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Pragathi Shetty Reveals the Challenges of Designing Costumes for the Epic Drama

Kantara, a Kannada movie has gone global by the nativity of its storytelling. The content, the script, the narration, music and everything related to this movie has been a topic of discussion for a long time now. Rishab Shetty, the actor-director of this beautiful piece of art, has a solid back-up in his wife Pragathi Shetty, who is also the costume designer for Kantara. In a detailed conversation with News18.com, Pragathi Shetty has revealed the effort that has gone in bringing the world of Kantara into reality on screen through well-researched and tailored costumes.

How many costumes did you make for Kantara?
Overall it should be around 1000-plus costumes. The costume of the leads was around 350 with 10 change overs. Rishab’s role had roughly 20 sets and Sapthami Gowda (lead actress) had twice the number. So it’s over a thousand almost.

How did you plan these sets of costumes?
As soon as the script was ready and I got the narration, I began my research. I was pregnant with my daughter at that time. I visited couple of Guthinamane (the family house of the people who are leaders of the village in coastal Karnataka) and checked their old photographs. The reference for the attire and jewellery of the king and queen came from there. I also visited museums of Rani Abbakka and collected several images of that era which helped a great deal.

Pragati Shetty with husband Rishab Shetty on the sets of Kantara. (Photo: Pragathi Shetty)

Tell us more about the fine details of the costumes in this project.
Kantara spans across ages. The early era where Shiva’s father was performing the Kola and the later major part where Shiva’s story happens are in completely different periods of time. I had to be very careful and cautious since the story revolves around a demi-god who is revered by many. The overall costumes vary completely in these two zones. If you observe even the Panjurli (the demi-god avatar) costume has differences which can be made out at the end of the movie while both the roles meet. But the costumes of Panjurli was completely done by the people who are actually a part of Kola, I had nothing to do with it. It is followed in a certain divine way and it was let to be in that way.

How big was your team in the costumes department? How did you source the jewellery and attire?
We were basically 3 – Rocky and Kiran were my helpers and there were 4 other costumers who would look into the continuity of the costumes in the scenes. The costumes were majorly sourced from various vendors in Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Udupi, Manipal and Kundapura. The vendors would drop the parcel in a bus and the team would collect it at the destination. I had a detailed design for every character which helped later since procuring and aging them was the only challenge later on.

Pragathi herself played the role of a queen in a small sequence in Kantara. (Photo: Pragathi Shetty)

You have also played a role in the movie with your kids, how was that costume planned?
Yes, I have played the role of the queen that comes in the beginning of the movie. I have worn 3 sarees and each saree has a story. I wanted a specific material and color that is not in vogue now but is vibrant nonetheless since the role is of a different era of a queen. One saree, the yellow one is a banarasi saree with an artistic pallu as the highlight. It had to be a 50-year-old one but it isn’t. Thankfully, it can’t be made out on camera. The second saree, a maroon colored one is my mom’s wedding saree. And the third one is of an old woman whom I know. The whole sequence of king and queen comes for roughly 2 minutes on screen but was shot for 15 days – day and night at a stretch. Ranvith and Radhya, my kids play the same role (the queen’s kids) in the movie.

What was the most challenging part in designing costumes of Kantara? Any jugaad that you had to do?
Other than the research, it’s the aging of the costumes that was very challenging. Some costumes take at least 2-3 days to age to a certain tone. Especially the ones that were used during fight scenes, we had multiple sets of costumes and slippers because they may damage while the actors get involved in various action scenes. There are totally 4 fights in Kantara and we had 4 sets of all costumes ready. Despite that, a few costumes and footwear were completely damaged and we didn’t have enough time to get them done and also age appropriately. Hence we had to just go behind the screens and apply some soil on the clothes to make them look old. If the actors knew we did this, they would definitely refuse to wear them. But it saved the day.

Tell us more on costumes of Sapthami Gowda, the lead actress. Her double nose ring is now a rage, how did you come up with that?
Sapthami was a sport from the beginning. Initially we tried by using the pressed nose pin since she will have to work in other projects in the future that may not need this piercing. But somehow, the pressed one didn’t look natural. Later we decided to get one side of the nose pierced for her, and she readily agreed. Something was amiss even after that so we went for a 2-sided one. I had told her that the pain she took to get 2 nostrils pierced will not go in vain, and here it is. People did notice that style and many girls are following her now. It feels good when your efforts pay off.

Her costume as forest guard was a different project altogether. I sat down with forest department staff and studied the costumes of that era – the ’90s. It was the time when women began joining the forest department. So I studied badges of that time and the specific color of their uniform fabric. I can’t use the current uniform, so many things have changed now. We got the motif hand-embroidered and the color is a mix of olive green and khaki. Also, while wearing the uniform, Leela wears a dried stick in the place of nosepins which is what most women in coastal Karnataka do. We followed all of this to the T.

And the jewels? Where did you find them?
Oh, most were handmade for the movie. I literally sat in front of the goldsmith and drew pictures on a paper and made him follow it. Most jewels were made in silver and coated in gold. Many details that I referred didn’t have images to show so I had to sit and draw them.

What about Rishab’s attire for promotions? He seems to have made panche a new fashion statement across India now.
That was a planned one for sure. I have kept multiple sets for him for promotion. His shirt matches the border of the panche (Panche is Dhoti in Kannada). It is to give the feel of the movie to people whom he meets. Similarly for Sapthami, I told her to go traditional with her looks and that is sorted.

How did this interest in costumes begin for you? And what’s your dream project?
I was a software professional till I found my calling in costumes. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas is my all time favourite movie. I must have watched it over a 100 times. When people around me paid attention to the story, actors etc, I always stared at the vibrant costumes, the jewellery and the fine details of the craft. I am mesmerized by period dramas and vintage styles. So after marriage, when I decided to take a plunge in this field, I joined a fashion designing course and started working thereafter. I loved working in Bell Bottom, another flick of Rishab with a retro theme. Similarly with Kantara, it is a different era altogether and I enjoyed every bit of working with this team. My dream project is always to be with an amazing team that gives enough space to experiment. I am hoping to work more in such projects that is adventurous, fun and soul satisfying all the same.

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