Fifteen years of draping characters on celluloid: The brand called Sameera Saneesh

Sameera Saneesh
Sameera Saneesh these days is going places to pick the colours and costumes she requires. Photo: Manorama

Sameera Saneesh is completing 15 years in the field of film and ad costume designing. Stars kept coming and going but Sameera continued her winning streak in the industry. There is a Limca Book of Records for completing a record number of films during a short period of time in her name as well as two state awards. These days the costume designer is travelling the world to pick the colours and costumes she requires. Sameera chats to Manorama about her journey.

How did costume design change in Malayalam cinema?

I think it would be better to say that cinema itself has undergone a sea change. You don’t see many songs or group dances in today's films. With the intervention of realistic cinema, it is only natural that the change will be visible in the costumes, songs, and dances. Now almost 80% of films that are coming out in Malayalam are realistic films. Therefore costumes also became realistic. Malayalam cinema has learned to shoot scenes using a colour palette as well as to pick outfits that suit that colour palette. According to the theme, colour palette is decided and there is more emphasis on detailing too. For example, 'Bheeshma Parvam' is a grey-shaded film. So the costumes we picked suited the mood of the film; especially for its hero played by Mammootty. Another interesting change is that there is a difference in the budget allotted for costumes in cinema. Some films are spending 40-50 lakhs on costumes now.

You have entered a film that was previously dominated by men. What are the initial challenges you faced?

I came to cinema from the field of advertising. When I did my first film (‘The White Elephant’), I was thrown out of the set saying that I didn’t have a union membership. I remember borrowing money from several people and handing over the fees to the then MACTA chairman Vinayan to get a membership. They made changes to the system to make sure no other technician had to go through such a hassle in the future. I am someone who talks very less. I think my work has done all the talking. Am glad to see all my hard work getting rewarded. That keeps me going forward.

You are a brand name today. What’s the secret of your success?

I had to struggle a lot to enter this field. I have seen several opportunities slipping through my fingers. But I have never allowed my passion for costume designing to dwindle. I was extremely particular about adding my signature to my work and to never let down those who trusted me. I am not intolerant of criticism. Even now I follow the same dedication, discipline, and detailing that I had for my first film when I take up a new film. I think it is comparatively easy for new designers to get an entry in this field. But if you want to survive in this industry you need to be hardworking and dedicated along with having a good team with you.

Are women in the industry facing discrimination even now?

I would like to think that the days of discrimination are over in the industry. At least that’s what my experience tells me. Earlier there were directors who were adamant about doing things their way. But now you don’t see directors like that anymore. It is only when our creativity is put to full use that the designs get better. Most of the new directors are aware of this. But now there is this issue of not getting payment despite completing the projects on time. This is the plight of most technicians except for the leading actors.

What are your new projects?

'Thuramukham' a film which I researched a lot is currently running in theatres. 'Neelavelicham' will be released shortly. Kunchacko Boban’s ‘Gir,’ Tovino Thomas’s ‘Anveshippin Kandethum’, and films by Nivin Pauly and Mammootty, a Hindi film are the upcoming films. I do get calls enquiring about certain costumes used in films. I am also making a space for people to directly buy the costumes I designed for a film as well as for costume designing. The online store, through which you can buy costumes through social media and website is getting ready. 

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