When Manish Malhotra dressed 550 actors for the stage..

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It’s one thing to design the entire wardrobe for a film, a collection to go on the runway, and, another, to dress up a cast of over 500 to help the audience time-travel to another era. Designer Manish Malhotra tells us about his experience of dressing the cast of Feroz Abbas Khan’s Mughal-e-Azam, an ongoing epic drama on a Mumbai stage.
How different it is to create designs for a stage epic, from designing creations for films and for the runway?
In my 26 years of experience, I have had the opportunity to work with actors for the stage, allowing me to understand the nuances of designing costumes for both platforms. Silver screen is not as challenging because photography and editing helps enhance the glam-factor. But, for theatre, it is different. Outfits need to bring in the drama and reality and making them look extravagant becomes a little demanding. For me, it wasn’t that challenging as lately all my designs have been focussed on reviving style and embroidery, a blend of old-world charm on modern silhouettes.
550 is a staggering number! How many people were involved in the production and how much time did it take?
Creating 550 costumes was a mammoth task. So much so, that production for the label was put on hold to focus on the outfits for the play. We’ve thoroughly researched the functionality aspect through rehearsals, understanding the choreography and movements so that each garment allows absolute comfort and mobility. It took us three months to create the entire wardrobe.
What kind of research was involved?
I remember the characters of Anarkali, Prince Salim and Bahar. As a child, I’ve been extremely intrigued by their opulent costumes. So when director Feroz Abbas Khan approached me to create outfits for this adaptation, I was ecstatic. We reinterpreted the outfits, using antique elements with newer embroidery forms and texture. We went through an extensive research process. The kalidars have more flair and all pieces have a signature touch of elegance. Lots of Banarasi and handloom brocades in jewelled tones helped to heighten the essence of these characters.
What happens to the costumes once the production is over?
We created them exclusively for the play and now they are the property of the production house. We sincerely hope that the play is loved.