Renowned designer Neeta Lulla, best known for her bridal couture and Indian wear, has been a part of the fashion industry for the last three decades. Apart from making exquisite bridal designs, she has also worked as a costume designer in over 300
Bollywood films.

So how has her experience of designing costumes in Hindi films been so far?

“A designer’s work exists to actualise the screenplay, define the people and the places; and to bring out the marriage of concept and imagery. Every person from the actors to the director to the set designer to the technician need to not just be on the same page with respect to the vision, but also bring a sense of synergy through their concepts to make the entire filmmaking process collaborative and creative. This poses as a challenge when you’re working with a huge team on a film,” Neeta says.

She feels that a costume designer’s work is “incredibly refined” and “is more profound than providing clothes for a production.” She says, “A designer’s challenge is to realise the director’s vision and to bring that script to the screen. Our contribution to the story is more profound than providing the clothes for a production.”

She has designed costumes for films like Taal, Devdas, Jodhaa Akbar, Fashion, and Mohenjo Daro among others.

About the most challenging aspects of designing costumes for films, she says, “The battle scenes are probably the most challenging due to the sheer scale. They are the centerpiece of the film and you have to live up to expectations.”

The four-time National Award winner, Neeta, has recently been roped in to design costumes for Ashutosh Gowariker’s period drama Panipat, starring Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon and Sanjay Dutt.

According to the designer, before beginning work on epic films, one needs to do a lot of research. She says, “It all begins with reading and dissecting the script. I like to know the back stories of every character, where they are coming from, why they behave the way they do. I have multiple discussions with the filmmaker in general about the feel of the film, what the film is trying to convey, what each character stands for.”

Then begins the second stage. “Of deciding on the palette, making sketches and mood boards. Once the look has been developed it is about getting the samples, doing look tests, making look books and finally the suppliers, tailors and assistants come in for measurements. The last stage is building a comfort level with the star cast. ”

In her work, Neeta has made extensive use of hand-crafted fabrics and handloom. “It’s important that we help bridge the gap between India’s craftsmen, designers and the industry because otherwise our indigenous craftsmanship will be gone in a blink,” she adds.

The designer has already worked with director Gowariker for Jodhaa Akhbar and Mohenjo Daro.  On her association with the acclaimed filmmaker, she says, “He is a stickler for detailing and finesse and it’s always creatively satisfying to work
with him.”

Neeta Lulla’s flagship store at DLF Emporio, New Delhi.

How has costume designing the film industry changed in all these years?

“Today there is an industry status given to the entertainment industry. Hindi cinema has never enjoyed as much influence as it has today.  Earlier, it used to be dressmen on sets who had procedural knowledge of fashion consumption, but with the growing demand for realism in films and increased commodity consumption, costume designers took over. Present-day dress designers are frequently as active in the field of fashion as they are in film, in keeping with the general tendency for the two fields to overlap,” Neeta explains.

The couturier has designed costumes for several leading ladies in Hindi cinema. But working with the late Sridevi has been the most cherished of her many collaborations. She even credits Sridevi for giving her a platform in films. Neeta says, “My first stint with the late Sridevi was a photoshoot for Rakesh Shrestha in the early 1980s, for the cover of a movie magazine. I had just finished studying design and Sridevi was this big-screen goddess everybody was talking about, post Himmatwala. I went for the shoot with this little pouch that had a pair of earrings and crushed fabric in gold. Those days, when she came back from Madras, she would stay in the Centaur Hotel. She asked me if I got the dress, I replied in the affirmative. She looked at my little bag, at me, and said, ‘Is the dress in this?’ She was taken by surprise at how a costume could fit in a little pouch. She had curlers on and I asked her to not remove them and draped a turban on it, teaming it with a pair of long Kundan
earrings.”

It was post this photoshoot that Neeta was signed as one of the three costume designers for Chandni. She later collaborated with Sridevi in movies like Lamhe, Khuda Gawah, Heer Ranjha, Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja, Kshana Kshanam, and Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari in Telegu among many other.

Neeta’s success story—from starting with a single karigar and a sewing machine, to now having a vast online presence along with physical stores in Mumbai and most recently in Delhi’s DLF Emporio—is truly inspiring.

How does she look back at her journey?

“If you pursue something just for the money or the fame—it probably won’t end well. I strived to be the best version of myself and kept setting new benchmarks to conquer. I embraced my flaws and was a good student of life. With huge risks come bigger rewards and the chance to make a difference. I’m quite an optimistic person to be honest. The struggle begins when one is not grounded and is not caught up in the rat race. For me, my biggest competitor is myself. I’m greedy for perfection and finesse and not for acclaim,” Neeta told Guardian 20.

We also asked the biggest bridal wear designer in the country about the bridal trends that would dominate the season.

She answers,“Edwardian necklines and romantic texturing created with combinations of lace or tuelle and Indian fabrics. Rich Indian colours and cuts and motifs inspired from the Renaissance era blended with Indian heritage fabrics. Layered bridal silhouettes with ruffles, fluorescent monotones, colour blocking, rustic baroque and saree gowns.”

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