‘Aadujeevitham’costume designer Stephy Zaviour terms being part of the film a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Chemical bond and material density of fabrics, the impact of weather on cloth... ‘Aadujeevitham’ found Stephy Zaviour delving into scientific principles

Updated - March 27, 2024 12:57 pm IST

Published - March 27, 2024 11:32 am IST

Prithiviraj in the film

Prithiviraj in the film | Photo Credit: EMIL STANLY JOSEPH

Never before or since Aadujeevitham, has costume designer Stephy Zaviour ever given serious thought to the chemical component or the material density of the fabrics she used. “In the past, I have used fabric without thinking about their chemical bond. Resul Pookutty sir wanted to know it lest the rustling of polyester fabric interferes with the sound recording,” she reminisces. Working on Blessy’s opus ranks top on her list of films she has been part of. 

The research was tricky. There is no photograph of Najeeb during his ‘goat days’. “Nobody has ‘seen’ him when he was living in the desert. What we know is what Benyamin chettan has written and Blessy sir’s visualisation. I hope the picture of Najeeb that Blessy sir has (shown through my work) and that of how people have imagined him meet.” She had not read the novel by Benyamin then but knew enough of it from what her mother, an avid reader, had told her.

Old photographs and videos were sourced from photo studios for accuracy. Although films based in the 1980s-90s are being made, and costumes designed, this film, Stephy says, needed precision and attention since Blessy is a stickler for detail and perfection. It was reassuring as well. “There would be no goof-ups because he would check everything.”

Most of the costumes worn by Najeeb (played by Prithiviraj Sukumaran) while in the desert, are handsewn. 

Stephy Zaviour

Stephy Zaviour | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

“Everything ages differently in a desert. The garments show the movement of the story and the passage of time. The audience will see Najeeb in the same garment over a period of time. But it was not just that one piece, there were multiple thawb or thobe (the long-sleeved, ankle-length garment worn by Arab men) of the one Prithviraj wore. The stains, the tears, the ageing — all of which had to be uniform in every piece. A lot of effort went into the film’s costumes.” 

A question about the shoes is inevitable. “The shoes are also handmade. Blessy sir sent me a drawing of the shoes with specifications: the look, the wear and tear. It also had to convey the difficulty of wearing it in a desert,” Stephy adds.  

The chemistry of fabric

Research also meant studying how weather impacted fabric because Najeeb is at the mercy of the elements. “We costume designers have enough tricks to ‘age’ fabrics and garments, that would not do for this film. I got scarecrows made, placing them in the sun for several days to see how a garment fades.” She also had to look up methods to make fabric crumble. 

It was not just the sun, there was water too. For the song filmed underwater featuring Amala Paul and Prithviraj, not only did the fabric have to be ‘flowy’ underwater, the colour could not look very different from the dry material. “We got a transparent bucket, dunked the fabric in water to see how each swatch reacted in water!”

Stephy calls Prithviraj a non-fussy, thorough professional. “He wore the same costumes for over seven years, the same dull and dirty thobes. without a word of complaint. There were days when it was so hot that I would be covered in clothes, only my eyes showing, and he would be in those tattered clothes seemingly unaffected.” 

She was back home in Kerala in 2020 by the time COVID-19 struck while the crew was stuck in Jordan unable to return. “I left because I was the only woman on the film’s crew and it was not easy. There were e-toilets and other facilities, but it was tough.”  Stephy is grateful to her three assistants — Sanooj, Rafi and Zulfi — who have stuck with her since 2017, the year the film’s pre-production started. 

“Back then I had not done as many films, I was, perhaps, the junior-most and among the most inexperienced on the sets but Blessy sir never treated me like that. He was wholly supportive.” To this day she wonders why he picked her, curious as she is, she hasn’t mustered the courage to ask him either. “I am not sure I want to know the answer!” she says laughing. While Stephy recently turned director with Madhura Manohara Moham, she has designed costumes for films such as Ishq, Joseph, Guppy, and Jana Gana Mana

Stephy describes Aadujeevitham asa once-in-a-lifetime film. “I don’t think I’ll spend seven years on another film. It is a lot of work — ensuring continuity and taking care of each pin, needle and piece of fabric. Each little thing, we (the costume team) have to take care. It is mind boggling to think of the distance my costume box has travelled: from India to Jordan and Algeria and back.”

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