This Instagram page catalogues Kamal Haasan’s movie looks with some help from the actor

Kamal Haasan as Sakthivel from ‘Thevar Magan’

Kamal Haasan as Sakthivel from ‘Thevar Magan’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Costume designer Amritha Ram on starting an Instagram page that acts like a catalogue for Kamal Haasan, the fashionista

He is a heartthrob during daytime, but has a sinister side to him at night. A man of dual nature, he wears bright disco shirts with large collars and a matching pair of bell-bottoms; he carries a red rose and an infectious smile that left women swooning. But as the night falls, you get to see his darker side aptly reflected through his costume — a stylish leather jacket with a newsboy cap and aviators, sending chills down your spine. He is Dileep from the iconic Sigappu Rojakkal (1978), who was brought to life by Kamal Haasan.

In many ways, one could argue that Sigappu Rojakkal was a watershed moment in Tamil cinema, for it set a new benchmark in men’s fashion and redefined the way urbane characters were written up until that point. Ask anyone who grew up in the ‘80s and they would narrate tell-tales of how they tried to parrot Kamal’s fashion choices and how flamboyant he was, in the psychological-thriller directed by P Bharathiraja.

Did you know that American serial killers Ted Bundy and ‘Boston Strangler’ Albert DeSalvo were the inspiration for Kamal’s looks? Did you know that the black leather jacket worn by Kamal was inspired by Alan Arkin’s outfit from Wait Until Dark (1967)?

An illustration of ‘Sigappu Rojakkal’

An illustration of ‘Sigappu Rojakkal’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In an Instagram page (@kh_thestylemanifest), costume designer Amritha Ram has been sharing interesting ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories of the actor’s fashion sense starting with Sigappu Rojakkal, which, according to many, is believed to be one of the earliest films that saw Kamal upping the fashion game. “It’s not a manifesto but a manifest,” says Amritha Ram with a laugh, in a phone conversation.

Patron of style

Amritha has been closely working with Kamal Haasan for a while now and has been taking care of his costumes. A self-confessed fan, she says that the idea to start an Instagram page chronicling Kamal, the fashion icon, was an afterthought that was born out of the ‘in-between shots’ conversations she had with him about the way he used to groom himself in the ’70s and ’80s.

“That’s when I thought that people should know these fascinating stories. Not just for fans but for the film fraternity itself,” she says, adding that she was given the ‘go-ahead’ signal from Kamal Haasan.

Given the volume of work he has given to Indian cinema, Amritha, naturally, was clueless about her first post and rang Kamal for help, “When I spoke to sir, he said, ‘Well, when you think of something bright, vibrant and cool, it’s Sigappu Rojakkal. Let’s start with that’.” In her first post, she offers a sneak-peek into how Dileep was etched in Kamal’s mind. She did not want the page to look like a fan account, so she brought in illustrators to sketch the characters, highlighting the costumes and colour palette for readers.

Costume designer Amritha Ram

Costume designer Amritha Ram   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“For Sigappu Rojakkal, Kamal sir told me that Bharathiraja gave him a free-hand. Sir was in Singapore and knew the story before. So, he went on a shopping spree,” she says, “They both wanted to give an urbane look to the character.”

From a stylist’s point of view, there was no graph to Dileep’s character in terms of looks and there was randomness in terms of colour and texture. “When I messaged sir about pattern and colour palette, he said, ‘That’s his psychology. He’s a man who comes from a village and all he wants to do is splurge’. Only then did I realise that sir doesn’t allow randomness without logical reasoning.”

From the horse’s mouth

Amritha does not share a single post without Kamal’s approval since “it is not a designer’s page and is all about him”. Even something as simple as the logo, which is an Omega symbol, was suggested by the actor.

“That’s what makes it special, right? You get to hear about these stories from the man himself,” she adds. The process typically involves Amritha dialling Kamal, politely asking him to share anecdotal references to his characters. She takes notes and send them back, after which he sends corrections, if any.

An illustration of ‘Raaja Paarvai’

An illustration of ‘Raaja Paarvai’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kamal Haasan is compulsive about “what suits him best”. For example, the actor was looking for a unique clothing for his character Raghu, a visually-impaired musician. He was sceptical of sporting pyjamas because he felt it was not our culture. He did not want the character to wear a lungi either. So, he decided to wear a Pathani suit, which is what comes to mind when you think of Raaja Paarvai, the costume for which was done by Kamal’s then-partner, Vani Ganapathy.

For the Raaja Paarvai post, Amritha sent three sketches to the actor and the one where he is superimposed on musical notes was picked by the latter. “But he called me and said, ‘I love the design. But why would you pick random musical notes? Why don’t you use the original notes?’. I asked a lot of musicians for help including Shruti [Haasan] but all of them were reluctant because it was Raaja sir’s composition,” she laughs.

Amritha’s favourites, however, are Sathya (1988) and Thevar Magan (1992). “The former is about an angry young man. But he has a clean line of clothing that is in contrast to his personality. Likewise, in Thevar Magan, sir had to deal with characters belonging to two different worlds. But he carried it with pomp and style,” she says, adding, “You won’t think of these little things that add value to the character, unless you’re extremely passionate about cinema.”

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 4:47:17 PM |

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