Kamal Haasan to Parvathy, Amritha Ram speaks on what it takes to be a celeb stylist

Shoots aren’t always as glamorous as one would expect them to be, says Amritha as she explains how it involves a lot of groundwork and changes in the eleventh hour.
Image of celebrity stylist and costume designer Amritha Ram
Image of celebrity stylist and costume designer Amritha Ram
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‘Cowl neck, asymmetric, beige kurta’ is the pitch the designer has in mind for actor Kamal Haasan. The latter, known in the film fraternity for his unparalleled knowledge about the intricacies of cinema, approves the idea but has specific instructions about the fabric. The cloth needs to be completely textured in the way you want it to be, it cannot be rigid, it needs to move around your thoughts, says an insistent Kamal Haasan. The designer goes back to him with muslin as the chosen fabric, but this time she does not get the go-ahead since the material, the actor feels, is still starchy and does not move around. She then treats the muslin with hot water washes for 12-14 hours to soften it before the outfit is made. The designing process doesn't quite end there. “There’s something missing at the neck,” the actor remarks during the fitting session. Perhaps adding a dash of black complementing the black-coloured bottom? the two of them wonder. At this point, the actor pulls out a leather belt from his closet to show how a pop of colour would make all the difference to the outfit. Drawing inspiration from this demo, the designer finally uses a black neck accessory she picked up from Milan to complete the look. This is an example of what a typical and intriguing collaboration between an actor and celebrity stylist and costume designer Amritha Ram looks like.  

“I get inspired from a lot of things. People, culture, travel! While travelling, I observe a lot. I try to understand why people dress the way they do. I try to pick up things from everywhere. I visit flea markets wherever I go,” Amritha tells TNM. Not to forget conversations with people, which is the designer’s favourite way to stay inspired. One can sense the excitement in her voice when she proudly claims to be a people’s person. A Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) graduate, Amritha made her debut as a designer with director Mysskin’s superhero film Mugamoodi in the year 2012.  

As for her association with Kamal Haasan who is fondly known as 'Ulaganayagan', Amritha is styling and designing costumes for the actor on Bigg Boss Tamil.  Apart from being roped in as the designer for the upcoming Tamil movie Indian 2 starring Kamal, she is also part of the actor’s new clothing line KH House of Khaddar’s core team, which aims to promote sustainable handloom products. “I’ve found the biggest teacher in Kamal Haasan sir. He knows so much about fabrics, fashion trends and construction that there’s a constant learning,” Amritha remarks. A self-confessed fan of Kamal, she has also started an Instagram page called @kh_thestylemanifest filled with quirky stories and unnoticed details about actor Kamal’s looks from previous films. In one such post, the stylist decodes Kamal’s attire from Sigappu Rojakkal that brought out the dichotomy of his character, a man who wears disco shirts in bright colours and dazzles women by the day but as night strikes, he dons leather jacket and aviators, bringing to life his sinister side in P Bharathiraja’s psychological thriller that inspired various fashion trends in Tamil cinema of the '80s. 

Image: Actor Kamal Haasan in an outfit designed by Amritha Ram


A post shared by @kh_thestylemanifest


A post shared by @kh_thestylemanifest


A post shared by @kh_thestylemanifest

From Boho-chic to Victorian Goth: Stories from editorial shoots 

With films, the brief given to designers involves a set of demanding parameters, guidelines and insights about the characters, the requirement, budget and the filmmakers’ vision for the project. Amritha, who has worked in numerous Kollywood movies as a designer, does not shy away from accepting that she has the most fun with editorial shoots. “Unlike films, with editorials, it's all me. I get the freedom to experiment. I speak with the actors, gauge what they are looking for and come up with the theme,” she says.  

Parvathy Thiruvothu beams bright in a bold yellow-coloured print from the house of Masaba; she looks unabashed wearing a printed white jacket, with a neck-piece with purple beads, playful makeup and artsy hair extensions completing the Boho look, while she looks elegant in a chic black outfit in her photos for JFW magazine. “Many actors are not usually open to Boho looks and I was waiting to try that for a long time but Parvathy was on board with the idea. Parvathy wanted me to go with the flow and experiment,” Amritha recalls. She further says, “The shoot with Nithya Menen was also similar, she left it to me to choose the style we were going with.” 

Image: Actor Parvathy Thiruvothu's photos from a cover shoot for JFW Magazine 

Image: Actor Nithya Menen's shoot for JFW Magazine, styled by Amritha Ram

If you were to open the text thread between stylist Amritha and actor Sruthi Haasan on Instagram, you’ll probably find hundreds of posts about fashion exchanges between the duo. Sruthi is not only a longtime collaborator, with whom Amritha has worked in movies like Vakeel Saab and Salaar, but is also one of her closest friends from the industry. “Emotionally, we have a bond of trust and love but with respect to my creative collaborations with Sruthi, there’s constant change and reinvention,” Amritha says. 

