"Midnight's Children - the best film of my career"

Feb 04, 2013, 11:13 IST | Ruchika Kher

She earned acclaim as the vivacious single mum in Vicky Donor but Dolly Ahluwalia has loads more to offer. The National Award-winning costume designer's work in Midnight's Children has drawn for praise from all sides. Having designed for Bandit Queen, Omkara and Love Aaj Kal in the past, this veteran of two decades tells Ruchika Kher about why this film was special

How was the experience of working on Midnight’s Children?
It might sound cliched but I’m still going to say it — it’s been a great experience. The time on the film is a period that I will cherish for the rest of my life, though it was a challenge.

Shriya Saran from a scene in  Midnight’s Children

What sort of challenges did you face while working on this film?
It was challenging because we were shooting in Sri Lanka, and the period that we were looking at was 1917 to 1970. I was aware that there would be nothing available in Sri Lanka, so I knew that if the director wants any improvisations in the costumes there, I would not get anything. Petrified of that fact and to avoid any risk, my team and me made the effort of carrying extra things with us. Even my tailor travelled with us. In spite of taking so much caution, on the eve of the first day of shoot, we realised that the costumes that had to reach us in Sri Lanka four days back hadn’t arrived. I knew that without those costumes the shooting won’t take place, but I told Deepa (Mehta) to not worry. I told her to do the scenes where less actors are involved and we managed to pull that off with whatever extra we had carried and few things from Sri Lanka. Another challenge was that because of the tight schedules, none of the actors could travel to Delhi, to my workshop for fittings, so all the fittings had to be done in Sri Lanka; it’s where the tailor came handy. Also, in the film, many Sri Lankans had to be shown as people from Lahore and Agra, so I had to change their look completely so they could pass off as people from those cities. That was tough. This apart, I had to do a lot of research. I focused on textures, line and colours and worked in tandem with the art department.

Costume designer Dolly Ahluwalia

Since Deepa Mehta directed the film, did she brief you about the costumes as well?
I had complete creative freedom in this film. Deepa has a lot of belief in me. She would never even be around while I would decide on the costumes, and when I would go to her with the pictures she would tell me that there was no need to show her the images. She would say, ‘I want to be surprised on the sets’. That was such a great thing; I can easily say that Midnight’s Children is the best film of my career.

What about Salman Rushdie. Since the film is adapted from his book, did he have a say?
Salman never interfered in what I was doing. Before we started shooting, Deepa did show me few old black and white images of Salman’s family so that I can get the feel of that era. But otherwise, there was nothing else that I was told. When he saw the film, his feedback was great. He told me, ‘Dolly you made me nostalgic.” That was the biggest compliment for me.

Shriya Saran with Satya Bhabha

Did you work with Ritu Kumar, who did the costumes for some actors for the wedding scenes?
I didn’t have to do any co-ordination with Ritu Kumar. The only time was when her costumes arrived for a few actors for the wedding scene; I saw them, and made few changes to my costumes, so that there is no clash with the costumes for the other actors.

Shahana Goswami in stills from Midnight’s Children

Did it take very long to work on this film?
Just before the work on this film started, I had to undergo a major surgery, so I had told Deepa that I won’t be able to work on the project, but Deepa told me that I’m the only one who will work on it, so even though the doctor had recommended three months of bed rest after the surgery, I began working after three weeks of rest. So, to answer your question, I had started my research much before the film work began, since Deepa had mentioned about the film to me long ago. Once we started working on the project, actively, it took me a month to put most things together.

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