Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan Part 1 celebrated its one-year anniversary since its release. This historical drama set in the 10th century is a cinematic adaptation of Kalki’s renowned novel of the same title. The film, curated by Ratnam and his talented team, stood as a visual spectacle. Costume designer Eka Lakhani, who has maintained a decade-long partnership with Mani Ratnam, shared the fascinating journey from initial sketches to the silver screen.
EXCLUSIVE: Trisha Krishnan and Karthi share their experience of working with costume designer Eka Lakhani in Ponniyin Selvan
Lakhani and her team, along with historians and experts, did a costume recce at the Thanjavur temple, meticulously studying the dynasty's sculptures. Kalki’s novel and the sketches of Tamil visual artist Maniam served as pivotal reference materials. Mani Ratnam's vision for the film, along with extensive research, laid the foundation for the authentic and distinctive look of each character. Collaborating with jewellery partner Kishandas, the hair and makeup teams then crafted every look with Eka.
Eka shared, “The Chola dynasty represented a golden era of heritage, and this had to reflect through the entire kingdom's attire, not just that of the emperors. It was levels of designing from kings, queens, ministers, guards and so on.”
“Each character had their own distinct style, elements that reflected their personalities. Karthi’s Kans mama costume’s inspiration arose from a traditional Balinese outfit that Mani Sir and Rahman Sir got from a music recce for the film. Of course, the end result was completely different, but the idea of using tasks, beads and layering appliqué craft work was inspired from the sample shown to us.”
Costumes played a pivotal role in visual storytelling, setting the tone of a scene through colours and mood boards. Eka's most challenging and favourite look was the faceoff scene between Aishwarya Rai’s character (Nandini) and Trisha’s character (Kundavai), where both characters dress to outshine each other. The team's challenge was to make both characters and their armies look prominent while ensuring they complemented each other visually. This scene required a costume team of 120-130 people, including costume assistants, drapers, and dressmen. To achieve authenticity, the team meticulously studied the era's trade routes and employed natural dyeing techniques like Kumkum and haldi for the costumes.
Eka also shared how Sobhita Dhulipala would creatively contribute curating her costumes. She had a strong knowledge of textiles and fabrics and was always enthusiastic during look tests. Eka is also the stylist for Karan Johar and Ranveer Singh and worked on their recent project.
Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahaani as a designer. Eka and her team also styled all the promotional looks for the cast of Ponniyin Selvan. She continues to be the stylist for Trisha in her subsequent projects and event appearances. Trisha shared her experience, “The first time I met Eka at Madras Talkies' office, I had minimal knowledge about Kundavai's style, aside from past references. Eka had done extensive research and study on each character, and she had a whole book and laptop filled with looks. This was my first time working on a period film, and Eka, along with the hair, makeup, jewellery, and costume teams, made it effortless for me to transform into Kundavai. We did a 100 look tests for Kundavai, which was the most enjoyable part. She and her team had sourced materials for all the costumes from different parts of India. My favourite look, hands down, will be the coronation scene with Kundavai vs. Nandini (Aishwarya Rai). That look was Kundavai personified in every possible way.”
Karthi, one of the leads in the ensembles said, “Designing the costumes for the most iconic characters in PS was no doubt an enormous responsibility but dressing up the cast and entire chola dynasty everyday seemed like prepping for war. Eka, Malini and team handled the job with ease and their smiling faces were the first thing we encountered every morning.”
Eka Lakhani has three distinct releases as a Costume Designer this year, collaborating with renowned creative filmmakers, including Mani Ratnam for Ponniyin Selvan, Karan Johar for Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahaani, and Rajkumar Hirani for Dunki, starring Shah Rukh Khan.
More Pages: Ponniyin Selvan: Part-1 Box Office Collection
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