Super 30: Niharika Basin Khan on transforming Hrithik Roshan, and why biopics are easier for costume design

Devansh Sharma

Jul 12, 2019 13:56:48 IST

In an industry obsessed with deifying the star, the spotlight often evades those who work tirelessly behind the scenes. The success of a film is often attributed to its face but seldom to those who constitute the spine. And so, in this column titled Beyond the Stars, Firstpost highlights the contributions of film technicians who bring their expertise to the table.

A lot has been said about Hrithik Roshan's appearance in Super 30. From conversation about his controversial brownface, to the audience applauding the actor for getting into the skin of Anand Kumar, a poor, lower caste Bihari mathematician who trained 30 underprivileged kids to successfully seek admission in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). In order to get a closer look at the creative process that went behind Hrithik's Super 30 appearance, Firstpost talks to Niharika Bhasin Khan, costume designer of the film. In an exclusive interview, the National Award recipient talks about designing costumes for biopics, and her recent inroads into South Indian cinema.

What brief did you receive from director Vikas Bahl for Hrithik's look? How did you ensure he looks like Anand despite starkly dissimilar appearances?

My brief was to make Hrithik look as close to Anand as possible. I've grown up in Jamshedpur, which was in Bihar, so I understood the culture and style of the people there. So my brief wasn't as extensive. We had to take away Hrithik's 'Greek God' looks because that's an important part of his personality. So we did want him to look darker, and change his hairstyle. We had to get as close to reality as possible, without taking away Hrithik Roshan, or without taking away Anand Kumar from Hrithik Roshan. It was very important to get the feel and the look of the Anand Kumar character right. For that, the fabric could not look rich.

Super 30: Niharika Basin Khan on transforming Hrithik Roshan, and why biopics are easier for costume design

Hrithik Roshan in a still from Super 30. YouTube

Do you feel the brownface make-up was a necessary tool in achieving his look?

Working with Vikram (Gaikwad) dada (make-up artist) was easy since he has worked in the industry long enough. Getting everything together was very important for us. Hrithik has done a lot of fantasy-based or style-based films so we had to tone all that down. It was important to have reality become a crucial part of his getup.

You have toned down various stars to present them as non-glamorous characters, such as Ranbir Kapoor in Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year and now, Hrithik Roshan in Super 30. 

For me, it's about the character I'm studying and creating. It's all character-based, script-driven, and world-driven. In Rocket Singh, I had to make Ranbir look like a regular guy. Because the film was about him being a hero within the framework of a sales person. With Hrithik, it was the same. They're real-life heroes. It's important to bring these deified stars down. It's not so much about de-glamourising them than it's to make them feel comfortable in the skin of the character.

You won a National Award for The Dirty Picture. In that film, you had glamour by your side since Vidya Balan played Silk Smitha on screen. In Super 30, glamour was not a crutch. How did you ensure your work gets noticed?

For me, the character is very important. Whatever I can do to make the actor feel comfortable to play that character. If the costume is not expensive enough, the fabric will have the itchiness that the actor feels in order to play a poor character. Obviously, that feel has to translate to the audience as well. But for that, the actors needs to feel comfortable in the skin of the character first.

Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture. Facebook

Vidya Balan in a still from The Dirty Picture. Facebook

How challenging is it to design for biopics, as opposed to fiction films?

I've always stated that biopics or period films are always easier because you have reference points. You just have to make it look prettier or better. Whereas for a fiction film, you have to create the costumes from a scratch. It is like being a fashion designer and maybe trying to set a trend by figuring out what will be popular by the time the film releases. They're both as difficult and as easy. My referencing and research are very important to me. Even with a fiction film, it's about the characters I'm dealing with. Then it depends on how far we want to take the fashion forward, whether we want to keep it at a reality level. But the research is as extensive for both the films. My understanding of the character, the world, and that life are very important.

You have also designed for a lot of period films, like Khoya Khoya Chand (Bollywood debut), The Dirty Picture, Kai Po Che!, Bombay Velvet, and Mirzya. How different is your creative process in case of a costume drama?

The creative process is the same. In Kai Po Che!, Rajkummar Rao played the son of a pandit so we gave him chappals. When he goes out of his house, he will have to remove his shoes. So why make him wear shoes? Just make him wear chappals. I made sure he wears really tight shirts because he was such a kanjoos (miser) that he won't invest in that much fabric! In The Dirty Picture, it's about glamourising and de-glamourising her. It's about her rise and her fall. Khoya Khoya Chand is also about the film industry but we didn't have a budget. I was fighting the budget to design costumes for the film. I remember I didn't have the budget for embroidery. So I just had to stick the embroidery at certain places. In Bombay Velvet, we had to recreate the opulence of that time, where everybody dressed a little extra to stand out. In Mirzya, it was difficult as I had to create a world. We created tribes and wanted every tribe to be different. Clothes weren't stitched at that time. Mirzya was more about how to get the unstitched clothes together using drapes and ties. So I have to get into the world of what I'm trying to create.

Finally, what upcoming projects are you working on?

There's Darbar (Rajinikanth-AR Murugadoss' cop drama), Yeh Ballet (produced by Siddharth Roy Kapur and Netflix, directed by Sooni Taraporewala), Pati, Patni Aur Woh (BR Films' remake of the 1978 classic, starring Bhumi Pednekar, Kartik Aaryan, and Ananya Panday), and Rajkumar Santoshi's next directorial.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2019 08:58:26 IST