Neeta Lulla: Nobody is easy to work with because everybody is your responsibility

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From bagging 3 National Awards for costume designing to designing Aishwarya Rai’s wedding dress and recently decking up Esha Deol for her Godh Bharai ceremony, costume designer and fashion stylist Neeta Lulla has done it all.

After designing costumes for period films like JODHAA AKBAR and MOHENJO DARO, Neeta is gearing up for her first women centric biopic MANIKARNIKA starring Kangana Ranaut.

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In a candid interview, the designer reveals how challenging it is to work on a period film specially when there is no documentation available of that specific era. She also reasons how the stars’ current obsession with gym and airport fashion is actually helping in creating fashion awareness.

Read on:

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MANIKARNIKA is your first women centric biopic. So can you tell us more about it and also how excited you are for this project?
Yeah it is my first women centric project and I am really happy to be working with Kangana and its director Krish with whom I have already worked with on his south project GAUTAMIPUTRA SATAKARNI. The entire team is really fantastic. It’s a lovely film and I think it would be a great working process.

While working on a historical film what all preparations and research work a costume designer has to do?
When you are working on any historic film generally you read the script 2-3 times then understand the characterization of each character in the film and then you work on the research of the fabrics of that era if there are photograph evidences or paintings available of that era. Then you work on the look keeping in mind who the actor is and their comfort level and the kind of innovation you want to do on the look and post that you kind of get into the creative process of fabrication, embroidery and walking the thin line between a look that is of a particular period but then it also has to adhere to the sensibilities of the contemporary audiences.

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So that makes historical films more challenging as compared to others right?
Absolutely there is a lot of research that goes into it, and there is a lot of work that goes into getting the right fabric, the right embroidery, the right colour. It’s like if you get stuck with a particular thing, for a commercial cinema you can go and buy from anywhere but if you are stuck on a period film you can’t do that as it is not available.

Then how do you resolve such situations while working on a period film?
The solution is that you try and see that you don’t have these kind of hiccups as in these films it becomes very difficult so you pre-plan, pre-decide and pre-organize otherwise if you are in such situation then you need to work over it and sort it out.

You have shared a very good rapport with all of your clients be it Sridevi, Jaya or Aishwarya. So from the current lot of actors with whom does you share a great rapport now?
Actually the whole scenario has changed today. Everybody now works with their designers. But I would say that all the current actors know about me and they have very high regard for me so the rapport is pretty good with everyone.

From the current lot of actresses who do you think is a fashion icon?
I think Kangana has a very edgy style and she has kind of worked on her particular style statement and on her comfort level and she carries off her clothes very well so I would regard her and Sonam Kapoor who has a very ultra-glam look which she carries off very well as a fashion icon.

Out of all the people you have worked in your 3 decade long career who was the easiest to work with and also who is your favorite client?
Nobody is easy to work with because everybody is your responsibility so when you are creating a look for somebody who is going to wear that garment, which is going to be documented in history lifelong, then it is a huge responsibility. It’s not about not gelling with them or how difficult they are but it is a responsibility that makes it difficult for you as a technician.

You have worked for the Marathi as well as South Indian film industry so tell us how different is their working culture as compared to Bollywood?
It is predominantly the same. However when I do a Hollywood film the whole genre changes. Whereas in Marathi cinema when you are working with them, the philosophy is the same, psychology of the work and the technical kind of things that you work on is also the same. Telugu films also are practically the same, there you are working with directors who are very focused on the kind of projection on the big screen even in Bollywood you see that as well. I would say that in Hollywood and Bollywood the working atmosphere, the genre and sensibilities are very different.

Since you have almost completed three decades in this industry so what all changes or evolution you have observed over the period of time as far as costume designing and styling is concerned.
The most important change and evolution that I have seen over the time is the advent of readymade clothes that you can take easily off the rack for commercial cinema whereas earlier we had to make everything. Clothes were hand-stitched or made and then used on the actors. The look was created entirely by the designer. Today you have stylist and you have so many brands available. In fact today what makes things difficult is the fact that there are so many choices available so which choice to adhere to and which sensibility to create a style statement becomes an issue.

Any current fashion trend that you just can’t stand?
No I love fashion and I love every fashion trend.

Okay so what do you have to say about Ranveer Singh’s bizarre dressing style?
I think he is quirky. He is edgy and he loves what he wears and is comfortable in those outfits. That’s why it becomes him.

And what about stars' current obsession with gym and airport fashion?
It is a current obsession because it is becoming a thing that the media captures therefore obviously everybody is so much into it and also today social media is so huge that nobody wants to look shoddy when they are captured on camera right? And they (stars) are glamour icon and they are epitome of what people kind of relate to and look up to. I would only say that this creates more fashion awareness.

According to you which was the best era in Bollywood as far as fashion is concerned?
Each era has its own beauty. The 60s had its own beauty the 70s had its own beauty of colors, 80s had its beauty of bling, 90s had more elegance, I would say 2000 because the awareness of the entire cycle of fashion got interpreted by many designers today.

Which specific project brought you the creative satisfaction the most?
When I work on something and I say, 'Oh! this is very creatively satisfying', but then I do another film which is even more creatively satisfying so there’s no stopping as year after year I work on more challenging films and that brings satisfaction.

Recently designer Vikram Phadnis ventured into direction so do you have any similar aspirations?
No I don’t have any such aspirations. There’s a lot to do in so little time in fashion.

Any Bollywood or Hollywood star with whom you aspire to work with in near future?
Yes Meryl Streep, as she is my idol whom I really like. There are so many other actress like Jennifer Lopez etc. They are really very great and beautiful actresses and I would love to work with them.

Rate these actresses on the basis of their fashion style -Kangana, Kareena, Deepika, Priyanka and Shraddha
It would be Kangana, Deepika, Priyanka, Kareena, Shraddha- I have arranged them not in the order of them being better dressed but for the kind of style statements they have made.

And among males Varun Dhawan, Sidharth Malhotra, Arjun Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor?
It would be Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan and Arjun Kapoor.

You have done more than 300 films and have bagged 3 National Awards. So tell us about that one thing that still drives you to achieve more in your career.
I think its work that drives me to do more. The kind of work I do, the kind of effort I put into my work that drives me. I am quite a workaholic actually.

Apart from styling and designing what are the other things that you are passionate about?
I paint oil on canvas. I am passionate about sketching so design is my hobby as well as my work.

Any message or advice for all aspiring designers out there
Most importantly study fashion it’s a huge ad on for a job profile. Fashion is not only glamour oriented. Create a niche of your own and focus on what you want to do. It requires great deal of commitment and passion and that will definitely help you reach your goals.

Which star do you think has the potential to become a designer?
It would be Sonakshi Sinha as she was my student in SNDT College. And I only say that because of the fact that she has studied fashion. Also, the reason I have chosen her is because I want all the fashion students out there to know that you need to study fashion no matter what studies you take up if you want to come back to fashion you can study it at any time.

If not a fashion designer what else you would have been?
I can’t just think about anything else (laughs) my god you have suddenly made me feel very insecure. Painting is just a recent hobby (2008) that I took up. And I love trying different colors.

Apart from MANIKARNIKA what are other projects you are working on?
There are couples of projects that I am currently in discussion with its makers so I can’t talk about them but I can say that soon there would an international project.

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