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Begum Madhuri

Costume designer Payal Saluja on styling Madhuri Dixit in Dedh Ishqiya

Like many of us, Payal Saluja has danced to Ek do teen and has been a “huge Madhuri Dixit fan”. The costume designer, who recently did her first film with Madhuri — Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya — decodes Begum Para for t2...

How did your first meeting with Madhuri Dixit go?

This was my first project with Madhuriji. She is a thorough professional. We were well-prepared before we met her, having done our groundwork for almost two months. She was also quite thorough with the script. She gave me a few suggestions in terms of her body structure. In one of her dance costumes, I had used a dupatta, the big three-metre style. But it was too heavy, as I had gone traditional. She said to go as minimal and delicate as possible, which is also the nawabi style. We decided that we should go with curls for Begum Para. There are technicalities to it which she always comes up with because of her experience. So, I also learnt many things. But she let me do my work.

What all did you learn?

I went to Lucknow to research Awadhi costumes. I love reading history. Madhuriji is an epitome of humility. You realise why she is where she is. She is so centred and grounded. She just always knows how much to add on. Sometimes I would have lots of jewellery and she would say, ‘Let’s cut down on one element’. And then even I felt that. She understands that going minimal is good and it went well with the theme of the film too.

Did styling Madhuri Dixit come with ‘extra’ pressure?

She has a larger-than-life persona. My challenge was to break through that strong persona and make her look like Begum Para, so that people see her as Begum Para and not Madhuri Dixit. That was important for the film too, which we achieved. Having worked for so many years, I wasn’t nervous. (Smiles) Once I met her, I was more at ease than what I had thought I would be. She is very friendly.

Take us through Begum Para’s looks…

Ishqiya was a rustic and raw film. Dedh Ishqiya is subtle. We used the refinement of the nawabi culture and kept it understated. I worked strongly around colours. I tried to understand some of the old terms, like zeher mohra (a greenish blue stone), which inspired a teal blue outfit. She has worn Anarkalis, but we kept them subtle and modern. We gave her sheraras and ghagras and didn’t go with the typical gharara. Instead of cholis, she has worn kurtis. For the dupattas, I used a lot of net because that was the British influence coming into the nawabi culture. Awadhi badla, chikan and zardozi were used. I sourced the jewellery from these small lanes of Lucknow where karigars still make old-style jewellery. Muslim jewellery has an influence of chaand and tara. The designs I have used are all old. There is inlay, jadau and kundan work. Some of the jewellery was sourced from Delhi and some we got custom-made in Mumbai.

Did you make a conscious effort to deviate from her Chandramukhi look in Devdas?

Everything about Chandramukhi was in excess. She was larger than life. But Begum Para is understated. She is royalty. Nafasat and nazakat are the two words I would use for Begum Para.

Was Sabyasachi Mukherjee an inspiration for the looks?

No, for me Awadhi and Lucknowi clothing, British influence on the nawabi culture and how it has changed over a period of time were inspirations. Sabyasachi’s work is really good but this film has Awadhi influence.

How can the reel look be adapted in real life?

If you want to acquire Madhuri’s look, try an Anarkali and stick to monotones. Try to avoid strong, contrasting colours. Another trademark look for the begum is the pasa (hair ornament). Also, try curls. It brings out the softness... and a nose stud can also be added. With all that don’t forget to chew a paan!

What are you working on next?

I have registered my first story. I am toying with the idea of a film, but it is not an easy journey from a concept to a film. It is new for me. Let’s see…. I read extensively and write a little bit of poetry too.

The other players

Naseeruddin Shah

His persona is very serious at times but when you least expect it, he will crack a joke! Maqbool was my first film with him. When I went with the references and sketches to him, he understood my thought process. That was amazing. He uses his costumes to his advantage, like playing with the shawl. With him, you never feel he is wearing a costume. He looks so lived-in. He makes it his own so effortlessly. He is very open and never starts on a negative. I did old-style sherwanis where the pockets are lower… the purdah sherwani. He knew about it!

Huma Qureshi

She is photogenic and looks beautiful in the film. She has some kind of an untouched beauty and dancing eyes. She is wearing Anarkalis with a seedha pyjama, which is an old style. Muniya is the connection between Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya. She is raw but has traces of the nawabi culture.

Arshad Warsi

Babban is a brand for me. That’s why we couldn’t change Babban too drastically. So, he still has his kohl-lined eyes and his baalis, checked shirts and trademark gamchha. Some of his shirts have embroidery, which is an influence of the nawabi culture. He also wears sherwanis!

Payal’s Top 5

Ek do teen (Tezaab): I love that look because it is so carefree.

Didi tera devar deewana (Hum Aapke Hai Koun..!): It was so apt for that time. In Maye ni maye, Madhuri was in a simple yellow kurta and yet she looked so beautiful.

Hum ko aaj kal (Sailaab): So minimal yet effective.

Mrityudand: It was also an interesting look and her role was so strong. We see Madhuri in all shades there.

Dedh Ishqiya: Of course! It is one of my favourites because I associate with it. She’s looking out of the window. The silhouette of a head covered in a dupatta. You can see the hint of red. The mind travels back in time, 20 years ago, when a chirpy Nisha breezed in (she roller-skated) on screen in an orange phulkari jacket in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!. The purple sari and three-quarter sleeved khidki blouse in Didi tera devar deewana, the emerald green-and-white lehnga and the superstar-status that colour combo attained overnight…. Hum Aapke... made magic fashion moments (at least back then they were). Dedh Ishqiya, Madhuri Dixit’s ‘comeback’ (where did she go?), was not as magical, fashion-wise or otherwise. But it made for fabulous fashion memories nevertheless.

Madhuri’s prettiness parade in dedh ishqiya. starring: sheraras and jhoomars

She’s looking out of the window. The silhouette of a head covered in a dupatta. You can see the hint of red. The mind travels back in time, 20 years ago, when a chirpy Nisha breezed in (she roller-skated) on screen in an orange phulkari jacket in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!. The purple sari and three-quarter sleeved khidki blouse in Didi tera devar deewana, the emerald green-and-white lehnga and the superstar-status that colour combo attained overnight…. Hum Aapke... made magic fashion moments (at least back then they were). Dedh Ishqiya, Madhuri Dixit’s ‘comeback’ (where did she go?), was not as magical, fashion-wise or otherwise. But it made for fabulous fashion memories nevertheless.

As Begum Para Mirzada, she had the whole sherara thing going. Mid-thigh kurtis, dupatta draped across front, covering the head, strategically placed to show the necklace. Such a flattering silhouette, hides the horrible fat around the middle, elongates the torso, skims the legs and delicately frames the face. She wears them in all colours — red, rust, green.... Brocade bootis, Sabyasachi-esque borders, dominated by his signature leaf-gota borders, they are great fakes (like most out there) and give way only on closer inspection (zoom images).

Madhuri is bejewelled from head to toe, but surprisingly doesn’t look OTT

The highlight is that display of jewellery. The maangtika, the jhoomar, the kundan necklaces, jhumkas, jadau rings, studded pachhelis, lots of glass churis and that darling diamond nose-pin. All together and never for a moment over the top.

Other than the sherara parade, there are some other standout moments. The baby pink chiffon sari at the outdoor shooting competition, it’s a lovely throwback to Maharani Gayatri Devi at the polo matches. Begum Para wears those retro cat-eye sunglasses quite like the Rajasthan royalty. The simple pastel suits she wears towards the end of the film. The beige Anarkali she dances in.

Not breakthrough, but very beautiful. Just like the rest of the film.