Winning a National Award for her debut work seems like a surreal experience to Poornima Ramaswamy. “It’s yet to sink in,” says the costume designer of Bala’s period film Paradesi

When Poornima Ramaswamy put together those dark-toned saris, high-necked column-like blouses and loose-fitting shirts with jagged edges for filmmaker Bala’s Paradesi, little did she think that her costumes would put her under the national spotlight.

“Personally, I love to dress up in colourful clothes and in films my heart gravitates towards fantasy costumes. This film was totally different in aesthetic. It was a throwback to the 1930s. Dark and realistic. But I took it up because I was always fascinated by Bala the man and the director. A period film is not something a filmmaker would entrust to a newcomer. But he had faith in me, and the creative pay-off has been fabulous,” gushes Chennai-based Poornima. “It seems surreal. I was in my daughter’s swimming class when the news of my getting the National Award for Best Costume came in. It’s yet to sink in.”

Hailing from the famous Naidu Hall family, textiles and trends were something she was familiar with since childhood. “I was surrounded by fabrics and garments during my after-school hours. Later, I got interested in designing saris for Naidu Hall. I did that for a while before getting into designing personal wardrobes for people. That’s when I got the call from Bala.”

A Business Management graduate, Poornima was quick to pick up the threads of costume designing. “The biggest challenge was to keep the clothes real with the intricacies of period detailing. I’m not Net-savvy, so I hit the libraries for references. Old photo albums also proved helpful. But the biggest resource was the director himself. His clarity helped me build a repertoire that reflected the time.”

Since it was a specific period in Indian history, Poornima worked on a complete look with a team of experts. “For instance, even the jewellery the characters wear is symbolic of their social status. It involved painstaking research. Besides, the costumes had to blend seamlessly with the muted colour palette of the film.”

The numbers too perplexed her. “Suddenly, I would be asked to put together the clothes for 300 tea estate workers. Or for 150 people for a wedding scene! It was crazy. But I pulled it off, thanks to the team. It was a friendly, positive vibe throughout.”

What next? “French director Michel Spinosa got in touch with me after watching the publicity stills of Paradesi. I took up his project that was shot at different locations in India. And now, going by the calls I’m getting post the National award, looks like I have some busy days ahead…”

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