We’re all for the buzz around Imtiaz Ali’s Highway and Aki Narula has added to our excitement. Narula has not only styled the lead actors but every single person visible in the film. So what was the brief that Imtiaz gave Aki, is Alia’s look de-glamourized and finally, what went down during the filming? Aki tells Team MissMalini all and more…
Team MissMalini: What was the main objective behind the styling?
Aki Narula: Since Rockstar, Imtiaz and I have had a fantastic bond. I call it the marriage of creativity. For Highway, the styling is as real as it gets. This film is about an organic journey and it absolutely had to show on screen. So, details from all locations from Delhi-Rajasthan-Punjab-Himachal Pradesh were meticulously worked into the costumes. The film is all about the journey, from the start to finish.
Team MM: What were the references that you pulled out for the film?
AN: My ground work began way before the schedule. It’s the first time I went on a recce for a film. I just had to soak in as much as I could. In a way, I tried to experience the journey through the characters’ perspectives. All the little things to the most obvious headlining elements were noted down. In addition, the look of the actors had to blend into the landscape that surrounds them.
In my research, I worked in the local styles of the various tribes in the villages we shot in. I got into the head of the Gujjars and their basic style of living. I understood the way they sat and the clothes that allowed them to do so. I also incorporated local techniques and pieces found in local markets into the looks for the actors. The style and essence of the film is organic and so my styling process too reflected every mood that came our way.
Team MM: This sounds like fun but was it difficult?
AN: This is my biggest film in terms of the number of people I styled. Right from the lead to the man in the background that you might miss (but he’s there!). But every detail is key to the story. So that was intense.
With respect to continuity, it was a piece of cake. We shot in linear format so in way, we were evolving with Alia’s character as the film progresses. Thus the styling too, moved with the story.
Team MM: Was all this taxing, physically?
AN: Well, we were far from home and the sense of general (urban) reality. But we had each other and were pretty much fluid. We traveled through this amazing journey with each other, so there was a lot to look forward to, every step of the way.
Team MM: How did all this inspire you?
AN: I looked at this film as a history to everything. So what happens, where it happens, how it happens, why it happens, it all had to sum up in the costumes. In fact, it is a lot like real life, where everything we wear has a story. I borrowed, bought and hunted for details that would make the look as true to life as I could. I looked for antique chaddars and found a woman who hand-made these beautiful knitted gloves. They’re all in the film!
Apart from sourcing and styling, I met a lot local craftsmen who should me handicraft techniques that one never really gets to see in an urban environment.
Team MM: You mentioned Imtiaz’s organic style of direction and storytelling. Did you take advantage of it?
AN: Of course! I had to and loved every minute of it. On set, Imtiaz kept saying, “Let us all discover our freedom” and that’s exactly what we did.
Team MM: Can you give us a taste of Alia and Randeep’s look?
AN: Alia plays an urban girl from Delhi and the film is her journey through cruelty. It’s the life outside that you never see coming, until it actually happens. As I mentioned, keeping things real and organic was key to an extent where, Alias wasn’t allowed to comb or pin her hair! It was all very real, on screen and off and her look evolved according to the circumstances she found herself in. The details kept coming in, like the large man shoes or gloves and are references to moments in the journey. And I must point out to the fact that Alia is a revelation in this film. The girl has complete unleashed her skill as a serious actor.
For Randeep, I completely familiarized myself with the Gujjars. I understood their body language and the way the normally sat, ate and drank. His clothes were picked from the local markets. I remember going to Raja Garden market and picking wardrobe pieces from a huge pile of 2nd hand smelly, sweaty clothes.
As graphic as that sounds, I had to make sure the audience could smell the vibe, the story and the essence of the characters.
Team MM: There is a lot of talk about Alia’s look being de-glammed. Is it really?
AN: Her look is raw, rustic and real. But I wouldn’t brand it as deglam.
Team MM: How would you suggest adding a fashion twist to the look? The look seems to have great potential for a cool street meets ethnic vibe!
AN: Totally! In terms of fashion or street style, a great way to turn this look into a statement would be to mix and match different elements. For example, you could layer a windcheater with a hoodie or drape a duppatta over a granny sweater and jeans. Or like Alia, one could wear an oversized shirt with a pair of hand woven leggings and find those cool sneakers from the street. Alia wore a cool pair in the film that I bought for ₹100!
Team MM: To sum it all up, what was your favourite part of this film, a moment, experience or a look?
AN: I can’t particularly choose a look as every look is a build up from key moments through the film. But I do believe that this film can stand as a lesson in separates.
Alia celebrated her birthday during the filming and I remember her saying that it was like the moment you graduate from college. Everything leads to this moment and that was true for all of us. It’s all too big for words.
After this interview, Aki candidly mentioned the Patakha Guddi song as the one he thinks is the best reference to get a taste of Highway, before it releases. We are so excited for this film and can hardly wait to watch it. What do you have to say about the look of the film? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!