The Bajirao look

How Anju Modi stitched together a bygone era for the period look of Bajirao Mastani 

  • Published 20.12.15
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Like many of us, Anju Modi was not really fond of history as a kid. Till she fell in love with the textile world and the history of art and revivalism. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, she stepped boarded the time machine to bring alive the romance of an era 200 years before our time. A t2 chat. 

What was your approach to Bajirao Mastani?

The reason for me to accept this magnum opus was because it was very different from Ram-Leela. To do three huge characters and that too with Sanjay Leela Bhansali who has an uncompromising approach towards work, it was a lot of challenge. I am passionate about researching. So, what more could I ask for? It is a lifetime opportunity to dig deep into the history and understand and develop and design so many things.

Where did you start?

The best thing that Sanjay did was that he made me sit through the script-reading sessions to understand the story and the characters, their emotions and personalities. After that I did my research, went to the museums, went to Chowmahalla (Palace) and Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad... in Mumbai, Shivaji museum (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya). I also went to Pune, Nasik and the Ajanta-Ellora caves. There are also a lot of forts around. It was majorly about transporting oneself back in time and then start designing.

He (Ranveer Singh) can carry off anything. And that’s because he doesn’t have any inhibitions. He believes in himself. He is very fun-loving and energetic

What was the first thing that struck you about that period?

I was amazed by the kind of fine yarn we used to weave in those days. Out of that yarn they used to weave these soft muslin fabrics. The saris that Kashibai (played by Priyanka Chopra) has worn in the film are 10 yards of fabrics. We were more of drapers and a country where we used to weave yardages and wrap it beautifully. In the whole film you’ll see Kashibai draping the kimkhab or a brocade. Real zari and gold wires were used in the weaving. We were also spiritual in our thinking. The peacock stood for prosperity. The lotus, flowers, elephants… everything had a meaning. The tree of life is a continuum. 

It was also imbibing the whole culture and emoting from there. There was a natural flow. I was understanding the emotions of Kashibai, Mastani (played by Deepika Padukone) or Bajirao (played by Ranveer Singh). When they are in a romantic mood, I have used soft colours. When he is in the war, I have used dark shades like bottle green, indigo blue and browns.

Any distinct motif that stands out for you?

In our woven repertoire, there is a shikargah weaving with lions and elephants. So, I have used the lion motif aplenty… on Bajirao’s sleeves or on one of his panels. He is a warrior who has never lost a war. The lion depicts Bajirao’s personality.

Ranveer Singh looks every bit the Bajirao!

He can carry off anything. And that’s because he doesn’t have any inhibitions. He believes in himself. He is very fun-loving and energetic. Deep down he is very passionate and a serious personality. He is a tireless worker. He gets into the character and then emotes. 

We researched what the Peshwas would wear in those days. We learnt the authentic way of tying the dhoti. The angarkhas had a lot of ghera (flare). And there is a reason behind it. It is to give you leg space. You can ride a horse or an elephant wearing that. It is not restricting your movement. Also, it lends a little larger-than-life feel to your personality.  

There is so much talk about Ranveer wearing that skirt (at a Bajirao Mastani promotion, picture below)! It’s stupidity, according to me. They need to understand it is a reflection of his Bajirao persona. So, he is wearing those samurai skirts. We call it skirt now, but in those days that was the warrior dress code.

Was the skirt your suggestion or Ranveer picked it himself?

Ranveer discussed with me along with his stylist. I had sent him seven-eight options and he picked according to his mood. And this is not the first time someone has worn this. So, why such a hullabaloo about it? 

Deepika Padukone is looking absolutely ethereal as Mastani... 

There weren’t many references available for Mastani’s character. You have plenty of references for Kashibai and Peshwa Baji Rao I in Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings and museums. We had one small picture of Mastani. It was good for us because we could take a lot of creative liberties. Mastani was introduced to me as mystical and fearless. That’s how the Deewani mastani costume came into place.... she is dancing and proclaiming her love for Bajirao. 

I had to get beautiful fabrics woven, thousands of metres of muslin, khadi, thin Chanderi.... A lot of antique textiles had to be used. It was predominantly shararas for Mastani because of her Muslim background and in different patterns... trailing shararas, shararas with less ghera, crinkled shararas made of chiffon. Every minute you changed the fabric, the pattern and the cut of the sharara changed. It all depended on the scene too... what kind of opulence would I like to show? Only once you’ll see her in a lehnga, in Mohe rang do laal.

Deepika is fantastic to work with... very aware, talented and disciplined. Coming from a sports background, she respects her body. She has an effortless approach in her day-to-day life and a keen intellect.

And that turban!

There was a reference of Mastani wearing a similar kind of a turban. That was again a huge effort to make it sit pretty on her head. We embellished it with jewellery... uncut diamonds, pearls. For her earrings we took references from Nur Jahan and the eras gone by. Sanjay shared his research. I made the jewellery especially for Mastani... very unique. 

Mastani was introduced to me as mystical and fearless. That’s how the Deewani mastani costume came into place... she is dancing and proclaiming her love for Bajirao.... Deepika Padukone is fantastic to work with... very aware, talented and disciplined. Coming from a sports background, she respects her body. She has an effortless approach in her day-to-day life and a keen intellect

Tell us a little about the armoury...

We got it done in Delhi. Crores have gone into the armoury. I got boots and shoes designed according to that era. They were not wearing German boots of World War II at that time! 

What is your director saying? 

He is a very demanding director... but aagar rulatey hai toh aapko utna badatey bhi hai aagey! When he saw the Deewani mastani costumes, he was ecstatic. He pushes you but praises you! 

She has worn a lot of bright Indian colours. Her blouses are very traditional. Sanjay has a passion for earthy shades. Initially, we had thought of antique colours for Kashibai. Priyanka said since Kashibai has an innocent, childlike personality, why give her those serious colours? Let’s work on happy colours. It was all a collaborative effort
— on dressing Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai

This film also comes in your 25th year as a fashion designer. Are you enjoying Bollywood?

I enjoy my work. Seeing your costumes on the screen is a big high, but I have to be excited about it. Just for the sake of doing it is not my cup of tea.

Saionee Chakraborty
Which is your favourite Bollywood period film? Tell t2@abp.in

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