All we’ve been listening to and lusting over for the past two days is ‘Zaalima’ and how natural Mahira and Shah Rukh Khan look together. I, for one, couldn’t get past her wardrobe (once I had gotten over their unbelievable chemistry) and I wondered whether a Pakistani designer had designed her clothes because again, they looked so organic and she looked so comfortable in them. It turned out that the whiz behind her look is Sheetal Sharma, costume designer in India, who has several hit projects like Katti Batti, Airlift and Bobby Jasoos to his credit and is also working on several, including Nandita Das’ Manto. I can imagine the conversations Mahira and Sheetal must have had on Manto. He talks about all that and more in this exclusive conversation we had. Thankfully, there’s no ban on cross-border communication just as yet.
Speaking of the situation, Sheetal remembered how emotional Mahira was on the last day of the shoot. “We were all quite teary. What has happened is not right yaar. It’s two years of hard work and she can’t be here.”
Sheetal, tell us about your experience of working with Mahira…
Mahira is brilliant. Something clicked the very first time we met. The kind of popularity she already had in India, because of Humsafar, was insane. People were crazy about the show, which I realized when I saw how women around me reacted when I mentioned that I would be working with her. Mahira’s debut film, Bol, was amazing and that’s where I had seen her first. She was brilliant.
So before I was scheduled to meet her I got samples and created looks to show her. She loved everything but after 40 minutes she said she wanted to go shopping to Bandra. So we coordinated to take her around. She didn’t want to take a car but walk and I was surprised that so many women knew her. One lady was in tears to meet her. I realized that so many people were staring at her and I felt we needed to get the production unit and some security. She too was unaware of how popular she was. It was surreal. The salesgirls all knew her. They gushed after her.
The last time she came she was already a star because of Raees and we couldn’t walk around. I saw women and aunties hovering around her; they all loved Humsafar and told her, “aap jaisi bahu sab ko mil jaye”.
Coming to Raees and Zaalima, everyone is talking about her look. How did you prepare for it? There have been gangster films before but this is unlike Agneepath or Gundaay.
Rahul (Dholakia) belongs to the Gujrat belt so we looked into real pictures and family albums to create her look. We didn’t look into other movies.
We’re showing the 80s and 90s in the film and Mahira has an extremely strong character; they have some amazing, emotional scenes together. So we show her growth as a small village girl, growing up in his mohalla. It’s a subtle, old school and charming romance. Mahira is brilliant; the way she carries it forward. The way she dries her hair with a towel and then hangs it out to dry. We needed her look to be basic and organic. So we used a lot of malmal, small prints, delicate details. She wears matching bangles and a diamond nose pin. It was all very subtle.
The wardrobe does look organic and many people thought maybe it’s designed in Pakistan because it looks Pakistani.
Our styles are so similar, no. We love the ghararas and short kurtis; it’s the Indo Mughal style. I got into the Mughal influence but kept it simplistic so it looked casual and original, not like something from Bajirao Mastani. My references were very old paintings. White gharara with chand baalis…these were what I showed her. And she didn’t want to look out of character in the song. Even the makeup was so simple and gentle, not jarring.
It’s amazing how they’re looking like Raees and Asiya together.
So for the film we made 45 shalwar qameezes for her and then spent four hours of experimenting with her makeup and looks. She loved everything.
What’s your favourite outfit from the song?
The black one. It is a ghagra made in net, sequins, Lucknowi chikan ka kaam. It’s a blouse worn with a jacket. So you still see her waist and arms but it’s not too blatant. It’s subtle and she looked so stunning that the makeup artist and the women on the set all came to me, asking for it. I think it was even Shah Rukh’s favourite outfit. He even commented, “Mein pehen loon yeh?” SRK makes everything funny. He’s got a fabulous sense of humour and he’s so witty. This song was shot in four days in Morocco and we were all in continuous fits of laughter because of him.”