By Mitali Parekh
Neerja is the story of an ordinary girl who found circumstantial courage. A strong voice in this story is Sonam’s restraint in the costume department and darn good wig.
Our movie industry does not so short hair well (case in point: Anushka Sharma in PK) and cutting their hair off is not an option for most actors as they work on multiple projects. Especially not if you have ghane, mulayam, kaale baal like Kapoor.
Namrata Soni, whom Kapoor favours off screen as well, takes credit for that believable bob — the sophisticated hairstyle of the 80s — and the fact that it moves realistically.
A lot of thought has been given to Sonam and what she’s going to wear in Neerja. It’s a USP she and her sister, producer Rhea Kapoor, have cannily used for marketing, citing costume change and budgets to promote the film. So it’s refreshing to see restraint in favour of the script.
To keep the focus on the action, there are hardly any long shots of outfits. Sonam goes through only four or five changes — three in flashback where were never see her entire outfit; and two in current timeline — and none of them are designer. Not one Anamika Khanna is sneaked in, which is saying a lot.
“In the 80s, designer wear was not prevalent,” says the movie’s costume designer Theia Tekchandaney, whose work was last seen in the Vidya Balan-starrer Bobby Jasoos. “It was not what young girls wore.”
Certainly not what 22-year-old airhostess from a middle-class family would have access to. “Also, if we used anything that was seen before, it would not make the movie believable. So everything for the main characters had to be made.”
Everything also had to be period-authentic, and 80s can be seen in the acid-wash of Jaideep’s (Shekhar Ravjiani) ballooning denim jacket and pleated jeans. Tekchandaney relied on suppliers in Chor Bazaar in Mumbai, for a endless stock of watches and clothes for the supporting cast. “They had to be old, but new-looking and some pieces we needed multiples of because of the action in the airplane,” she says.
In what costumes do exist, yellow is used to express Neerja Bhanot’s sunny disposition. It’s a yellow petal-sleeved dress in which Kapoor enlivens a party; it’s a yellow suit she wants for her birthday; its a yellow suit we see her mother Rama (Shabana Azmi) in, perhaps to indicate the happiness their home. We wouldn’t be surprised if research showed it was Neerja’s favourite colour.
Th costume designers build a landscape of ordinariness — the balis and nose stud that Neerja's mother Rama, like so many Punjabi women of that era wore permanently, wears; the vertical grey and blue striped shirt of Harish Bhanot (Yogendra Tikku); the bleached and off-colour Pathani suits of the terrorists; the unglamorous dusty rose and jade green closed neck suits Kapoor wears as a married woman trying to downplay her modelling career.
As crisis strikes, Kapoor’s crisp PanAm uniform becomes a symbol of Neerja’s devotion to duty. It was a time when glamour was associated with air-travel and air hostesses carried a vanity case. The terrorists smudge her red lipstick and mess up her blowdried hair, but she smooths it down, eases the creases and carries on. To terrified passengers, the sight of still neat cabin worker amidst the chaos must have been reassuring. Here was one person who was in control, and knew what they were doing.
If Sonam wins accolades for her work in this movie, no small measure of the credit should go to the restraint she showed while wearing the costumes.