chat To work as a costume designer is to blend literature, music, psychology and the visual arts, says Vaishali Menon

She has good ideas and good nerves. Her work is creative and takes place in close cooperation with others. Meet costume designer Vaishali Pachauri Menon.

When she talks about costumes, it has three Ps attached to it — People, Place and Period. “Whether in the workshops or on the shoots, we’re always dealing with personalities and so you have to be sensitive. Sometimes it is a missing button on a jacket that tells the whole story, or a deliberately ill-fitting dress. An actor’s costume, however ordinary it may be, makes him all the more a stage character,” she explains.

Recipient of the Filmfare award for Best Costume Designer for her work in Firaaq, (2008) Vaishali has been part of the industry for over 14 years. Firaaq marked Nandita Das’s directorial debut.

“I draw my inspiration from day-to-day observations. I like things to be as real as possible. For instance, somebody said there was no costume designing in Firaaq and I took it as the biggest compliment because the costumes of the characters were never meant to be conspicuously seen.”

A post-graduate from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Vaishali always looked at the bigger and larger process of film-making. “I come from a small village in Uttar Pradesh but my father, a professor, had a very broad outlook. He probably wanted me to be something else and tried sending me to different universities. But I was destined to land here. My love for films brought me to this field,” she says.

Before making a foray into film industry, she did an export house job ‘which was so boring”. She gained access to Hindi film industry when Ketan Mehta approached her in 1998-99 for Garbhit which unfortunately never saw the light of the day. “The next film that came my way was Shah Rukh Khan- Manisha Koirala starrer Dil Se .

“A costume designer has to know how to assess fabric realistically. A designer should be able to see people as they are, what defines them,” she says.

Not everything is hunky-dory for the technical artistes serving the film industry. Payment, at times, becomes a huge issue, forcing intervention of the Associations. “We don’t always work in a collaborative manner. A lot of ego-satisfying goes on. It is Indian mentality I guess. But there are a few very wonderful people I miss working with, hugely talented people such as Santosh Sivan. Working with them is so much fun besides an enriching experience,” she smiles.

Down south, she has designed costumes for Puri Jagannath’s first film Chelli and a couple of Tamil films. “Costumes used in south are very gaudy. But of late, their colour sensibilities are changing for the better. In Bollywood, it’s more like a star-based costume designing. I am not comfortable with that kind of work. I cannot design a costume keeping in view only the image of the ‘star’ in the film. It has to be a larger picture. If I get to see the first layer of the film, I have to see the second layer as well to get a fair idea of the costumes that would go with the scene.”

With a couple of Hindi film projects in the pipeline, Vaishali is currently enjoying working with people of the most different sorts.


We don’t always work in a collaborative manner.

A lot of ego-satisfying goes on. It is the mentality

of the Indian race I guess