'There is something haunting about Devdas'
Neeta Lulla on making a Paro out of Aishwarya Rai
The dreamy white churidars in Chandni or the effervescent colours of Lamhe.
The rustic beauty of Taal or the rich playfulness of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam .
Talented designer Neeta Lulla surpasses herself with her spectacular collection of saris created for the character of Paro, played by Aishwarya Rai in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's epic Devdas .
With Devdas releasing July 12, Sukanya Verma met a relaxed Lulla who declares, "I have done my best in Devdas."
How different is Devdas from the earlier interpretations starring K L Saigal and Dilip Kumar respectively?
The story is the same. The story of Devdas cannot alter. However, the presentation on the whole is different; I guess that is why people are looking forward to seeing the film.
The story is set in the 1930s. Society was conservative then. In a way, this is a very rebellious film. Imagine, the girl (Paro) is giving up everything to marry Devdas. In spite of her being married to someone else (Zamindar Bhuvan), she still loves Devdas.
Today people do not relate to that as a flamboyant gesture. The fact is that people used to think of the man maryada (honour) of the family --- one could not defy his/her parents.
I guess the audience should just see Devdas. They should enjoy the presentation of entire story and our culture. The manner in which Sanjay has projected the entire film is beautiful.
This is one film every technician on the set has put his or her heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, everything to it. For two years, my complete focus was only on Devdas.
What kind of extensive research was put in behind the costumes of Devdas?
We watched Bengali films based in Kolkata. We did a background study by speaking to locals in Kolkata. We picked up mannerisms, the way people spoke. We picked up traits of women in traditional Bengali saris.
We went to Kolkata to pick up saris. Keeping in mind the basic draping and working within the parameters of the set pattern, I created my own individual style. I did a lot of mix and match.
Sometimes, I mixed two saris in one, sometimes three. All the saris are 8-9 meters. Normally the [traditional Bengali] Dhaka saris span 6 yards. Also the women of Bengal, walk with small steps. We could not afford that because it would hamper dance movements.
What about the jewellery?
I have also designed the jewellery. It has an old world charm to it. I have not given gold the cliched look, it is mostly matte. I have also used Kundan, garnet, and art deco jewellery --- jewellery that suited the era.
In the outfits I have used filigree, stones, even kundan. (Paro's wedding sari is a splendid red, maroon and pink shaded with heavy kundan embellishment). Since it is being touted as a visual treat, one had to go larger than life.
Besides Aishwarya Rai, you have designed the outfits for Kiron Kher and Ananya Khare. How differently did you treat the look of each artiste?
Like in [Sanjay Leela Bhansali's earlier film] Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, every artiste was given a different look; in Devdas again I have done the same. I used Dhakas for Kironji (Kher). I have used Tangails, Ashpards, Chudipards [traditional prints] and Chinese brocade for Ash (Aishwarya Rai) and Valkalams [a traditional print] for Smita Jayakar.
I have used only Benarasis for the character of Shah Rukh Khan's sister-in-law played by Ananya Khare. I sought inspiration from what was being imported into India in that era from China and Persia.
Devdas will definitely make a fashion statement.
Did Sanjay Leela Bhansali give you a basic outline of what he had in mind for Devdas?
I had a basic narration and was given the complete script of Devdas. I then worked on the look. I had inputs from Ash and Sanjay. Basically everybody took interest in all the departments of making Devdas. It was a team effort for every aspect of the film.
Considering you have worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali earlier, was it easier working with him for Devdas?
I share a great rapport with Sanjay. We also have our share of fights. This time the requirements and expectations were far greater than Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. We all had a point to prove.
Was there any particular costume that proved to be most difficult?
I cannot pinpoint any single outfit as difficult. Sometimes the whole outfit was ready and approved by Sanjay. The minute Ash wore it, he would say something was wrong. Sometimes, he would want her to wear the costume that she would wear the next day. But the next morning, he would think something was not right. Then started the entire procedure of working on the costume and keeping it ready for him to shoot in the morning.
I remember for the climax shot, we had worked on a cotton sari with a silk edging. He didn't like it. He thought it shone too much. It was 11.30 pm. We had a 9 am shoot next morning. He panicked. I panicked.
We went to Jayaji's (Bachchan) house. Then we went to Kiron Kher's house. We checked out their pooja saris. Nothing worked. But I told Sanjay, "Tomorrow morning you will have the right sari."
I had just one night to work. I called up this man, got his shop opened at the 2 am, picked up the fabric. I got the embroidery done overnight and took next morning for the shoot.
It was a challenge; every outfit was a challenge. There was a lot of stress but I took it as a challenge.
Was there a joint narration along with you and the film's other designers Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla?
Sanjay gave the entire script to the designers before any of the stars in the film were finalised. He had asked me to work on Paro and Chandramukhi's [played by Madhuri Dixit] clothes. I had worked on Chandramukhi's character as well. But then things changed. Ash came on the scene and I did not want to take on both artistes together.
It is a huge film, and there would be greater responsibility doing both the stars. It is not a film where you pick clothes off a rack or supply two saris. I thought it best to design for just one heroine and do it well.
I did design for both of them in the song Dola re dola because the whole concept of sari was mine.
Were you conscious of the fact that you had to outdo the designer duo (Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla)?
Never, not in the least bit. Sanjay did tell me you have got tough competition in Abu and Sandeep. My reaction was, "Great, my work will get better."
I am a fan of their work. I do not know them on a personal level, but I received positive vibes. We were competing among ourselves not with each other.
Any incident that stands out in your mind?
Yes. On the last day of the shoot, Sanjay was shooting the song More piya. They shot for a week from 1 pm to 5 pm with Aishwarya and Shah Rukh Khan. The last day of the shoot went on till 6 am next morning.
As soon as Sanjay said, 'shot okay', neither Shah Rukh, Ash nor any of the technicians moved from their positions. Filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra came to meet them and stayed on till 6.30 am. After the shot was over everyone had tears in their eyes, nobody wanted to leave.
Chopra actually had to take a microphone and announce the film is over. Everyone was taking photographs, holding on to each other. That chemistry is visible in the film too.
There is something haunting about Devdas. Look at this. *pointing out the goose pimples on her hand*
Frankly, even if I retire after Devdas, I will not regret it.
What is in store for the future?
I am doing Amisha Patel's clothes for Vikram Bhatt's new film. I am also designing for Preeti Jhangiani, Namrata Shirodkar and Manisha Koirala. I am also doing outfits for Esha Deol. I did some of her outfits in Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche and Na Tum Jaano Na Hum.
I am designing Aishwarya's clothes for her home production tentatively titled Dil Ka Rishta. Also, I am in the middle of setting up my own store. *smiles*