Designer Erum Ali on the challenges of creating costumes for director Selvaraghavan's magnum opus “Aayirathil Oruvan”

Erum Ali is oh-so excited. Come Pongal, and her name will appear in the impressive line-up of credits in director Selvaraghavan's much-awaited magnum opus “Aayirathil Oruvan.” In her first cinematic assignment as independent costume designer, the fashionista known for her craft-intensive retail lines, lets her creations speak a language all its own. The looks for this lavishly-mounted film oscillates between real and regal, spectacular and simple, and detailed and barely-there. In a behind-the-scenes (seams!) encounter, Erum discusses the frills of designing for films.

FILMY FLING Not new. I've done clothes for my husband Abbas for some of his films. I couldn't resist this one because it offered immense scope for me as a designer. Being a part-period film, I knew I could explore new realms of creativity.

TAKE TWO Design-wise, the film was a huge challenge. Firstly, there are many pivotal characters. Each deserved two distinct looks — one outdoor-adventure feel that borders on the contemporary, and the other period. When you watch the film, you'll get a feeling of watching two different films; the looks are so well-defined.

BREAK AWAY Yes, we've tread a new path in costume designing, thanks to Selvaraghavan's brief. We researched our subject as a team and evolved the look. Though I enjoyed creative freedom, the director was involved in freezing every character's costumes. He was particular about taking this regional film to red carpet events across the globe. So, I broke away from stereotypes and came up with innovative designs.

WISH CRAFT My designs are craft-centric. So, this film helped me take my craft dreams forward. You'll see plenty of artistically-created outfits in the second half. It's closest to my heart.

TWO COOL The film has two leading ladies, Reema Sen and Andrea. Reema feels strongly about expressing with style. So, keeping her sense of style in mind, I worked out something that was feminine and sensuous to suit her role. Andrea was relaxed and simply let the director-designer decide.

WOW FACTOR Definitely Karthi. He is a designer's delight and loves playing muse! He enjoyed all the experiments we tried with his look, without a murmur. The toughest thing was to give him clothes. For most of the scenes, Selva wanted him bare. What did I give him? Loin cloth? Well, female fans, watch out!

SURPRISE, SURPRISE Parthepan is the icing on the cake. He is actually the best-dressed in the film. We spent maximum time on his clothes. I had to designate one assistant to co-ordinate his frequent change of looks and costumes. His wardrobe included elaborate jewellery and several hand-made outfits. It was the most demanding character, design-wise. I had to hang around at outdoors for months on end!

SEAMS EASY This film is my first independent project in which I've designed for the entire cast. It gave me good hands-on experience. I'm sure that after handling something of this magnitude, it's going to be easy to commit myself to other projects. But, it left me with very little time for family and my retail business. And, as you know, retail is my life. I love to work closely with my clients and give them my best. Costume designing is something I'll take up once in a while when I feel attracted to a project. I prefer quality over quantity.

PLUS-MINUS On the positive side, I got used to the pressure and the frenetic schedules. Last-minute demands and starry tantrums were something I learnt to deal with! On the flip side, I was heading a team designated to create clothes for hundreds of artistes. I had to organise everything with clockwork precision. I couldn't play star wife!

SETTING TRENDS From clothes and make-up to hair-do and looks, Bollywood rolls out trends. Huge budgets are involved. But, in the Tamil film industry, barring a few film-makers, not much importance is given to costumes. But, things are looking up. Catch this film, and you'll see the difference.

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Krithika ReddyMay 11, 2012