Remember the scene where Pakhi and Varun, played by Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh respectively, are seated by the lake? Pakhi is dressed in a traditional sari and high-necked blouse with a huge gold ring which she wears throughout the film. Varun, in a formal shirt, and trousers; the hair gelled back, looks ordinary yet classy.
The setting is picturesque -- trees, lake, the birds chirping in the background and a beautiful landscape when seen from a distance. The camera work is slow, capturing every subtle emotion on the faces of the lead actors. Now imagine the scene, without the styling, art direction and camera work. It would perhaps not entice us as much as it did with all the exquisite detailing.
Lootera, a period film, is being hailed by the critics and audience as a masterpiece; a new chapter in Indian cinema. The lead performances have received rave reviews and the director, Vikramaditya Motwane, has become a name to reckon with. But spare a thought for art director Aditya Kanwar, cinematographer Mahendra Shetty and stylist Subarna Ray Chaudhuri, who, with their exquisite touch, have transported us into a world that we had only heard of so far. Motwane says, “For Lootera attention to detail was a prerequisite. We went on floor only when we had done all our homework.”
Chaudhuri was signed on by Motwane to do the styling, after she had impressed him with her work in Parineeta and Eklavya. However, recreating the ’50s was a challenge nonetheless. Chaudhuri turned to historian PC Mahtab, from the erstwhile zamindar lineage of Bardhaman Rajbari or Burdwan, for help. “I met a couple of zamindar families in Kolkata and went through their albums to see what they wore back then.” Once she had decided on the clothes and accessories, sourcing was the next step. She sourced Sinha’s saris from Kolkata. Bengali handlooms, taant saris, crotchet, jaamdani, Bhagalpuri and matka silks were selected for her. “When she wore her saris at home, she wore it on the navel, so that it would look like regular wear and not glamorous.” Singh was made to wear high-waisted pants, shirts with pockets and inverted pleats -- all in muted tones. To give the clothes an aged look, they were sent to the dhobi ghat for a thorough wash. “Also, I did not iron any of the clothes, since they had to look naturally crumpled,” says Chaudhuri.
The styling was ably backed by Kanwar’s set designs. Lootera begins in Kolkata and then moves to Dalhousie. Most of the outdoor shoot happened in Kolkata and Dalhousie. However, the library, dining hall and Dalhousie outhouse were created at a Mumbai studio. “It took a lot of effort to make sure that the interiors matched the exteriors. The character walked out of the Mumbai set into the Kolkata outdoor,” says Kanwar, who also created snow at the Mumbai sets. For research, he took to the internet and read every possible article to recreate the era. “My team and I also visited many old libraries for reference books and we spoke to several older people to get a sense of the era.” While Kolkata was a tad easier to create because of the studies conducted on its rich cultural heritage, Dalhousie was more challenging. “We met with a lot of local people from the region to discover more about the city.” The minutest details like the brand of pens, cigarettes and toothpastes and their packaging was also studied in detail.
Having worked with Mahendra Shetty in his previous venture Udaan, Motwane was aptly able to convey his thoughts to Shetty for Lootera. The grainy quality in the camera work depicts a bygone era. At other times, it is used to enhance the temporal settings. For instance, when Pakhi is writing in a frustrated state of mind, the camera,s jerky movements convey her state of mind. Kanwar and Shetty played a lot with the lighting. “In the first few portions of the film we made use of candlelight and oil lanterns. And by the time we reached the end of first half, we had switched to electric lighting, which gave a brighter feel. The Dalhousie portions in the film represent a more dark side of the story. Here, Kanwar again switched to candlelight.