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National Award Winning ‘Mahanati’ Tells The Story Of A Legendary Actress Through Powerful Details In Her Sarees. We Love It

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The life of an artist is always fascinating! How do you tell the story of an actress, whose career spanned four decades and consisted of a triumphant rise to fame and a tragic fall from grace? It takes a keen eye, a strong lead and great aesthetics to bring such a story to life. While director Nag Ashwin and actress Keethy Suresh imbibed Mahanati with their creative flair, it was the costumes of the film that gave it its required ‘look’. Winning the National Film Award for best costume design, the film weaves an intricate retelling of Nadigaiyar Thilagam Savitri Ganesan. Literally translating to “Champion of Actresses”, the film is a visual treat for film fanatics and regular audiences alike!

The carefully recreated world of Mahanati sees the leading lady clad in beautiful sarees, both on and off screen in the film’s universe. The creators responsible to curating these costumes have confessed to using the mode of a woman’s saree to show her age, range and sometimes even, her mental state.

The Diversity Of The Indian Saree

The maker of gorgeous Banarasi sarees, designer Gaurang Shah was part of the team who spent months doing research and developing the dress story for this movie. He said in an interview, “The shooting of the movie went on for one year, and the weaving process was uninterrupted. The whole progression took more than a year and a half from the inception of the costumes to the conclusion of the last shoot”.

The designer also shed light on the kind of diverse looks they chose to show on Keethy’s Savitri and said, “From mangalgiris and kotas with prints for her growing days, to heavy brocades, silks, organzas, handwoven sateens and chiffons for her golden era to subtle rendition for her later life, my team travelled extensively to museums and recreated the textiles of that time. Each and every detail of the textile, design, texture and colour were studied and artisans were guided to recreate it”, he revealed. Now that is the kind of hard work and commitment that will bag you a National Award!

The Resourceful Stylist

Odisha girl Indrakshi Pattanaik is one of the hardworking stylists in the team of people who recreated Savitri Ganesan’s look with fabulous accuracy. How does one go about sourcing for costumes for an actress who was prolific in the 40s? According to Indrakshi, “Though it seemed like all I had to do was make banks of clothes era-wise, I didn’t realise what I was taking up. I thought ‘how bad can it be?’. Well, I didn’t think then that we’d be shooting back to back, every day would need changes. We had crowds of around 400 people sometimes, where everyone had to be registered. The film’s background is its skeleton and it was important that everyone looked as perfect as the leads”, she revealed.

Indrakshi also confessed going all in, just like Gaurang, to make the looks accurate. “Extensive research had to be done because of the lack of documentation of the fashion trends in south India in those times. There are just some cryptic black and white images of erstwhile Madras online, where we just got tiny glimpses of people of those times. But it was quite tough,” she confessed.

Fun fact: The clothes and accessories seen in the film have come from as far as the bylanes of Kolkata and street shops of Charminar!

The Chameleonic Actors

The costumes can be deemed as a unique character in themselves. The uncanny resemblance the performers bear to the actual people was helped by the details in the looks. According to Indrakshi, “In very few instances in the film you see Keerthy in overloaded jewellery and her look mostly comprises of chokers, sheer saris, flowers in her hair, a bun, puffed sleeves and tight handed blouses. As she ages, she chooses to wear more silks, “Vintage flea markets in Florence, and of course Hyderabad and Mumbai chor bazaars. For instance, glasses were bought from an old Parsi shop in Dadar, Mumbai. And watches are from those shops that store vintage watches in chor bazaars. We’ve really made an effort to keep it real”, she revealed. How cool!

Archana Rao, who is also a part of the costume team, was responsible to style Samantha Akkineni in the 80s. This feminist character was shown as a fashion icon on her own terms, full with groovy 80s fashion trends and accessories. Rao was ecstatic to be part of the winning team, saying, “I am so proud to be part of Mahanati. Winning this award means that all the hours we put into research and developing the characters bit by bit is recognised and appreciated. It is absolutely gratifying,” she revealed. We are truly so impressed with all of the grandeur of the film and are glad that a film like this exists!

What are some of your favourite costume design moments from cinema? Let us know!

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