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Sushmita Konidela interview Syeraa Narasimha Reddy Costume Designer- Cinema express

Sushmita Konidela interview: Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy costume designer

Chiranjeevi's daughter details the process of creating the costumes for this big-budget period film

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Published: 27th September 2019

Chiranjeevi's mega-budget Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy is set to hit the screens on October 2 in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi. The film, which has been in the making for three years, tells the story of an unsung Indian freedom fighter, Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy. Besides the visual effects and performances, another key component that brings to life this historical war drama is the costume design. To get a better understanding of the process that went behind making the costumes unique, we caught up with designer Sushmita Konidela, who worked on the costumes of Amitabh Bachchan, Nayanthara, Tamannaah Bhatia, and her father, Chiranjeevi.

"It's a costume drama and the characters had to wear heavy garments, armour, and other accessories. But, my top priority was to make my dad feel comfortable. Even then, the leather-strapped footwear caused him heel pain and so we used regular footwear for long-shots. Dad never complained and he accepted the discomfort for the greater good of the film," says Sushmita.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Scripting the look

"Save for a painting, there was no documentation about the looks of Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy. However, we had some historic references of that era (the 1800s) and we began researching about Polygars and other people who lived during those times. We also gathered information about the attire of Uyyalawada and the cultural milieu from a college library and made a presentation with the help our production designer, Rajeevan. 

Except for some action sequences, we have entirely used hand-woven fabrics like khadi and mangalagiri, and replicated them using modern methods. These garments are now the property of Konidela Productions and the team has archived it with utmost care. After Sye Raa's release, we are planning to make these costumes available for public viewing."

Styling the Big B

"Initially, I handled only dad's costumes, but I evenutally ended up taking over Amitabh, Nayanthara, and Tamannaah's costumes too. 

Amitabh garu is self-styled and dresses in a certain way that suits his personality and image, like draping a shawl around his shoulders, etc. So I went with an open mind and also prepared a backup plan, just like preparing for the board exams (smiles). When I met him for the first time, I was star-struck. When I showed him the sketches, he liked it.

We sourced Amitabh garu's costumes from various places — the khadi from Delhi, adda pancha from Chennai, silks from Bhagalpuri and Mangalagiri. He tried every costume with the entire look, hair, accessories, deportment, and asked for my feedback. He treats everyone with equal respect and that's something I have learned from him. The whole experience was enriching."

Steps in the transition

"The transition of a Polygar Uyyalawada to the freedom fighter Syeraa Narasimha Reddy is an important aspect of the film. And so, I worked closely with the production designer and Director of Photography Rathnavelu to achieve perfection. The transition had to be smooth. For Uyyalawada, we used jewellery to get the king-like look. During the interval, we started incorporating a few changes, and towards the end of the war sequences, he completely transforms into a warrior. Even then, we didn't let him lose the identity of the Polygar and consciously balanced the look.

Apart from Uyyalawada, it was Tamannaah's character, Lakshmi, which I liked the most. She also had a transition from a classical dancer to a warrior with a swadeshi (freedom-fighter) look. Nayanthara, too, looked beautiful in a demure and regal look. She brought elegance to the character and I can't even imagine anyone else playing Uyyalawada's wife. I was inspired to wear sarees just looking at her."

Working with family

"There were times I questioned my capabilities of taking up a big project like Sye Raa, but my brother and producer Ram Charan instilled confidence in me. Perhaps, my work in Rangasthalam made him believe in me. Without his support, I couldn’t have completed Sye Raa.

Charan and I lack the seriousness our father has at work. When I am working with my dad, I had to be on my toes, but with Charan, it’s kind of relaxed. Working with my brother and my dad has been a great experience. They always keep their personal and professional life separate. Once they arrive on the sets, they forget that I am a daughter/sister. It’s always a professional relationship. After the shoot gets over, they switch immediately to their usual self. Above all, I am glad that they are proud of my work."

Digital debut

"My husband and I have started a digitally-driven production house, Gold Box Entertainments. We have locked a cop-drama with a completely new cast and crew. It's for a popular OTT platform and we are planning to launch the project later this year. The idea is to provide a platform for independent filmmakers and curate new content. I also want to venture into other sectors of the entertainment industry. In fact, Varun Tej wanted me to do Valmiki, but I couldn’t take it up as Sye Raa has kept me busy. I will continue costume designing as long as dad continues working in films because I understand his persona and fashion sense better than anyone."

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