Kaala costume designer Anu Vardhan on how challenging it was to make Rajinikanth powerful in simple clothes

TS Sudhir

Mar,06 2018 10:16:24 IST

From several shades of grey to black. That sums up costume designer Anu Vardhan's journey from Rajinikanth's Kabali to Kaala. Clothes maketh the man and if Kabali's sharp grey suits defined the don in Malaysia, who had spent many years behind bars and brooded over his past, Kaala is confidence personified, who dares his detractors to take him on even when he is alone. A black kurta and lungi complete Karikaalan, the don from Tamil Nadu who lords over the Dharavi slum in Mumbai.

Rajinikanth in a still from Kaala. YouTube

Rajinikanth in a still from Kaala. YouTube

Last June, when director Pa Ranjith approached Anu Vardhan to dress up the superstar once again, his brief was to the point. Karikaalan had to convey a raw touch through the colour black, look powerful yet relatable. But if anyone thought it was a rather simple assignment (as Rajinikanth is seen more or less in the same attire through the movie), they were wrong.

"It is, in fact, more tough when you are doing it in a simple manner. The challenge is to ensure the viewer does not get bored of seeing the hero in the same clothes through the movie,'' says Anu.

After seeing the teaser that released on Holi, Anu is excited as Rajinikanth and his clothes are a good fit, conveying grit. She points out that the pre-Kabali Rajinikanth was very different from the pre-Kaala Rajinikanth.

"Did you notice how fit he looks in the teaser,'' Anu asks. "During the shoot of Kabali, he was still recovering from his bout of illness. But he had worked out well before Kaala which meant his sizes had gone down and it was a well-toned body. He is always an energetic person but on the sets of Kaala, he was even more so," adds Anu.

In Kabali, Rajini's character wears western suits on his wife's insistence, to suggest defiance against a caste-based order. In Kaala, the challenge was to make a common man's attire convey power. While the colour black did half the job, Anu's team did the rest with the choice of fabrics to give the kurta that particular tone.
"Rajini sir wears kurtas often in real life so he is very comfortable in them. We did paneling on the shoulders to ensure the kurta fitted him well, to do justice to his physique. We also did some embroidery work. All the kurtas were linen and cotton. The goggles that he sports added to the intensity on his face,'' says Anu.

In many Indian movies, both Hindi and regional, it is often the villain who is shown attired in a lungi, to convey crudity and a crass approach to goodness. Anu's task was to ensure Rajini's look did not go down that path.

Apart from Rajinikanth, Anu Vardhan also styled for antagonist Nana Patekar and actor Huma Quereshi in Kaala. Patekar, who plays a politician is dressed completely in white throughout the film, the idea being to change the cliche of white being good and black conveying evil. Both actors also wore handlooms and khadi for their roles.

Comparisons have been drawn with Rajinikanth's 1995 super hit Baasha, where he played a don called Manick Baasha. But though the characterisation and acting style in Kaala is likely to be a marriage of Baasha and Kabali, looks-wise, Karikaalan is very different. The lungi was also chosen over any other form of clothing to convey a family patriarch image, common to many households in south and west India. In Kaala, Rajini's character is the head of a large family, living with his wife and four sons.

It is interesting that Rajini, in his real-life political avatar, will be seen more in kurtas and the reaction to Kaala may well give his political backend team a sense of the response he will receive when he gets into politics 24x7. Anu is the costume designer most production houses turn to when they have to dress up superstars, making her a much sought after name in south Indian cinema. She made her debut in commercial cinema with Shah Rukh Khan's historical drama Asoka in 2001 and among other films, has done Vedalam, Billa and Aarambam with Ajith. Anu is now working on two big projects, with Malayalam star Mammootty playing a 17th century warrior in a historical and with Telugu star Venkatesh in a film directed by Teja.

Published Date: Mar 06, 2018 10:16 AM | Updated Date: Mar 06, 2018 10:16 AM