Interview: Costume Designer Eka Lakhani shares details on her association with Mani Ratnam
Not everyone gets to be associated with Mani Ratnam, right from the beginning of their career, but this wasn’t the case for fashion designer and costume stylist Eka Lakhani, who has worked with the ace director for close to 10 years now. Eka Lakhani is known for her work in films such as Ok Kanmani, Kaatru Veliyidai and Bollywood films such as Sanju, Fanney Khan, and Haseena Parkar. In an exclusive chat with DGZ Media, Eka speaks about working with Mani Ratnam, her approach to Tamil films and the research that went into styling for Chekka Chivantha Vaanam.
How did you decide to have a career in films?
I studied fashion in Mumbai and the New York. I then wanted to join a high fashion magazine, but when I was looking for a job I got a call asking if I wanted to work as Sabyasachi Mukherji’s assistant for the film Raavanan (Ravana in Hindi). So, at that time I just took it up. But only when I began working on it, I understood that this was quite different from what I imagined it to be. Reality hit me. But I grew so much while working on the film. From one of the last assistants to become one of the main assistants – I evolved. I’ve learned so much from my first film, from Aishwarya Rai, Sabyasachi, Mani sir, and Santosh sir and it has helped me so much. And this was the only film I assisted on. I then went on to debut as a stylist in director Santosh Sivan’s Urumi.
After assisting in the New York Fashion Week, then debuting in the south Indian film industry I have understood that your job should eventually help you to grow and do things differently
How easy or difficult is it to work with Mani Ratnam?
I won’t say it’s easy, but it isn’t difficult either. The only thing he demands is magic. Both of us try to deliver something magical. He’s never really satisfied with the final output but there have been times when he has said ”Eka, you have nailed it”. When we work together we don’t just consider the feel of the movie, but we strive on working to see how important it is for the scene. The fit, the style, the look of the fabric all this should harmoniously play along in the film.
How do you decide on costumes for the lead actors? Is it based on the character they play or their personality? I personally loved Nithya Menon’s look in Ok Kanmani.
When I am reading the script I start thinking of how I can style the actor in the scene. Styling for films doesn’t mean creating a look just for the character but creating something which suits the actor. The audience needs to relate to the character. For instance, in Ok Kanmani, Nithya Menon’s character was modern, independent yet she was a very rooted girl. So we brought in lots of Indian fabrics, lots of skirts, which were modern, fresh yet ethnic. The selection of makeup also plays a key role. It makes or breaks the look.
A DOP plays a huge role in shooting colours and how a character looks in the film. I’ve worked with the best of DOPs including Ravi Varman, Santosh Sivan and P. C. Sreeram who are so good at what they do.
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What level of research or detailing did you do when you worked on Chekka Chivanta Vanam?
It was a different Mani Ratnam film from what I have done so far. This was a multi-star cast, this was tricky and challenging. I am not from the South, I don’t know these actors in the films so well. I don’t know their body of work, so I have a fresh approach to styling the person. We gave everyone a different look. The root of the film is in Chennai. Women in the film are all styled so differently. For Aishwarya Rajesh, we styled her differently from her other films, and for Jyothika it was a very traditional look but the colors we used were different.
One Fashion tip this season
Instead of following trends, go with the feeling. Be comfortable. Don’t stick to any trends!
What do you think heroines should do differently in terms of styling when they appear in films?
Detach from who you are! Heroines should play characters not themselves. The artist can try and see how she can do her eye differently – and if the character demands that change. I feel it’s important to incorporate different looks.
What are your future projects? Are there more Tamil films in the kitty?
At the moment, I am working on Pooja Hedge’s look for her film with Prabhas. And in Hindi I am working on Total Dhamaal with Madhuri and Anil Kapoor, then there is Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar’s film. In terms of Tamil films, I have nothing as of now, but I am still in talks.
We admire your work and your passion, Eka. We wish you the very best for all your fantastic projects.