Blouses that hide bruises. A flowing skirt that blends with the wilderness. Shirts and sweaters whose fit and colours keep pace with a character's evolution: In Anjali Menon's Koode, clothes are narrative tools that reveal a lot about the people who wear them and the world that surrounds them.
The film's Costume Designer Pampa Biswas says there was one mantra that she adhered to while designing the look of the actors: "Nothing should stand out."
"The best thing about Anjali is that she starts discussing her characters much before the script comes into your hands. She gave me a brief that stuck in my head: Nothing should stand out. As a costume designer, you think about characters as people. There are certain things an extremely reticent character like Joshua (played by Prithviraj in Koode) wouldn't do or wear. You start building on that. Each character is given a certain look, certain colours. The characters' graph and journey are very important.”
The challenge with Prithviraj was his “star body”. “The challenge was to make him look convincing in the role of a very vulnerable common man. It took some doing. But he is extremely accommodating. He is ready to try on new things and doesn't argue with your decisions. The process of dressing up such an actor becomes easier," says Pampa.
The costume call for Nazriya, though, was tougher because she had one signature outfit. "There were many options I had thrown at Anjali, but we had to make sure the audience wouldn't get tired of the look. We wanted this pan-India look because Koode is a film for everyone. Just ahead of the shoot, I had gone to Bangalore on a shopping trip. I spotted this outfit and I knew it was bang on... I wanted something that would not grate after a while. Something that would merge in beautifully and yet wouldn't be boring."
Pampa, a graduate of the J D Institute of Fashion Technology, got into Costume designing after working in the Corporate sector for 19 years. She found herself at the crossroads after she quit her job when asked to take a pay cut. "I left my job without anything in hand. A friend suggested Costume Designing. I wanted to do something sensible...something I would be proud of even after ten years."
It wasn’t a career she intended to stick on to. "I always thought I would go back to a regular job. But there's nothing to beat the thrill of this process and the rush of seeing your work on screen. Despite the sleepless nights and stress, I started loving what I was doing, and decided this is where I would be."
The first film that featured Pampa's work as Costume Designer was Hindi film Yaara Silly Silly, directed by Subhash Sehgal. But she tasted success with Anjali Menon's Bangalore Days in 2014. Parvathy, who plays a radio jockey in the film, won acclaim for her transformation on screen.
"I met Parvathy and there's this whole Hippie vibe to her. The character etched out to me was of a free-spirited character who happened to have a physical disability. I wanted to keep in mind that with a disability, there would be certain clothes she would find it easy to wear. Even though palazzos and pajamas were not too much in vogue then, we gave her that because it's easier to wear. Because she was strong-willed, we assumed she should have a definitive taste and we gave her a lot of linens and chanderis."
Parvathy had shorter hair then, and it was easy to give her a hairstyle that would add a sense of comfort and ease to her whole look. "Parvathy just submits. She comes in, and just gives herself to you. She's extremely gung-ho about experimentation and new looks - you've seen that in her other films as well."
Pampa's fabric of choice is cotton. "If I were ever given a film, I would just fill it with cottons and chanderis. It's been promoted falsely that only chiffons and georgettes look amazing on screen. I love to work with cottons."
Her favourite designers? “I love what Sameera Saneesh is doing in Malayalam. The kind of Hindi films I like don't have costume designers per se, but I love the work of Maxima Basu (Costume Designer for Dangal, Slumdog Millionaire, Bhajirao Mastani). “