How Rajini's Kabali would look different from Ajith's Billa

When Kollywood’s ace costume designer and stylist ANU VARDHAN got a call from director Pa Ranjith to design the costumes for Rajinikanth on Kabali, she was over the moon. For the lady who had designed southern heartthrob AjithKumar’s look in Billa as the stylish don, it was a full circle. For Rajnikanth plays a don in Kabali and the challenge lay in not only complementing his natural style with his attire but also to show him differently from all the Dons so far. In a chat with us, Anu reveals the behind the scenes moments designing for an iconic superstar in one of the biggest films of this year.


Recreating Rajini from the eighties

“This is certainly the biggest film in my career so far “,says the lady who started her film journey in 1998 and has done films in Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil to date. Her Kabali journey began when Ranjith narrated the character to her and discussed his various looks. Rajni plays an ageing don as well as a young man in the flashback parts of the film. “So I had to design two looks. One was the contemporary Rajni while the other was the younger Rajni of the Eighties. Ranjith was very meticulous and along with the Art director Ramalingam and make up artist Bhanu,we discussed every detail of his looks. Ranjith had all the details worked out like fabrics, look, cut,style and colour palette that he wanted for Rajni. I then showed Ranjit swatches of various materials for approval. For the Eighties look, I had a tough time sourcing printed material in large quantities for his shirts. I picked up stuff from few stores in Chennai who stocked old material while the rest I bought from Malaysia where a large part of the film is set. Art director Ramalingam was a huge help for he gave me umpteen song clips of Rajni from the Eighties for reference. We had a trial run with Rajni sir before finalising everything. He was particular only about the fitting and left the rest to us. It was amazing to watch how he transformed into the character the minute he wore the costumes! Within minutes he appeared 25 years younger before our eyes. When you look at Rajni you just look up to him ! It was so inspiring and motivating for me as a costume designer.”

How Rajini's Kabali would look different from Ajith's Billa

Anu travelled with the unit extensively when she was not busy sourcing the costumes. Apparently Rajni not only plays an international don settled in Malaysia, he also has several leading international brands to complete the suave, world class look. For the older Rajni, Anu sourced Suits and fabrics from the famed retailer Hackett London apart from Hugo Boss, the Italian brand Massimo Dutti and the Portugal-based brand Sacoor Brothers. His sunglasses were sourced from Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and Tom Ford. “I got around 50 suits made for him with 7 suits of each look. We got mostly woollen, cotton and natural fabrics. I got over 30 sunglasses for him from which we used the best ones. In fact one day, we saw him wearing his own Louis Vuitton glasses for the shoot. We felt they were perfect for the film and used the same brand for several scenes,” says Anu.

So did she feel the pressure of working in a Rajnikant film? “Of course you do feel a huge sense of responsibility because you know that whatever he wears on screen may set a trend. I have seen it happen before in Billa and Vedalam with Ajith. So I did pay careful attention to give Kabali my best, it being the biggest film of my career. The wonderfully co-ordinated team and the producer were a big help with the liberty they gave me to source the best,” recalls Anu.


Solid colours for Billa; plaids & tweeds for Kabali

Anu describes Rajnikanth’s don look as classy, subtle and sophisticated with the blues and greys dominating the older look while a colourful palette is used for the young Rajni. Since Anu has worked in Billa giving Ajith Kumar a don’s look as well, how did she make the don look different in Kabali? “Both are very contrasting. From the backdrop to the character background and their spaces,both dons are different and diverse. Directors Vishnuvardhan and Ranjith had conceived their dons in the way they perceived them and I just recreated it for them on screen. It’s the directors who have the vision and I just construct it for them. Hence not only will the clothes be different but so will this viewpoint, frame of mind and personality, each being unique to their characters. For example the color palette for Billa was black and white and they were all solid colour formal suits. But in Kabali, I have used a lot of plaids, tweeds and herringbone 4 piece suits and some casual jackets teamed with denims. I have deliberately used textures and patterns to give the character more depth and intensity,” signs off Anu.