Pursued story to drape the characters: 'Malik' costume designer Dhanya Balakrishnan

dhanya balakrishnan
The toughest task was to keep the characters convincing in their costumes as they passed through different periods, says Dhanya Balakrishnan.

Malik, starring Fahadh Faasil and Nimisha Sajayan in the lead, apart from generating a kerfuffle for its cinematic dimensions, boasts a range of aesthetic assortments like make-up, production design, music, visual brilliance and so on. Costume is an area where the movie marvelled outstandingly. Whether it's the elegantly clad old Sulaiman or the poor David or even the young, firebrand Roselyn, their clothes narrated half the tale they portrayed. Dhanya Balakrishnan who was in charge of the apparel for the movie describes how tough, and at at the same time thrilling, was the task of costuming the same characters placed in different eras.

Story or visual finesse?

“It varies with directors. While some filmmakers give thrust to beauty of the frame others prefer to keep it as realistic as possible,” says Dhanya, “So I shift the focus accordingly. However, I personally prefer going by the story to adorn the characters.” For Malik it was a mix of both art and reality and the preparations took months. Director Mahesh Narayanan gave Dhanya ample time for references and experiments. “I used several reference materials to explore the style and tastes of the people of the early period by visiting studios and studying old photos, examining old photo albums of crew members, even photos of my aged relatives in their younger days were helpful,” she says. Several factors are considered while donning the characters, including his or her age, tastes, fashion of the time, social status, financial background, among other things.

Which of the characters in Malik provided the greatest aesthetic satisfaction?

All characters in the movie were challenging, whether it's Sulaiman, Roselyn, Sulaiman's mother Jameela (played by Jalaja), her younger version played by Jalaja's daughter Devi, David or Aboobacker played by Dileesh Pothan. The toughest task was to keep them convincing in their costumes as they passed through different periods starting from 1960s to the contemporary age in the coastal belt of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Dhanya says. “What enchanted me the most in the movie were the costumes of David, played by Vinay Forrt. He was portrayed in a range of situations and emotions,” she adds.

Stars who weaved magic in their character's costumes so far

Dhanya cherishes fond memories in the course of her costuming career and remembers many actors who have amazed her by their transformation into the character. Among them the star who has astonished her the most is actress Parvathi Thiruvoth. “I was really wonder-struck by her changeover into Sameera in the movie Take Off. Another magical character was Pakki in Kayamkulam Kochunni played by Mohanlal. "And, what a humble human he is? No hassles, no demands. Ever ready to go to any extent of experimenting for the sake of the character. All he looks for is a comfortable place to relax on the sets," recalls Dhanya, who did costumes for both those films.

How it all began

With a career spanning over 12 years and more than 22 movies in her kitty Dhanya is enjoying her passion for designing, a profession she dreamed to choose after her school. "But at home they viewed it as something stigmatised and like any other student I pursued a degree as per the convention," chuckles Dhanya. However, she was unable to tamp down her creative instincts forever. After graduating she took up a course in designing at St. Teresa's college in Kochi. It was during her designing course that ace costume designer Praveen Verma, who was a faculty there, asked Dhanya to join him as assistant in a movie and little did she doubt that it was her big ticket to films.

Interestingly, her favourite forte is advertisement where she has contributed immensely. ''There the task is laid out lucidly, the choices are aplenty and the focus is on just making each frame beautiful. And, of course the pay is also very good.'' Dhanya laughs.

Aside cinema, Dhanya finds dress an integral part of an individual's personality. "When we meet someone our first attention is on his or her outfit. It's the first impression of a person and the telltale of his or her character and traits. So I think dress plays a vital role in a person's life," Dhanya concludes.

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