Good cinematography is a precursor to what we call a great historical saga. Larger than life set designs, phenomenal costume lineups, euphonic background scores, it takes a lot to make a film come to life, the key being the ability to transport the audience to a place or a time, an effort that’s collective and requiring of intense research.
We’re seduced by the escapism – courtesy the costumes, the forbidden romance (personal favourite) & the roller-coaster ride of emotions, all curated on a platter & waiting to be devoured. Something that also deserves acclaim is the painstaking research done behind the scenes, what would this city look like in that time? What would the people be wearing?
We’ve curated a list of historical sagas that rank high on the costume design scale, so you can have a jolly good time while brushing up on a little history.
The 2008 epic political/ romantic saga, set in the 16th century Mughal era is revered for its costume sensibilities throughout the industry. With Hrithik Roshan essaying the role of Jalaluddin Akbar and Aishwarya Rai in and as Jodha Bai, the storyline & casting was anyway a sure-shot recipe for a hit. Enter: the flawless groundwork, coordination & execution of the costumes, courtesy Neeta Lulla’s keen eye & tireless research.
Having relied on the miniature paintings and the ‘Akbarnama’ book from the period, the process almost took a year and a half to execute. Ranging from heavy nathnis in kundan & meenakari for Jodha’s trousseau, the colour palette of her ensembles could be summed up as a nurturing blend of warm red, yellow & orange tones. Zardosi embroidered angarkhas and chainmail armours constituted the wardrobe of the men with the latter reserved only for the royals including his highness himself.
Based on Mauryan dynasty’s ruler – Emperor Asoka, the namesake movie according to Wikipedia is a dramatized version (code for mirch masala) of his early life. Which is to say plenty of creative liberties have been taken and the storytelling may have been a tad incorrect. But the unorthodox choice of green-lighting a production like this was a rarity, a laudable one. Just like the Mauryan dynasty, the film adhered to the ‘antariya’ & ‘uttariya’ code of dressing.
With kayabandhs & body jewelry, the midriff show was major. Body tattoos were also a commonality, with plenty of tribal & nature references standing true to the period.
A Sanjay Leela Bhansali saga, meaning – you know you’re in for a ride. Set in the early 1700s in the court of the Peshwas, Bajirao Mastani gave Maharashtrians the well-deserved & long awaited representation on-screen. Helmed by Anju Modi on the costume front, curating the wardrobe would have entailed meticulous deep-dives into both, the Marathi side & the Muslim side.
From Kashibai’s ornate silk sarees & crescent bindis to Deepika’s Nizami attires which were a nod to her heritage, the contrast between their characters was seamlessly reflected. And as for the Peshwa himself, he walked the talk with the peshwa pagdi sitting right atop, imbuing the very grandeur of it.
The 1960 epic drama starring Dilip Kumar & Madhubala is a classic amongst the legion of many period sagas that followed suit. The role of the royal courtesan ‘Anarkali’, was essayed by Madhubala is said to be the inspiration behind the actual garment ‘anarkali’ which is to this day, an integral part of most Indian women’s closets.
The bodice featured an inverted curve paneling right below the bust and is now considered a signature component of a traditional anarkali. Feathered Mughal-style caps, silk brocades & finely gathered skirts also took cues from the bygones, trying to encapsulate the essence sartorially.
Images via Pinterest.
To read up on Hollywood shows with impeccable costume design, tap here.