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The Making Of A Legend: Designer Neeta Lulla On The Creative Process Behind Thalaivii Costumes

khushboo sharmakhushboo sharma  |  Oct 11, 2021


When it comes to period films, a major part of the magic lies in the costumes. The evocative colours, silhouette, the structure–every single detail plays a huge part in transporting the audience and everything can fall apart with the minutest of the details gone wrong. Ace couturier Neeta Lulla understands this very well and her iconic costume work for films like Devdas and Jodha Akbar is proof enough. As part of her latest (also, most challenging) project, the designer created costumes for Kangana Ranaut’s Thalaivii and in a recent chat with POPxo, she talked about the challenges of recreating a character as iconic as Jayalalithaa. Read on:

It’s All In Details 

Neeta Lulla

Recreating mythological characters for period films is a herculean task. There are no pictures, no elaborate documents dedicated to costumes, and all in all, not many references to look up to. However, it wasn’t the case with the ‘golden era of Jayalalithaa’. She was a yesteryear star with a vast array of songs and films serving as an elucidated style file. There were pictures both from her films and as well as her public appearances and basically, a lot of material to devour. But did that ease the process for Neeta Lulla? 

Well, the heart doesn’t grieve after what it does not know and while knowledge might be power, it is also a pandora’s box. Being the perfectionist that she is, Neeta wanted to recreate Jaya Amma’s personality with painstaking detail,which turned out to be way more challenging than she had anticipated. 

“You know in terms of Thalaivii, I honestly thought that it would be a very easy film to work on because all images were there. But when I actually started working on the film, I realised that there are so many details to Jaya Amma’s style,” shares the designer. Bringing every single detail of Jaya Amma’s style to life was an integral part of Neeta’s process to achieve this she watched each one of her songs at least 15-16 times. “We just thought that it would be easy to replicate but every time something new came up. We had to get the colours right, the structure, everything right and that required a lot of research,” adds Neeta. 

Jayalalithaa: A Leader, An Icon, A Star

Neet Lulla

“Jaya Amma was a fashionista of her time, she was a fashion leader of yore and she put in a lot of effort and thought in the costume that she wore in her films,” shares Neeta. Back in her movie days, Jayalalithaa was a bona fide fashionista who invested a lot of time and thought in each one of her looks. She literally used to come up with new hairstyles and got new wigs designed to go with her costumes. A floral outfit thus had to be matched with a floral hairdo, a churidaar with a beehive bun, and a pastel midi with cascading waves. She was a megastar and took her position really seriously. Jayalalithaa knew that she could drive trends and leveraged her position to experiment to her heart’s content, a quality that Neeta admires in Kangana as well. “I admire her experimental nature to her costumes. She did not just wear a gown or a saree but created entire looks around them. I believe that it is this experimental nature that is common to both her and Kangana” explains Neeta.

This is not to say that fusing the character with the actor was a cakewalk for the designer. She worked extensively on the structure of the clothes so as to give Kangana a body and structure quite similar to Jayalalithaa. This again required extensive research given that the yesteryear star and politician kept changing her style throughout her life. From opulent silk lehengas to solid, cotton sarees, she wore it all and Neeta ensured to bring it all to life with the gold, red Amrapali lehenga from the song Nain Bandhe Naino Se red becoming her favourite look from the film.

With the film’s costumes, Neeta’s aim has been to create a time capsule of Thalaivii’s superstar era and given Kangana’s larger than life persona in the film, we think that all her hard work has indeed paid of!

Featured Image Courtesy: Neeta Lulla