Saran Kohli talks about designing costumes for a scene in Eternals, being on a Marvel set and why it was memorable
Chloé Zhao’s Eternals had excited the Indian fans after they saw a Bollywood-like dance sequence also featuring actor Kumail Nanjiani
Soon after Marvel Studios released the first trailer of Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, fans in India couldn’t help but cheer for what seemed like a dance sequence where Big Sick actor Kumail Nanjiani and other participants shake a leg in Indian attire. Reports say he plays a Bollywood actor in the film which also stars other bigwigs like Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden and Kit Harrington. However, soon people from the South Asian diaspora found more reason to cheer.
We learnt recently that British designer of Indian origin, Saran Kohli had designed the desi attire for what he calls an “epic scene” from the upcoming Marvel film. That’s a matter of joy for the South Asian community everywhere. We ask the designer about the moment, where he knew that he has achieved a rather rare feat. “I was proud to put our culture and design aesthetics on the global map, considering the sheer size of Marvel’s universal audience,” says the London-born designer and stylist.
At the outset, he wasn’t completely sure of the movie he was coming on board for. He just responded to a call inquiring about costumes for a film being shot in London. He adds, “I have done costume design for films before. But when they mentioned the location of the meeting — which was a well-known studio — it felt like a big-budget production. Before the meeting was set, a non-disclosure agreement was signed. That’s when I realised that this is going to be bigger than what I had thought and imagine my surprise when the head of the costume department told me that this will be for the next instalments of the Marvel phase. I was on cloud nine,” says the menswear designer whom you might recollect seeing in a dance sequence from a popular Levis ad. “I had come prepared for the meeting with samples and created a few quick sketches that needed to be achieved. After my proposal they felt confident and proceeded to commission me to design 52 dancer’s costumes for the sequence,” says Saran adding that the superhero universe always had a special place in his heart. He confesses that he loves the costumes of Iron Man, Black Panther and Spider-Man. However, he mentions that Iron Man aka Tony Stark’scostume is his favourite.
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Part of the process
Saran tells us, the Academy Award-winning director left no stone unturned in making the South Asian experience authentic. “The film’s costume department had already done their elaborate homework. However, to keep it authentic, they got me on board. Chloé wanted the characters to stay true to their identity. The search for the perfect costumes was a part of that process,” says the designer who has dressed the likes of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and singer Jay Sean. That apart, he is also one of the prominent advocates of raising awareness about vitiligo — a cause close to him.
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A memorable experience
For Saran, Eternals was an opportunity to represent the ethnicity of the characters. He did that with the choice of colours, cuts and fabrics. He also worked closely with choreographer Nileeka Bose who was appointed for the scene which seems to feature an elaborate dance sequence After an initial test, the team went deeper by studying what prints would stand out on camera and developed many of it in several colours before zeroing in on the final one. The designer shares sketches and mood boards for a wide selection of kurtas and different cuts of lehengas and drapes in tandem with the choreography team. “The whole process was initiated and completed within a given deadline of four weeks. I also had the opportunity to bring my sister Geetanjali (Singh) on board to help with designing for the female dancers,” says the London College of Fashion graduate.
Apart from being commissioned to design costumes for 52 dancers, he also assisted the Marvel Costume Department on Kumail Nanjiani’s costume (see picture). He mentions it was an enjoyable process given the amount of research the team had done on Indian heritage designs. Saran also mentions that he had a great time with the Silicon Valley star on set. He shares, “I got the opportunity to work with Kumail and be on set with such a funny and humble actor who made me and everyone around him quite comfortable. In fact, his pride to be able to represent the South Asian community on such a huge platform was quite evident.”
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Saran is looking forward to working on more superhero projects. However, till then he mentions he will wait for Eternal’s release in the latter half of 2021 with bated breath. “This memory of being on set and working with the team might have been two years ago, but the experience is something I will always remember,” says Saran, signing off.
(You can get in touch with the writer via mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @Paulami309)