ethos of this project that I was flummoxed as to why the director would come to me. However, we tend to forget how cross pollinating fashion and film can be,” says Barve.
Next, the designer worked for Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar which released in 2018, a biopic of the sixties Marathi theatre and film star of the same name who died in 1986.
While fashion is an intrinsic part of all things costume, the distinction has to be made on the creation level. “Fashion is a triangulation between my ideation, the customer and the understanding of where the world is headed. Whereas costume design is about the script, the director’s vision, the kind of actor I am dressing and being authentic in terms of history. The idea is to take an actor and convince the audience that he is a character. For me, that’s the biggest high,” says Barve.
A self-confessed “purist”, an understanding of textiles and clothing history gives him an edge when it comes to authenticity. “Within the parameters of what would look great on screen, it is important to alleviate the eye of all those watching. Even for a jewellery ad, when we choose the right kind of textile that goes on a hoarding, which in turn is worn by an icon, it shapes public aesthetic.”
Sourcing and Ideation
Vintage clothing stores, second-hand dealers and skilled tailors–the requirement differs as per the subject. For instance, the Ghanekar biopic, set in the 1960s and the ’70s in Mumbai included sourcing from local markets, remanufacturing a particular kind of spectacles, and even creating a custom style of bras to emulate the slightly conical construction of the time. For Tanhaji, the film based on Tanaji Malusare, a 17th-century Maratha military leader, being era-appropriate is vital. The work has included reprising local weaves and finding a dyer skilled enough to match the exact shade card to creating footwear that resonates with the time yet is comfortable for the actors. “I like applying my grey cells in different ways and costume design is great for that,” says Barve.
While he doesn’t have to visit shoots on a daily basis, Barve’s work requires precision checks. From ensuring the draping is correct and the sari is pinned the right way to collaborating with the actor, cinematographer, director, hair and makeup department and even the choreographer “who might want a certain kind of fluidity and movement in the clothes” costuming is all-encompassing.
The Cinema Closet
For those wondering, costumes for films don’t typically end up in a Narnia-like wardrobe. A lot of them are re-purposed after the shoot is over, re-dyed or tailored again, going from being worn by a lead character to someone in a lesser pronounced role in another film. “But most of the times, the clothes get extensively used during a shoot, especially for action-heavy scenes,” Barve says.
And, the costume business runs on an interesting paradox — the costumes are specially curated, but their success is inherent in how “unnoticed” they are. “My job as a costume designer is to ensure that the costumes blend with the character seamlessly. I would never want the audience to say that a lehnga or sari was the highlight of a film,” he quips.