Dressing the Stars

In Dolly Ahluwalia Tewari's world of costume drama, Saif Ali Khan is a chameleon, Farhan Akhtar a lion and Soha Ali Khan a flower

It was 48 degrees out there and the cast and crew huddled under the coolest shade they could find. But Farhan just stood there, like a lion on the burning track. He ran the stretch, 200 meters, 400 meters, and trust me, he can give any athlete a run for his money," says National Award-winning costume designer and actor Dolly Ahluwalia Tewari. She can't stop raving about Farhan Akhtar as the "Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh in Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra's much-awaited film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. On board as the costume designer, Tewari recalls the wow moment when Akhtar went shirtless and showed off his six-pack abs. "Our jaws dropped! If there is an actor in this industry dedicated and passionate about his work, it is Farhan," says Tewari, who was the guest of honour at British Library's DVD film quiz.

The last couple of years have been pretty eventful for Dolly. She floored the audiences as the loud whiskey-drinking Punjabi mother Mrs Arora in Vicky Donor, and the pot-smoking buaji in Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. She joined hands with Deepa Mehta once again (she did the costumes for Water) for her ambitious project Midnight's Children, and will be seen as an adorable daadi in Dheeraj Rattan's Punjabi film, Saadi Love Story. But more than acting and its odd working hours, it's costume drama where she finds her challenge. "I read and reread. It is extremely important for me to know the inside-out of the story, background, reasons, cause and effect, the era and characters; once I am through that, I turn to my sketchbook," says she.

What puts her in the most sought-after club of film designers is her eye for detail and deep understanding of character. "I become the character and then design the look for it," says she. In the process, the nature lover that she is, Tewari associates each character with an animal, object and smell. "Farhan is a lion, and when he runs, he is like a horse, loyal, faithful and a fighter. So we concentrated on the muscular legs. In Omkara, Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi was a chameleon, so we gave him a lot of texture, layering and brown colors because of the dust and liquor he was doused in." She compares Rahul Bose in Midnight's Children to a military baton stiff, straight, curt, sharp, strong; Soha Ali Khan to a lily, who wears jasmine flowers in the film. "I soak in the smells, sounds and looks in daily life, register them and use them in my designs," says the designer who created 3,000 costumes for Midnight's Children. "It took us two months to research and another one-and-a-half to create," says she.

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