From adding a desi twist to the Victorian Goth style to embracing vibrant outfits in hot pink and canary yellow, the actor-stylist duo are determined to broaden their horizons with each collaboration. Speaking about the Victorian Goth editorial shoot with Shruti, Amritha shares: “Goth is always associated with darkness and dark makeup but it can also be beautiful; Elizabethan Goth for example. I used zari and velvet in the outfit, since they are reflective of the Victorian period. We added suitable jewellery and doubled up a necklace as a headpiece.” 

Image: Actor Sruthi Haasan's photos for an editorial shoot. Image Credit: Sruthi Haasan/ Instagram

Image: Actor Sruthi Haasan is seen along with stylist Amritha Ram in a Behind-the-Scene photo

However, shoots aren’t always as glamorous as one would expect them to be, says Amritha as she explains how it involves a lot of groundwork and changes in the eleventh hour. “Dulquer had to change around five outfits while shooting for a commercial in Dubai. We did not have a caravan right next to us at all times since the city has strict parking rules. He had no other choice but to prep for the next look in elevators and bus stops. But he had no qualms in adjusting and was very chill and casual about it,” she says. It is not just meme creators and social media users who ‘Improvise, adapt and overcome’, celebrities also seem to be living by the motto at times. 

As for Amritha, you are most likely to spot her carrying 10 different props during shoot, contemplating every possible way to crack the look that sets the tone for the photoshoot. “I am open to collaborating with any artist, I appreciate new ideas and can accept criticism too but I am picky when it comes to selecting members for my team. There are so many people entering the field who think fashion is about glamour and quit once they find out that’s not quite the case. The industry will give returns but it requires us to put in hard work and be consistent,” Amritha remarks. 

Image: Actor Dulquer Salmaan and stylist Amritha Ram

Treading on uncharted waters  

Vada Chennai, a gangster drama tracking the underworld politics of north Madras from the 1970s to early 2000s, was perhaps among the most difficult projects the stylist has worked on. What would people wear to a wedding or a sports event? Where are weddings held? What did jail inmates wear during the '90s, 2000s and over the decades? What was the washing method? Are there colours they were supposed to avoid? Were all questions that the stylist tried finding answers for and focus on as she researched for the film.  

“I did my field trip to Kasimedu. I went to houses the director and ADs knew. I looked at their albums. I spoke to older people specifically since the film also tracks lives of people across generations,” she recalls. She further says, “This film was like crossing a huge yardstick since I had to depend on newspapers. I learnt to read Tamil and visited the library to come up with ideas for the costumes. The bottom line is with Vada Chennai, I learnt clothes make a statement, while costumes tell a story," she says. 

Image: Photos of actor Dhanush's costumes from Vada Chennai 

Image: Photos of actor Andrea's costumes from Vada Chennai 

Image: Photos of actor Aishwarya Rajesh's images from Vada Chennai 


A post shared by Amritharam (@amritha.ram)

Given that the job of being a celebrity stylist and costume designer requires one to constantly network, track fashion trends, look out for new changes in the market, keep up with the consumers and find talented artists, merchants and others from the industry, Amritha notes that social media has been a godsend in many ways. “I have been using Instagram to network with so many people from across the globe. I ignore its downsides such as trolling,” she tells TNM.  

Responding to questions about embracing body positive and gender fluid fashion, Amritha observes that she is all in for change and is open to it. “I am fluid and open to new ideas. I think it is important to move forward with the times. Fashion is very individual and independent. If I like something, I would wear it without thinking about fitting in. But I wouldn’t describe myself as a rebel either. I think it is also crucial to incorporate it in the right shoot, at the right time,” Amritha opines. She further says, "There have been times when I’ve said no because I don’t agree with certain aspects or ideas put forth by the filmmaker.” 

In recent times, several people have spoken out about the need for fashion to be comfortable. Infamous for its portrayal of heroines clad in chiffon sarees dancing at hill stations, Indian cinema, which has also been called out for objectifying women, hasn’t exactly been a fierce supporter of comfortable clothing for models and actors. 

“It is people’s prerogative to express their concerns, dislikes and views. Fashion is democratic and there is space for all voices. See, it is also up to the actors to voice out what they like and what they don’t like. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong. But when the actors, the director and the team believe in the idea, people have the right to say they don’t like it but they can’t say the team is wrong," she says.

Spilling the beans about one of her upcoming projects, Amritha says she has an exciting project in store that has “something to do with being in front of the camera.” She is also eagerly looking forward to discovering what’s in store at global events such as the Milan and Paris fashion week.  

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