Manish Malhotra on designing over 500 costumes for Mughal-E-Azam, as musical enters its third season

Feroz Abbas Khan's Broadway-style musical Mughal-E-Azam will return to Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for the third season from 6 April. Since its first show in 2016, the stage show based on K Asif's 1960 iconic period drama has received rave reviews, particularly for its detailed and impeccable costume design.

 Manish Malhotra on designing over 500 costumes for Mughal-E-Azam, as musical enters its third season

A still from Mughal-E-Azam: The Musical

Mumbai-based fashion designer Manish Malhotra won the Best Original Costume Design Award for Mughal-e-Azam: The Musical at the Broadway World India Awards. Ahead of the premiere of the third season of the musical, Firstpost interviewed Malhotra, and he discussed his theatre debut, coming up with 550 original costumes for the show, and how designing for stage is different from cinema.

What impact has Mughal-E-Azam, the film, had on you? What part of it has stayed with you since you first watched it?

Everybody knows I was born and brought up on movies. I absolutely adored them as a kid. Strangely, even at 52, I'm very wide-eyed about films. If there's anything that de-stresses me, it is a movie. After 29 years of designing costumes in Indian films, I still approach them as a regular person [sic]. Of course, I had watched Pakeezah, Mughal-E-Azam and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam as a youngster. But I grew to like them (even more) as I became older. After I crossed the age of 30-35, I really began to enjoy black and white cinema. I don't know why.

What is there not to like about Mughal-E-Azam? From the performances, direction, dialogues, costumes, songs, romance, rich-poor conflict, father-son story — it is a complete Hindi picture. I loved Madhubala's beauty and mesmerising performances by Dilip (Kumar) sahab and Prithviraj Kapoor. I'm very lucky to have loved these films and then got an opportunity to work on something like this in my lifetime. I always live in with this wish that I was in the 1960s or '70s, and been around Rekha and Mumtaz.

Mughal-E-Azam released in 1960. How have you managed to strike a balance between traditional designs and contemporary tastes while creating costumes for the musical?

The Mughal period (of Salim) is the 16th century. I'm not following the film per se. It was just a reference point. We focused on the Mughal period, and not the film as such. We did a play with absolute newcomers. It was my first play, and that too such a dramatic one with its costumes and music! I just died doing it. I didn't realise that unlike films, where we make the costumes for only the next schedule, in a play, all the costumes had to be ready in one go. Then I learnt that there is a principal cast, and there is a standby cast. So there's also designing costumes for them. Then the director, choreographer, production designer and I all sat down and they insisted that I make all the costumes with real fabric, including those for all the dancers. When I looked at the results, I realised they were so right. But it was tough to make 550 costumes in that short span of time. Of course, I contemporarised it in the sense that the cuts got a bit more contemporary. It was just to suit the cuts of today and show that we're making something of our own.

A still from Mughal-E-Azam: The Musical

A still from Mughal-E-Azam: The Musical

What other challenges did you face in your maiden stage project?

The tricky part was that the costumes needed to look smart and fit well. Velcro is a good change but it needs to look grand. The costumes should also not look too grand such that it overwhelms the actor. The difference with a star is that they can carry off an over-embellished or grand costume. But the cast in Mughal-E-Azam: The Musical were not stars. They were great actors. I couldn't make costumes that overpowered them. So that was a study I did with respect to stage.

Were you skeptical of the fact that theatre does not offer retakes?

We went for a lot of quality. We had the shalls, the beautiful bandhej, the Banarasi brocades and the Kashmiri embroidery. I went all out there because it was Mughal-E-Azam. So it was all heart. Since we put so much quality, it was all durable and we didn't have to worry about the costumes being snappy. I also saw through the dress rehearsals which are so important, since all the dancers have to be comfortable in their costumes.

You designed 550 costumes for this musical. How important was for each costume to stand out?

We had to design so many costumes, including the armour for the battle scenes. Akbar and Salim's costumes are very heavy. They were like actual armour. I stopped the work of all my units, those who do my bridal wear, my film costumes and my fashion shows, and all of them just focused on this project because of the sheer volume and scale. The last 10 days before the show I just felt I was living in NCPA (National Center for the Performing Arts, Mumbai). The entire technical team came together to look at the dress rehearsals so that they could figure out how to enhance the costumes through lights and positioning. The experience was quite different as it called for collaboration at so many levels.

A still from Mughal-E-Azam: The Musical

A still from Mughal-E-Azam: The Musical

Mughal-E-Aazam is returning to Delhi for its third season. Tickets on

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Updated Date: Apr 03, 2019 14:42:48 IST

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