From farm to films, designer Chandrakant Sonawane shares his journey
Costume designer Chandrakant Sonawane, a farmer's son, on dressing up A-listers and his latest stint with the biopic, PM Narendra Modi
When director Sanjay Leela Bhansali announced his film Bajirao Mastani, one could assume the scale and grandeur of this project. And after the epic historical romance finally hit the screens in 2015, it was Anju Modi who mostly drew accolades for designing outfits of the lead cast, leaving a young man from Maharashtra's fringe village Bhagwan Nagar almost unnoticed. But, if it weren't for Chandrakant Sonawane's intricately created outfits donned by background dancers in the famous Pinga song and the Maratha warriors on the battlefield, the saga would have lost its true essence.
Four years later, the 36-year-old costume designer has added many feathers to his cap. After completing assignments as a secondary designer for Padmaavat and Bhoomi, and independently creating costumes for the legendary actor Madhuri Dixit in her Marathi debut film, Bucket List, Sonawane is here to stay. "Things weren't the same when I first started off. Forget becoming a fashion designer, chances of me completing elementary education even were bleak," he shares.
Born to a farmer's family in Jalna district, Sonawane was made to do odd jobs on the fields as a kid. He recalls, "Both my parents worked on the farms. As we were financially unstable, my father didn't want to fund my education. But my mother always wanted me to become something. So, she would send me to different boarding schools in Ahmednagar and Shirdi. By the time I completed my secondary education, I had changed around nine schools."
For a village where only farming is seen as a career option, Sonawane's sudden interest in fashion designing was frowned upon. "I came across a fashion article and was immediately drawn to the profession. At my farewell after completing Class X, I was asked about my ambitions. When I revealed mine, many eyebrows were raised. It was an alien subject to them," he adds, saying he took up the challenge nonetheless. "After completing my Class XII exam, I didn't know how to enroll myself for a fashion course. A friend, who was going to apply at International Institute of Fashion Design (INIFD), Pune, asked me to accompany her. There, we told the professors about my financial condition, and they were willing to reduce the fee. But even then, I had to cough up R18,000 annually for three years. And for this, I needed to convince my parents."
When Sonawane recommended selling a portion of their land, his father hit the ceiling. "After a lot of arguments, he finally gave in. But the battle had just begun for me. I borrowed R1 lakh from him. It would take my family 10 years to make that kind of money. I knew I had to fight against odds and prove myself. At the fashion institute in Pune, things weren't easy for me. Even the peons were dressed better," Sonawane shares.
But he managed to win hearts by proving his worth, and around 2009 after he graduated, he got his first break when a friend asked him to assist her in an Indo-Iranian movie. "Just when I was wrapping up here, I got a call from someone to design costumes for Marathi film, Guldasta. Then there was no looking back. I began earning about R10,000 to R15,000 per month; I even opened up a small boutique in Pune."
But the best was yet to come. He then got a call to assist a designer working for Bhansali's Ramleela. This was followed by an opportunity with Bajirao Mastani. "I was offered the role to assist, but since I had enough experience by now, I told Bhansali sir to make me the lead designer. He, however, refused. I was told to prepare a presentation on Kashi bai (played by Priyanka Chopra) instead. I remember travelling to Shaniwarwada in Pune and Kelkar Museum to collect reference pictures of her. I also went to a small town in Kolhapur, known for making authentic silver jewellery.
As I returned two days later, Bhansali sir was surprised. We sat for three hours discussing the crucial information I had got from rural parts of Maharashtra on the character," he adds. Bhansali then offered Sonawane to design costumes of dancers in Padmaavat too. He also recently designed outfits for the PM Narendra Modi biopic set to release next week. "Today, I have built a bigger house for my parents in my village. They still don't know what my profession is really like, but are proud nonetheless of whatever I have become today."
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