interview Costume designer Ameira Punvani speaks about creating distinct looks for Bejoy Nambiar’s upcoming film David

At the age of three, all she wanted to be was a tailor. By 2013, she is among the most sought-after costume designers in Bollywood. Ameira Punvani got her first break as a costume designer for the film, Let's Enjoy where she styled the entire cast. Her next Bollywood break was Bunty aur Babli where she did the costumes for the additional cast. From there on, there was no looking back.

Her big break came when she was assigned to design the costumes for Mani Ratnam’s Guru for the main cast, including Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. The film was nominated for Best Costume Design by Filmfare in 2008. She also styled Amitabh Bachchan in Teen Patti followed by the Yashraj film, Badmaash Company . In 2012 she also had the opportunity to work with internationally acclaimed director Wong Kar Wai.

Her latest film is David, directed by Bejoy Nambiar that hits theatres today. Ameira has designed the costumes for the entire cast which includes renowned stars Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vikram, Jiiva, Vinay Virmani, Tabu, Lara Dutta, Isha Sharvani, Sarika and Milind Soman.

In a telephonic interview, Ameira says, “I have worked with Bejoy before when we did Mani Ratnam’s Guru. Being the same age, we hit it off really well. So when Bejoy wanted me to design the costumes, all he did was give me a brief of the 10 key characters. I did my research and presented my ideas to him and the good thing was we were on the same page. Thus began David .”

Ameira, who launched her own fashion label Shunya in 1999 when her clothes were retailed at a number of high-end stores in India and the United States, also ran a fashion store Monster in partnership.

Of her experience in the field, she says, “The journey has been wonderful so far. From the time I was in college when I used to stitch my own clothes and put together looks for my friends, clothes have always been my passion. When I started out, I made many blunders and learnt through trial and error. Little did I imagine I would be dressing stars considering I have no formal training in fashion design. I am extremely thankful to my tailors with whose help I’ve fine-tuned my skills.”

About her work in David, she explains, “It is a period film that spans three different decades which means there are three different Davids. While Neil’s character is from the 70s, Jiiva’s character belongs to the 90s.”

Ask her about the creative process in her designing, and she says, “Research is very important. I may be the costume designer, but my director is someone who knows what he wants. I have to study the characters and the plot well. Also, I have my own style of working. I read the script and build a background story for it. I always ask myself which tailor would be needed, what fabric would suit the person and the character, how much money is at my disposal, what are the innate traits of the person, etc. I create a character and relate that person to someone I know or have heard of in real life and that helps me visualise what must be done.”

She adds, “For example, for Neil’s look, I went back to my parents’ wedding album and tried to create my father’s look – three piece suit, handlebar moustache, etc. For Jiiva, who plays a musician in the 90s, I had only six hours to put his look together and that involved him trying 10 different costumes. At first we tried giving him dreadlocks but that didn’t go too well with his look so we stuck with the thin plait as musicians are invariably known for their odd hairstyles. He hasn’t pierced his ears so he wore magnetic earrings that would keep falling off. So we would have bought a 100 of them for him! But of course, I didn’t want to overdo the grunge. Back in the day, musicians would wear loose shirts and so did Jiiva for David. Fashioning his look around Kurt Cobain, I even made sure his jeans were shredded around his knees, giving him that relaxed getup.”

As much as she loves her job, Ameira doesn’t discount the fact that the biggest challenge is “we never have enough time to put together someone’s wardrobe. Also since it is our job to get it done, there is no way we can complain or crib about not having enough time. Having presence of mind is really important in this business. I suppose the challenges are what make this job so exciting.”

Having worked with the who’s who in the industry, Ameira says, “Dressing Tabu was such a wonderful experience. She has that dignity and grace and it was an honour to be a costume designer for her.” And is there someone she would like to design for in the future? “I would love to put together Rekha’s wardrobe. She is a timeless beauty and makes no effort to look good.” When Ameira isn’t executing her sartorial duties in filmdom, she styles for numerous commercials and music videos.