When Ritu Kumar agreed to design wedding costumes for cousin Deepa Mehta’s much-awaited cinematic adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s epic novel Midnight’s Children, recreating pre-Independence-era costumes seemed almost impossible in the frighteningly short time.
But the designer embraced the project. Research for her 1999 book Costumes And Textiles Of Royal India provided a solid foundation for her designs. She carefully re-read Rushdie’s novel and consulted Mehta regularly.
Intense brainstorming sessions followed and once all the details had been ironed out, Kumar laid out each wedding ensemble and costume for every scene and actor. She worked on the outfi ts for the weddings of Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami), Emerald (Anita Majumdar)and Naseem (Neha Mahajan), and Jamila’s (Soha Ali Khan) musical performance.
Kumar elected to use vegetable-dye colours and give the garments flow “with lots of dupattas”. She called on the entire textile repertoire of Kashmir —zari, zardosi, mukaish, chain stitch, velvet, woven Benarasis, nets and more—for the costumes. She also had to create jewellery, for which she used semi-precious stones.
“The whole story had to be as authentic as possible. I found some old photos set in Kashmir, but most are of courtesans because the royals would not allow women to be photographed. I had to locate physical pieces in people’s trunks and then use designer’s licence. The way they did their clothes in those days was like art,” says Kumar.
Goswami, who plays Mumtaz, adds, “The look does half the job in terms of what we have to do as actors. The clothes, hair and make-up take you back to that time and make you feel the part.” In the course of the film, Mumtaz ages from 19 to 45, and Goswami notes, “Even when playing an older age, as soon as the look was done, our gait and demeanour would change.”