Sandhya Raman: Clothing with a purpose

LABOUR OF LOVE Sandhya Raman with her creations

LABOUR OF LOVE Sandhya Raman with her creations   | Photo Credit: Anoop Arora


Seasoned costume designer Sandhya Raman on dressing up classical artistes and why men should dance more

Sandhya Raman is a visionary and a prudent one at that. For Raman, dance exists outside bodies, rehearsal spaces, and themes. Instead, it exists in colours, patterns and prints. For the past decade and a half, the designer has relentlessly supported dancers from India and abroad in converting their proscenium dreams into realities through her costumes. Often, dancers are caught up in the milieu of tradition and innovation with respect to their costumes, but Raman has blurred these distinctions to a point where several prominent dancers like Aditi Mangaldas, Geeta Chandran, Anita Ratnam, Mallika Sarabhai, Sonal Mansingh, and Madhavi Mudgal (to name a few) have displayed her work with tremendous grace and vigour. And Raman’s vision exists precisely on the fact that she understands themes and the bodies that depict these themes differently. “Each dancer is unique,” she says.

“When a young dancer is getting ready to do her arangetram, I would look at her body, and give a traditional costume, because she is representing the tradition of the artform she has learnt. I am not going to deck her with all the jewellery and zari, because I want to see her, not just her costume. The costume is the skin, which blends into highlighting the dancer. I will look at the pieces in the margam, and then pick these out. At that age, the body is young but with time, the body also changes. Dancers feel scared going out of the traditional frame, but as you progress in dance, your style must come out. The five-piece stitched costume was made for a specific body, that is petite and young. It does not work on bodies that are older, or more mature dancers,” says Raman.

It all started when Raman was a little girl who found joy in making things beautiful. “My bent of mind was always towards creating something with my own hands. I found joy in cutting fabrics. In those days, designing was not something one usually went after and my parents had not even heard of it. But my sister was extremely supportive, was radical and understood what I was trying to do,” she says. Raman joined National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad to study Apparel and Textile Design and graduated in the early 80s. It was a time when the batch only had 17 students. “Even though they had more seats, they chose only four students, because they were never interested in filling up the seats. We had a fabulous student-teacher relationship. For the four students, there were eight faculty members, who would mentor us, question us and reason things out,” reminisces Raman.

Where Raman stands out in her work is in the thematic making of her the costumes, always in tandem with the themes of the dancer. Raman often finds herself observing dancers, sitting through rehearsals and meetings, only to get the right colours and cuts. She is known for using traditional fabrics and almost loathes the polyester. “It can be expensive, I understand, but there are ways to go about it. You do not always have to use the best silk, even the most basic ones can do wonders. I always want clothes to have a purpose. For instance, if a dancer is depicting Kali, it does not make sense for her/him to wear colours like white or pink. Good costumes do not stop at making the dancer look beautiful, there is a lot more to the visual aesthetics of it. The dance is just one aspect of the costume,” she says. Raman has been actively involved in the income generation and design and skill upgradation programmes in Urmul (Rajasthan), Punwac (Punjab), Cooperative Societies (Himachal Pradesh), Avani (Uttarakhand), Ormas (Orissa), Dastkar Andhra (Andhra Pradesh) and Tamil Nadu.

Feeling liberated

Raman’s typical work begins with the concept note and the themes of the dancer. She goes through them, absorbs them, and then creates. She is not bogged down by mudras, footwork or body geometry. The theme solely works on her mind. “I also like to read up about these themes, but I make sure to start from a blank canvas,” Raman says. For one of Aditi Mangaldas’s productions, she hand-painted the entire costume, something that took her several months. Her priority is that the dancer should wear the costume and forget about it. The ergonomics and the functionality should make the dancer feel free. For Raman, with the dancer also comes the revival of the fabric. She picks the right silk or handloom cotton for Bharatanatyam and a beautiful Banarasi or Chanderi for Kathak. Raman was also awarded the Stree Shakti Puraskar by the Government of India in the year 2008 for her contributions.

Perhaps, that is why Raman has been so successful in showcasing her creativity, as she looks beyond the dancer. She believes that women dancers are powerful ambassadors of creativity and feels that more men should take to the artform. “I think men should dance more. I feel it helps one understand the subtleties of life and become gentler. If men and women dancing together is presented at the nascent stages of a child, it can become a powerful tool of generating sensitivity. At times, the arts give you an outlet for your uncontrollable emotions, even violent ones, without actually having to strike,” she adds.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 11:57:30 PM |

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