Odia Stylist Stitches The Past To Perfection For Award Winning Biopic

Slice by slice she recreated an era gone by and how! Indrakshi Pattanaik Malik from Odisha bagged the national award for best costume for recreating the looks of the 1960s, 70s and 80s with perfection for Mahanati, a Telugu-Tamil biopic of former South Indian actor Savitri.

The film also won the Best Actress award for Keerthy Suresh, who wowed the audiences with a stellar performance.

Odisha Bytes caught up with Indrakshi for a freewheeling chat to know about the efforts that went into creating the magnum opus. Excerpts:

Congratulation for the coveted award. How does it feel?

A: It was my first full-fledged movie and it feels great when all your efforts are recognised. It was my husband who sent me a screenshot of a message through WhatsApp that I have won the award for Mahanati. I was almost in tears. It was a gruelling one year; we worked through rain, heat and biting cold; I missed weddings and holidays. But now, it’s all worth it.

(Her husband Nitin Malik is the lead vocalist of band Parikrama and she was in Kolkata to watch his concert when the awards were announced on Friday. She spoke to us while driving down to her in-laws place after landing in Delhi, the following day.)

How did the project land in your lap?

After watching some of my ad films, Priyanka and Swapna Dutt had invited me over for talks for a web series, I stumbled upon Savitri’s photo then. Out of curiosity, I asked them about her as I did not know who she was at that time. I was also not aware that a biopic was being planned. I found her extremely beautiful and briefly discussed fashion of those times with them. It was designer Archana Rao who suggested director Nag Ashwin to take in a stylist to put together the clothes with accessories on the set. Within five minutes of my meeting with Nag, he gave me a book and the script of the movie. I was like, am I really on board or what!

(Priyanka and Swapna Dutt are producers of Mahanati. Indrakshi started working on the movie in May 2017.)

What followed?

Two to three months of intense research. I would eat and breathe only ‘Savitri’ during that period. Being a Bengali Odia, I had mostly grown up on a dose of vintage Bengali films by the likes of Satyajit Ray and knew about Odisha handloom. South Indian handloom was an unexplored territory for me. There were some cryptic black and white images and the cinema, which were mostly costume dramas. I wanted to know the real world around the characters. I and my team visited libraries, archives and even a photojournalist with The Hindu in the 80s, who gave insights into the fashion trends of those times. We also launched an online campaign and put up posters, seeking information from people about fashion trends from 1940s to 80s. We were flooded with hundreds of pictures with people sharing their family history. I wanted to understand what people from different sections of society in villages and urban centres wore at home, at work, on the streets, for weddings, polo matches. Some even came forward to lend saris from their grandmother’s wardrobes.

(The film traces Savitri’s journey from Palakollu in 1940s to erstwhile Madras for a film audition. It highlights her interest in cars and recreates a race course scene.)

How challenging was it?

Understanding the fashion trends and recreating them was very challenging. It was not just the lead actor, but everyone in the frame had to look perfect. At times, we had to dress up over 100 people. The saris, blouses, shirts, pants, and accessories had to be in sync with the character, the scene, the evolution in the story, the fashion of the time. In court scenes, we had to bring alive the time and style of that period. There was difference in the cut of blouses, jewellery, bindi and accessories in each decade. Bindi was an inseparable style statement that went with every age and every dress. No plastic was used in the jewellery in the 40s. Colour was also a big factor and the toughest. We had to recreate many black and white ear film/sets into colour. Cinematographer Dani Sanchez-Lopez was my rock, creating magic with his lightning and bringing out every detailing that went into dressing up the characters.

(Indrakshi chose earthy tones in cotton and khadi to depict Savitri’s childhood in Palakolu. Vibrant colours took over as she moved into films and red was symbolic of her romance with Gemini Ganesan. She used green to show the rift between two strong personalities, while blues, dark tones of maroon and moss green stood for later years of decline.)

When did you realise that styling was your calling?

I was always interested in fashion, but never wanted to be a designer. One year into Symbiosis Institute of Design, I realised where my heart was and picked design and fashion communication, which covered styling, graphic designing, marketing and branding. I worked as an intern with fashion magazine ‘Grazia India’ and then got through ‘Vogue’ in my final year. For me, fashion was initially confined to magazines. The hands-on training I got soon after graduation taught me the importance of being myself and also came handy when I stepped into the film industry. I then completed my masters from Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing in Florence, Italy. My first brush with styling in movies was for ‘Bombay Velvet’ where I worked at the pre-production stage with Niharika Bhasin Khan.

(She has also styled Chiranjeevi in Khaidi No 150.)

Any immediate future projects?

I have just completed Priyadarshan’s ‘Marakkar’. There are couple of more projects, but I cannot talk about them right now.

Let’s talk about Odisha

I am completely in love with Odia food, the simple lifestyle, handloom and Puri beach. I crave for ‘dahibara aloodum’ whenever I am in Bhubaneswar. I can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I often travel to the city to visit my family home and my relatives.

We at Odisha Bytes wish this young talented stylist good luck for her future endevours.

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