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The Cast

  Shah Rukh Khan
  Kariena Kapoor
  Hrishitaa Bhatt
  Rahul Dev
  Subhashini Ali
  Raghuveer Yadav
  Gerson Da Cunha

Behind the scenes

  Director
  Author, Making of Asoka
  Art Decor
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Dressing to kill -- Anu Vardhan

Sukanya Verma

Grandeur is a tradition, especially when itís the Great Asoka you're speaking of.

To capture this very grandness in Santosh Sivan's cinematic adaptation of King Ashoka, the director, along with principal costume designer Anu Vardhan started working on the project two years before they started the actual shooting of the film.24cost.jpg - 7660 Bytes

Santosh met Shah Rukh during the making of Dil Se. He narrated the idea to Shah Rukh who loved it and thatís how Asoka came in existence.

Anu, a visual communications graduate from Loyola College, Madras, was actively involved in the making of this epic.

"I have known Santosh for the past five years. Even though I did Terrorist with him, working on Asoka was a totally different experience. Since it was a period costume drama, there was a lot of research involved.

"Santosh encouraged me a lot. Somehow, he knows exactly what you are capable of. I was scared initially but his help and support got me through." says the 23-year-old designer.

Since Asoka is set in 230 BC, there was limited information to scout from.

"We took pictures of monuments and statues. Whatever information is available is after the Kalinga war. The Stupas at Sanchi were all established after the Kalinga war. I went through numerous books and literature based on the life and times of Ashoka. However, there wasnít much information regarding costumes. Each and every line had to be read carefully to see if there was even a slight mention of the attire. Needless to say, it was a tedious exercise which lasted for over a year and a half,"declares Anu.

Being the perfectionist that he is, Santosh had briefed his designer clearly about each and every character of the film.

Before the shooting could commence, he made sure that Anu was thorough with the characters. He screen tested all the actors with their costumes on, and worked on their look -- depending on the demands of the character.

As a result of which Anu knew the story and the characters before hand. "I studied their psychology and their reactions to a particular situation, before I started working on the look. For instance, Ashoka's brother Susima (played by Ajith), who portrays a negative part, was dressed accordingly. Shah Rukh's transformation from the innocent prince to a power hungry ruler was highlighted through his attire."

While browsing through the film's stills and promotional campaigns, one comes across Kariena Kapoor's distinct look and stylised tattoos.

Anu explains "While researching for the film, we discovered that Body Art was a prominent part of that time. For the character of Kaurwaki, (Kariena) we used different designs of tattoos. It is quite a rage even now, especially among foreigners and youngsters."

For Anu, it was a Herculean task to give every member of the cast a sense of individuality in terms of his or her costume as she has designed for everybody, including Shah Rukh and Kariena Kapoor to an extent. "Since Kariena insisted on her regular designer Manish Malhotra, I gave Manish a basic outline for the Amrapali costumes," she informs.

For the character of Ashoka's Buddhist wife Devi (played by Hrishitaa Bhatt) Anu strayed clear of colorful Amrapali's. "She is a Buddhist girl. So we dressed her up in a subdued fashion. Even for the backdrop of the Buddhist Monastery, colours like red, yellow and orange have been employed. Buddhism had just come in existence and wasnít very different from Hinduism in the look sense."

Though Anu agrees that there was no concept of wearing vests during that era, certain cinematic liberties have been taken.

"After all, it is a main stream commercial film. During Shah Rukh's forest sequences, he wears square pieces of a blanket-like-material, folded into two and cut in between, to pass around the neck. Another piece of cloth was tried around his waist, acting as a belt. There was no stitching involved."

Continuing in the same vein, she adds. "I have made maximum use of woven fabric. The outfits are either made of raw silk or raw cotton, especially bought from authentic places in South India."

Interestingly, some of the jewellery has been specially designed. After drawing references from statues and paintings, Anu and her team sketched an outline of jewellery, which were then made.

The armors and shields worn by the artistes also form an important part of the costume for the final war sequences. Metal jackets composed of special fibre glass were made for around 4000 members of the cast. "These metal jackets are extremely light and comfortable and were made in Madras by more than 50 workers," she explains.

For someone so young and new, Anu considers herself fortunate to have worked with a team like this. "Shah Rukh Khan is excellent. He was extremely co-operative and nice to a newcomer like me. Every little detail was taken care of, under his supervision.

"Even Kariena is extremely sweet and agreeable. Initially, she was a bit apprehensive about how a certain costume would look on her. But once she was on the sets, she was game for everything. She is magical on screen. You can count on her perfection."

The young team of Asoka has put in a lot of hard work, dedication and study, she adds. "I have tried not to cross the line of authenticity while giving Asoka a contemporary feel."

Anu Vardhan has her fingers crossed.