COSTUME DESIGN

Divvya N Gambhir & Nidhhi S Gambhir

 

WIN FILMFARE AWARD FOR SONCHIRYA 


I’m always astounded by the work of these two artists. And no one could be more proud. Their lines, flows, contours, colors energize every frame of the film they design costumes for. They not only bring shape & flow to the human bodies, but also help to nuance the face, accentuate gestures, and with their hues interweave unexpected but always fascinating relationships between object, body, face, architecture & nature in a frame.

 

But, more than that, they bring ease & choice & reflection to the set and help their director with fabric juxtaposed with metal, leather, wood, fold opposed to plane, texture abraded on texture, tints juxtaposed to shapes to evoke a film’s larger themes, its inner voice. They give body to the film’s spirit. 

On my films, they’ve inspired me, opened new possibilities and have always given me choices that have made the films better than I imagined.

Mr. Anup Singh

Writer/Director

TO DIVVYA AND NIDDHI GAMBHIR
 

If I have managed to attain a quality of light, tone and colour that vitalizes the themes and sets the hidden djinns whirling in my last two films, that’s in large part due to the conjurations of Divvya and Nidhhi Gambhir. They do not simply dress the actors, they dress the spirit of the film.

Perhaps, I could talk a little about their work on The Song of Scorpions. The film is set deep in the Thar desert of Rajasthan and is a tale of a woman who is learning from her grandmother the ancient art of being able to heal by singing. This tale, this film had to have the shape of the songs gathered here from Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, but also from the Sindh valley. The film had to be as textured as the terrain and full with the journeys of saints and warriors and lovers, songs and prayers and stories that resound in the landscape. And, for that, one of the main elements I felt the film needed was the mirror-work cloth that the women usually wear in this desert.

The mirror-work on cloth that we find in the Thar desert is said to have travelled with the Mughals in the 17th century from Persia. Tiny shards of glass are carefully stitched into place in relation to various geometrical patterns on square or rectangular pieces of cloth. These patterns put the spreading and gathering possibilities of circles and triangles into tense play, and this play is further enlivened by stitches of prudently chosen colourful threads, that with every fluctuation of light and shadow manifest a new becoming. The square or rectangular pieces of cloth are then sewn together to create dresses and shawls.

These squares, rectangles, circles, triangles, these horizontals, verticals, diagonals, these patterns, these rhythms, their flow, their limit, their unfurling not only hold memories of numerous journeys, but also certain Sufi queries about curtailment and wandering, stillness and release. Simultaneously, the mirror-work cloth, in its variable fluctuations of light and deep shadows, colour and tones, reflects the spirit of the desert with its ever-changing surface.

The dress takes on a sentience, rippling and shimmering with life. The dress becomes alive not only to every quiver of the body, but is ceaselessly transforming due to what the mirror-work reflects in every terrain and light. As darkness falls to the earth, the lines and configurations created by the little mirrors on the dress can suggest cosmic constellations. 

The dress, then, in its textures, rhythms and transformations takes on qualities that meander through the human world into nature, rocks, metals, water, fire, sand, trees, into the world of animals, and still meander on into the cosmos.  The dress is alive as the universe. It should not come as a surprise to now learn that mirror-work is believed to reflect the beauty and healing in the world and deflect the evil eye.

The Song of Scorpions is about what we choose to reflect back into the world.

Niddhi and Divvya seemed to understand this instinctively. Niddhi travelled for weeks, relentlessly, through the desert heat and sudden gales that could cover her car with sand in a few minutes, to far-flung villages in the Thar. Somewhere she would manage to get three small square pieces of mirror-work, elsewhere only one. A whole day’s journey could also end with nothing.

Since, as a man, I was not allowed any contact with the women of the desert, she also brought me many tales, songs, impressions, dialogues, dreams that some of the women shared with her and which helped me to layer the tale and the film with more textures.

With these collected tatters, strips and fragments, Divvya and Niddhi, then, slowly started coaxing the film’s costumes to emerge. As though that was not enough, I would next insist that each costume have its own colour palette of stitchings. As you might imagine, there were many a night that the whole costume department would spend changing certain threads and even opening the seams and  rearranging the squares and rectangles that made the dress. Some of the strips of mirror-work collected by Niddhi on her vast voyages were said to be more than fifty years old, stitched by great-grandmothers and grandmothers. I’ll always remain ardently grateful to them.

And, to Niddhi and Divvya, I can only say - you’ve not only dressed the spirit of my films, you’ve given my spirit colours and luminosities that have brought me, as close as it’s possible in this life, to fanaa!

My gratefulness, my love and salutations to you two Djinns!

Mr. Anup Singh

Writer/Director