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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont


It took Anju Modi a year-and-a-half just to research and compile notes on the Marathas before she sat down to design the outfits for the film Bajirao Mastani. She had worked with the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali before. He did not do things by halves. Attention to detail was his hallmark. For Goliyon ki Rasleela – Ram Leela Anju Modi had painted Deepika Padukone in the mesmerzing colors of Rajasthan . For Bajirao Mastani she was designing clothes for all three leads: Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone.

The designer spent many months travelling across Maharastra, the seat of power of the noted Peshwa.”I also spent time studying available materials and miniature paintings in the Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad. The Nizams and the Peshwas belonged to the same period and it gave me interesting insights to help create the look,” said the designer to Indian Express. The clothes must reflect the grandiose of that period in history.

Then she did her own take on history by molding it to flattering silhouttes. As the actresses slinged and swung like bouncing springs in the Pinga song the audience’s eyes followed the navvari saris with entranced eyes. The designer had reduced the bulk of the sari by having the 9 yards woven in light silk. She had included light Chanderis, Maheshwaris and mul-mul fabrics in her ensembles. The ensembles also crossed gender barriers.

Anju Modi crossed the line of men and women’s fashion and blurred it. The embrodiered angarakhas with peeping bodices had both men and women salivating. The impressive gheras of the angarakhas along with pagris were eyed by the women in the audience with equal interest as was the navvari saree draped like a dhoti. Zardosi was substituted by moti ka kaam (pearl work).

The colors too were muted with earthy tones like ochre, cappuccinos,anari (pomegranate colour) and mehendi , not rich or vivacious. “They only used vegetable dyes during those days. Most colours were made from herbs and flowers,” said the designer to Business Standard.  “I visited the Shivaji museum where I noticed the colours.”

Then there is the added element of designing for the cinema. The clothes must reflect the nuances of each of the three protagonists’ characters and their personalities as they develop through the film. The clothes, colors and accessories reflect their changing states of mind especially during pivotal moments.

Additionally with takes and re-takes through the heat and dust of bloody battle scenes, the outfits needed multiple sets as well. . “We had to create as many as six changes of the sari for the re-takes. I ended up making as many as 300 outfits for the film,”  said Modi to Indian Express.

The simple makeup of the era was offset by the oppulence of the jewelry. The icing on any cake is the swirls and silver balls it wears. Jewelry pieces for the movie were sourced and designed to help highlight and recreate the various looks: Hyderabadi Nizam look for Mastani to accentuate her part-Muslim heritage;  heavy chainmail armours and leather footwear for the war; and traditional Marathi jewellery – the nathni and archetypal ornaments for the demure Kashibai, a simple Maharashtrian woman and first wife of Bajirao.

As the actresses swirled on screen wrapped in Anju Modi magic, the wheels were turning in the minds of the moviegoers.The audience took mental notes on how to recreate the look of the stars. They wanted to capture the magic and take it to their tailors. In their minds they were already wrapped up in the aubergine, magenta and ochre  jamdanis and paithanis.

Ritu Marwah has pursued theater, writing, marketing, startup management, raising children, coaching debate and hiking. Ritu has a master’s degree in business and worked in London for the Tata group for ten years. Ritu is social media editor at India Currents.