Weaves of fortune
In a short span, Anu Vardhan has carved a niche for herself in the field of costume designing. A chat with the up-and-coming designer who shot to fame with "Asoka".
When Anu Vardhan told her doctor-father she wanted to study Visual Communications, his first reaction was far from being positive. That did it. She was all the more determined to pursue a career in the visual medium. But all that is a thing of the past. For today, Anu's father is always there with her, travelling whenever possible and helping her with her job... as a costume designer.
Anu's introduction to the world of arc lights was too sudden, too fast. Always interested in photography, it was while she was studying at Loyola College that she was introduced to Santosh Sivan, through common friends. "I remember, it was on location in Chalakudi that I first met Santosh Sir. I was asked to write some dialogue for "Terrorist". Santosh Sir liked what I had written and asked me to come to the location," says the shy, soft-spoken Anu, who is just over 23 years old!
Anu's first brush with acting was to happen then, as she acted as Ayesha Dharkar's friend in the film. "During the shooting, at one point, Santosh sir asked me to sit behind Ayesha and mouth the dialogue. I remember I started crying, I was too scared. But I had no choice!"
It was not being in front of the camera but being behind it that fascinated Anu. She not only assisted Santosh but also designed the costumes for "Terrorist". "It was quite an easy task." When the need arose for some old, faded shirts, all she did was "beat some old shirts with stone, and viola! they look faded and worn out. Actually we used some of Santosh Sir's shirts too!" says Anu, with an impish smile. Incidentally, she is married... to her classmate Vishnu Vardhan who also began his career as Santosh's assistant.
But what posed the biggest challenge for this Mumbai-based youngster was designing costumes for Santosh's magnum opus, "Asoka", which has got a mixed response at the box-office.
The rich red and bright blues on Kareena or the subtle white and graceful grey on Shah Rukh and Hrishita Bhatt... all these took shape in Anu's mind. Reacting to criticism that Kareena's clothes were too scanty, Anu explains, "To begin with there was not much information available on the clothes worn during that period and what little information was available showed people scantily attired. In fact, most women never wore the upper garment. They covered their bodies with lots of jewellery. Well... ", she then smiles.
As Santosh did not want too much gloss, Anu designed the dhoti-cosset for the heroine with stoles for the other female characters. Coarse jute, raw silk, chiffon and cotton... each fabric was as much a part of the character-building exercise.
What about the weapons? "The shields were made mostly of plastic. As for the swords, most of them were real and in fact, Shah Rukh's sword is the replica of one that director Priyadarshan has", she reveals.
But it was the battle sequence that left Anu completely drained. What she did not anticipate was getting 4,000 soldiers ready by noon each day! She recalls her experience vividly. "We had put up about 10 tents. I had trained five guys, who in turn trained another five guys. Our day would start at five in the morning and by noon we managed to get them ready."
Another difficult part was getting the costumes organised for Rajalakshmi, for the bar dance sequence. "The shoot and the stitching of the costume happened simultaneously!" What kept Anu going was the encouragement she got from her colleagues, "especially Santosh Sir, Juhi (Chawla) and Shah Rukh Khan".
She also remembers the trepidation with which she accepted to design Danny Dengzongpa's costumes. "He is a very fastidious man and a perfectionist. I was scared initially. But once I got to know him, I realised what a helpful human being he is," recalls Anu, who is still dazed after her first brush with Bollywood.
A lesser-known fact about Anu is that she is the granddaughter of the legendary N. S. Krishnan (her mother is the actor's last child).
Though she never saw him, she most definitely got her love for the silver screen listening to stories about him. The Chennai girl has optimism and enthusiasm writ large on her face... for better opportunities (she has a Malayalam and Hindi project on hand) and a bright future.
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