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Anju Modi on designing costumes for Bajirao Mastani

Anju Modi talks about museum hopping and studying 18th century-aesthetics to get the Bajirao Mastani costumes down pat

Did you know that Mastani was had albaster skin so that when she ate a paan, you could see the red through her skin?” says Anju Modi, costume designer for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period love triangle, Bajirao Mastani. “But she was also a warrior. I had to keep both facets of her character in mind. And Sanjay said something very important, ‘make sure she stands out in the Marathi landscape’.”

Deepika Padukone
Deepika Padukone’s headgear in Deewani Mastani was constructed so that it wouldn’t topple when she tilted her head

It is this attention to detail and commitment to recreating the life of the Peshwas of the 1700s that made sure Modi’s costumes are garnering appreciation. Be it dressing Ranveer Singh as Bajirao in his dhotis and angrakhas or Deepika Padukone as Mastani, Bajirao’s second wife, in her shararas inspired by her Persian descent, or Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai (Bajirao’s first wife) in the garb of a traditional Maharashtrian in her nauvaris, Modi, has delved into the past quite effortlessly. And she matched Bhansali’s grand scale — with more than 500 outfits — with duplicates made for each piece because all actors had body doubles as well. “I visited museums in Nashik, Pune and Hyderabad. The idea was not to pick up a design but to get transported to the era. Once your head is there, your aesthetic also gels. And, your design follows. You end up writing your own poetry.”

Priyanka Chopra’s nauvari sarees have been made from fine cotton yarn
Priyanka Chopra’s nauvari sarees have been made from fine cotton yarn

For Priyanka, Modi designed the nauvari, the nine-yard saree, but made it from a fine yarn of cotton and silk so as to make it lighter. “We gave her colours that Indian women of that time wore — purple and lotus pink.”

Modi narrates an interesting story behind Deepika’s outfit in the song Deewani Mastani. Since they had used up all colour palates, including yellow, red and gold, Bhansali wanted a completely different colour for his lead actress. Modi suggested they use the colour dhani, a shade of green. “Sanjay liked the way it sounded, and so he agreed.”

For Mastani’s headgear, Modi and her team had one reference point — an artist's impression of an 18th century glass painting of Mastani, now exhibited at Pune’s Raja Kelkar Muesum. The team spent hours constructing it, so that it would not fall off Deepika's head when she tilted it. “The one thing that has come to my rescue is that I have been in fashion for 25 years, and I have spent time with artisans. I know how things are cut, and constructed."

Anju Modi
Anju Modi

The clothes also had to account for characterisations, stage setting, dialogue and moods. “It wasn't just my input. Sanjay, Deepika and Ranveer, also pitched in. Ranveer came for some of the excursions . You can fall in love with him a 100 times. It became like a picnic, where everyone’s creativity came into play.”

Her cues, she says, didn’t just come from specific instructions from Bhansali or her research. Often, it would also come by hanging on set. “Just watching Sanjay at work, indulging in conversations with people, influences your thought process. I have evolved as a designer,” she says.

Ask her what the country’s fashionistas are going to take away from the movie and she has an answer ready, “It has to be the shararas. But, I do hope that after this movie, the nauvari saree makes a comeback.”

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