Ashvin Kumar’s latest film No Fathers in Kashmir is a beautifully told tale of love and loss, betrayal and bravery, and the quest for truth.No Fathers in Kashmir also marks the second collaboration of Kumar with his mother, designer Ritu Kumar, who has designed the costumes for the film. An interaction with Ritu Kumar.
Tell us more about this project and how it came into being?
Ashvin Kumar, my son has been making films on various subjects. I did the costumes even for his first film, the ‘Little Terrorist’ which was nominated for the 2005 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Since the film is based on Kashmir and deals with a really sensitive topic, we felt that that the costumes should be a part of the story and should not stand out.
We wanted to keep the costumes authentic.Even though the film is set in the early 20th Century, Kashmir has not changed much since and the aesthetics of that part of the world are so fine and detailed that one could really not have taken any modern clothes and put them into the scenario so it was even more imperative that someone more aware of the colors and traditions of Kashmir does the costumes for the film. As a kid I used to spend a lot of time in Kashmir during the summer holidays and part of my family also belonged to Kashmir so I developed a natural affinity towards Kashmir. Later on as my career developed, I realized there was so much research to be done on the Kashmiri shawl and it was one of the most developed textiles in the world. People around the globe still copy the aesthetics of the shawl and call it ‘Pasiley’, however, it is basically the aesthetic of the weaving of the Kashmiri shawl that people actually wear today.
What was the research you undertook to conceptualize the costumes and what guidance did you have from the film direction/production team as a starting point?
A lot of research that I did has to do with understanding aesthetics of the stylized plants and flowers. The colours that are used to make garments in Kashmir come largely from vegetable dyes, which usually come from saffron and vegetables. Since Kashmir was an isolated part of the world and it was not easy for the people in the region to travel from mainland to locate synthetic dyes. Most of the fabrics they use for their clothes in Kashmir are wools which are basically protein fibres. Protein fibres depart a very different richness to the garment to what you may find anywhere else in rest of the country. If the shawls are very fine, they are made out of Pashmina and Shahtoosh. I have recreated Kashmiri shawls for the film which were actually worn by the locals in the olden times. I tried to recreate the look of the shawls by printing them in Delhi, the idea was to make them look like the old shawls. There was a lot of research which went into making the costumes. Even though there were not many costumes in the film, we tried to recreate what people wear there which required a lot of research.
We had a French and English team who handled different parts of the film. We had to recreate the furnishings and interiors of the place because we couldn’t find something which looked authentic and the interiors of houses in Kashmir are very unique, for instance the Kazak motifs on the Shikaras. It’s difficult to find fabrics like the ones available in Kashmir in modern day India and I had to recreate those as well for furnishing. The color palette had to be kept well within control so the colours wouldn’t overshadow the sets, for instance even in the wedding sequence the colours had to be contained in a way. Often when we see a film, we first notice the clothes and thereafter, the screenplay. However, for the film we wanted to keep the story as the main focus and make it stand out, and the clothes therefore have been underplayed.
What textiles and craftsmanship have you incorporated into the making of these costumes/garments?
I got the shawls weaved in Kashmir, I also tried to reproduce the Jamavar shawls by getting the local women from SEVA NGO to do the embroidery and make the women embroider the very beautiful phirans they wear but due to militancy and unrest in the area at the time we had to close down the unit and had to get them made in Delhi. I used a lot of different kinds of wools for the collection.
Please shed light on the involvement of the NGOs and how they contributed to the making of the costumes
I started a project with the women from SEVA NGO in Kashmir to get them to do the embroideries on the shawls, to also give them exposure, however, unfortunately after a first few months of starting the project, the NGO had to close down because of unrest and militancy in the area.
Tell us about your childhood memories from Kashmir that still have a deep impact on you and your craft?
Most of my memories from Kashmir are rooted in the color and the form of the natural scenery there. The colours were so distinguished because they were so pastels and underplayed and still very rich, and the form was just stylized flowers and leaves and everything that grows around there – the Cyprus and Chinar trees – All of them were memories I wanted to incorporate in the costumes but in a very subtle form.
How and why is fashion important in films?
I think I would almost call it a period film because it’s talking about a place in this country(Kashmir) which is almost frozen in time and costumes are very important to recreate the image of the particular era. The motifs of Kashmir had been so strong that they are in fashion all over the world event till today. There are companies in Italy and France who base their whole work on the Kashmiri shawls. Something so aesthetically sound doesn’t ever go out of fashion and this is a very unsung part of Indian fashion that it has contributed so much to the rest of the world.
How is working on movies different from designing for the runway for you?
Working on the movies is an art of patience and is very different from designing for the runway. For the Runway, you make a selection and it’s done and finalised in one day when the shows comes. With films it’s a very long drawn affair and you are not talking about just one character but about the entire atmosphere around that particular set and the shot being taken. It’s a multi layered experience and is far tougher.