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Barfi! making it as India's official selection for next year's Oscars is a high, but the real reward of working on the film for Aki Narula, its costume stylist, was that it was set in his home town Kolkata. "I grew up in Kolkata — I spent the first 27 years of my life there," says Narula, adding, "Of course, it was special. I keep telling people I am more Bengali than a sardar. In fact, Anurag (Basu, the film's director) and I would break into Bangla on the sets every so often."
Interestingly, Barfi! was offered to Narula in 2010 when he was working with actor Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar. "Ranbir, Anurag and I knew the film was special, but I was especially excited that it would be shot in Kolkata and Darjeeling, where I holidayed with my parents several times," reminisces Narula.
The film, he admits, has been an emotional journey. To source fabric and costumes, he visited bazaars that he would frequent as a child with his now deceased mother. "Ileana's (D'Cruz) saris are a tribute to the saris my mother wore. I had my father send me two of my mum's saris, which Ileana wears in the film," says he.
Kolkata is famed for its Bengali cotton and Dhakai muslin, among other weaves. Then there's also the Lalpaar, the red-bordered white sari. Narula is happy to offer some shopping tips: the Dakshinapan market has old-school shops specialising in Bengali weaves and fabric. The stretches of Gariahat is a famous south Kolkata haunt. Meera Basu's saris are legendary, as is the Bhojraj sari store in Rashbehari. Chamba Lamba in the New Market is a lovely tribal jewellery shop. "The antique shops of north Kolkata are wonderful. This is where the zamindars originated from," says Narula.
Basu, an authentic Bengali to boot, was amazed how Narula had recreated the Bengali gent's mood for Kapoor, right from a plastic comb to applying Brylcreem in the hair and batik kurtas worn with white trousers. There's also a particular slipper from Khadim's that Kapoor wears, and Bata shoes "because Bengalis only wore Bata shoes". Narula adds, "Kolkata is an absolutely different world, a big part of it refuses to modernise. Our snob value comes from the fact that we preserve culture."
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