Be it Tara (OK Kanmani) or Dr Leela (Kaatru Veliyidai), the one aspect that stood out in these films is their costumes, which the audience related to very well. Their dresses were simple but elegant, highlighting their strong and independent personalities. 32-year-old Eka Lakhani is the woman behind these costumes that have etched these characters in our memories.
After an undergrad degree in fashion design from SNDT University, Mumbai, and a stint in Fashion Institute of Technology, Eka was deliberating on working in a magazine, writing about high fashion. That was when she got a call from someone, who said popular designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee was looking for an assistant to work on a project.
âIt was a film involving Mani Ratnam with Aishwarya (Rai) and Abhishek (Bachchan). These four names put together was enough to get me all excited. I mean, I would have even jumped at an opportunity to shoot a music video if these four were involved,â Eka quips.
Thus Eka Lakhani got her first taste of working in movies in the 2010 Hindi movie Raavan, which released in Tamil as Ravanan.
Experience with movies
âWithin a week of dreaming about high fashion, I was in Chalakudy, pulling out leeches from my leg and getting drenched in rainwater and waterfalls. It was a completely different experience and made me see that things are not as glamorous as they seem to be from the outside,â Eka reminisces.
âRaavan was an extremely difficult journey. But there was so much to learn. It was my school. I studied fashion but I never studied films. So Raavan was my film school. I kind of got trained by the best teachers in the industry I feel,â she explains.
Eka tells TNM that she had taken an oath during the filming of Raavan that if she became a Mani Ratnam costume designer, not just assistant, she would go to Tirupathi and tonsure her head. She got her break with Santosh Sivanâs Urumi. The movie got Mani Ratnam to sign her up for his film Kadal. All this by the time she was 23.
âI went to Tirupathi and was worried that they are going to shave my hair off. But the pundit there just cut a little bit from my hair. I was so relieved. I am not a religious person at all. I took that oath at that spur of the moment. I honestly thought that this would happen 15-20 years later,â she says.
âI am drawn to realistic subjectsâ
Working with directors like Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan made Eka Lakhani look for realism in her projects.
âWhen I mean realistic, I donât mean ordinary,â she says. Making it clear that she does not support glamorising a movie for the heck of it, Eka says, âIt is justified to use brands when we are doing a film on brands, something like The Devil wears Prada. What I am trying to say is that whatever is real for the subject of the film is what needs to be done. If it is a normal college film, you donât need to go all Gucci and Armani.â
Eka then ventures to speak at length about her routine before every assignment she takes up.
âI like to begin the movie with certain colours, use another set of colours in the middle and then end the movie with another set of colours. Like the characters go through the journey, I think that colours they wear also go through a lot of emotions. Every film has an emotional journey and I use colours to match that journey. It is only after I have decided on the colours that I start thinking of styles and silhouettes,â she explains, adding that it is of utmost importance to her that the cinematographer and the director are on the same page as it is basically their film.
âI would never want to do anything away from what they have visualised,â she notes.
Ask her about her memorable film projects, she lists OK Kanmani, Kaatru Veliyidai, Sanju and Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (CCV).
âOf course, these are just from the top of my head. Sanju was an amazing experience and CCV was special because it had so many actors and it was very exciting for me as a designer,â she says.
A casual surf through her Instagram profile shows a lot of pictures of her and actor Aditi Rao Hydari together.
âI love dressing up Aditi Rao Hydari because she is very untouched. She makes everything look her own. She doesnât look costumed. She carries herself very well,â Eka says.
Sunday Surprise!! One of my favourite looks from #kaatruveliyidai for #DrLeela. @aditiraohydari making us skip heartbeats in this red bandhani kedia overlay from @keristore! PS - I own this one too!â¤ď¸ #Colors #IndianTextile #SubtleEmbroidery #aditiraohydari #shadesofindia #costumesbyeka #ThrowBackWithAditi #bandhani
Pointing out that a lot of times, despite having the best of outfits, an actor tends to look costumed if he or she does not know how to carry it, Eka adds âAditi becomes the character instead of the actor. She has this beautiful complexion which suits all colours. Honestly, she makes my job really easy.â
Of course, she has a special mention for actor Nithya Menen as well.
âTara (Nithyaâs character in OK Kanmani) was a very interesting character for me,â she says. âTara is a girl who is very modern in her thought process but she still has her roots set in correctly, which is where we got the idea to mix up ethnic vibes with western outfits."
Tara could be seen wearing Ekaâs creations in the movie, which involved a lot of ethnic fabrics with Ikkat patterns, jute silk and tie and dye. âIt is a myth that short people canât wear calf-length dresses and I think I have done only that in OK Kanmani which worked out wonderfully. She (Nithya Menen) is beautiful. She has such a pleasing, charming personality. Her best part is her face which is symmetrical. It looks great,â says Eka.
Personal style statement
What is Eka Lakhaniâs personal style statement like?
âI am a very basic person. Every time I have a first meeting with anybody, I wear a white shirt and blue jeans. On set, you will mostly see me in lose tees in basic and neutral colours like whites, blacks, greys and olives. I think it is because when you are in the industry and work with lots of colours and fabrics, you want to keep yourself away from it,â she says.
She, however, adds that she loves to doll up when stepping out and that she has a special affection for jewellery.
âI love experimenting with jewellery to enhance a costume,â she says.
Doling out general fashion advice, Eka says that a white shirt is the one piece of clothing that everybody must have in their wardrobe.
âI donât mean an official corporate kind of shirt. You need to have something easy and breezy which you can wear with pants, shorts or whatever. I think white is a colour that shows confidence and purity. It looks great on any skin tone,â she says.
She also advocates that women have the mandatory black dress, whatever be the length.
Eka swears by experimenting with earrings.
âEarrings frame the face well. I very strongly feel that hair and earrings frame the face well. It is like an outline to your face. So I experiment with different lengths and colours in earrings since some of them add a sparkle to the eyes,â she says, adding that this craze spills over to her work as well. She spends a good day or two to just to decide on the accessories.
A look at the past and a step into the future
Attributing a massive share of her success to luck, Eka Lakhani says that she was at the right place at the right time. âUsually people say talent, hard work count but I would say luck counts a lot as well. I was very lucky. There are a lot of talented and hardworking people around. I donât think I am exceptional as such but I just feel that it was luck and working with the right people that helped me build my career."
Her upcoming projects include a Tamil web series helmed by director Gautham Vasudev Menon and the movie The Sky is Pink with Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar.
âAR Rahmanâs 99 songs is an interesting project I have worked on which is yet to be released,â she signs off.