Arya, on his latest movie Sarpatta Parambarai: It felt like time travel!

Right from vintage watches and hand painted boxing shorts to bespoke leather shoes and proficiency in an archaic dialect, actor Arya’s latest outing Sarpatta Parambarai is a period film done right.
Actor Arya
Actor Arya

In Arya's film, Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai released yesterday, we see the actor in glorious physical form as he takes on the role of a strapping boxer from the ’70s. As he pummels his opponents or struts in the ring in his satin robe, the Naan Kadavul star has gone through more than just a physical transformation in his first sport film that is out in Telugu and Tamil on Amazon Prime Video. Jamshad Cethirakath, known mononymously by his screen name Arya, has an oily slicked back hairdo, a formidable moustache and a sculpted physique that drew much attention last year when he wrapped up the shoot for the film. However, soon we realise that the character he plays also seamlessly takes us back in time — to the ’70s. There are delightful clues to look out for: the style of his shirt collar, his Tamil dialect (North Madras), the pattern on the border of his co-star Dushara Vijayan’s saris and even the watch worn by him in the film.

Film poster of <em>Sarpatta Parambarai</em>
Film poster of Sarpatta Parambarai

Sock and punch!

The actor tells us that when preparing for the role — they used art director T Ramalingam’s detailed and accurate sketches for reference. “On the sets, there was a great vibe — even in the boxing ring — there was a sense of nostalgia. It took us back in time. It felt like time travel,” says Arya, who adds that they had to undergo a 45-day workshop to learn the North Madras dialect. Contrary to popular belief, the actor tells us that the language is different and not disrespectful or crass as we have been led to believe.

Costume designer Aegan Ekambaram
Costume designer Aegan Ekambaram

The area of North Chennai does play a big role in the narrative. With a storyline that spans across 1965 to the ’80s, the costume designer of the film, Aegan Ekambaram, tells us that he had to dress up 25 different characters (like Santhosh Pratap, John Kokken and Shabeer Kallarakkal). He had to research old families of iconic boxing clans to get the details right. The artist and textile researcher gives us gems of trivia like, “Taking into account the era, printing was not an option. I hand painted the ‘K’ (for Kabilan, the main character) on Arya’s shorts.” Even the vests and socks for Arya were naturally dyed to get the right hue of ‘white’.

Actor Arya (right) with co-star John Kokken 
Actor Arya (right) with co-star John Kokken 

Pom poms and ducks

What truly caught our fancy are those 12-inch high boxing shoes worn by the star. Aegan informs us, “We actually sought out the real leather from the Periamet area and proceeded to find the family that used to make the shoes in the past — and got them custom made for Arya.” We urge you not to miss the woolen pom-pom aglets at the end of the laces on those bespoke shoes! For the wedding scene, the women wore the traditional addigai necklace sourced from Chidambaram, made with red and white stones with a large pendant of a lotus or two ducks. While for men even the watches they wore were deliberate. “We stuck to brands that were available then — like Sieko and HMT. Silver metal wrist bands and cream dials.” Incidentally, Arya sported a Seiko watch and his chappals were handmade.

Period costumes and accessories from the film Sarpatta Parambarai
Period costumes and accessories from the film Sarpatta Parambarai

Colours and collars

Aegan, who is currently working on Yogi Babu’s Bommai Nayagi, goes on to tell us that even the saris for the female leads had him researching for drapes deep in Kanchipuram. “I found vintage saris, polished them and used them. For instance some of the saris have large borders and the colours available in that era were limited — like violet, ananda blue and rukmini (blue). ” We notice that besides the time period, the economical status of the character had to be taken into account too. As the protagonist’s fortune changes so does his costume — from naturally dyed khadi to bold collared, thick striped shirts paired with bell bottoms in limited colours. If you are wondering about the finish and the authenticity of these sartorial expressions — the fact that Arya has taken a pair of those shirts for his personal wardrobe says a lot!

Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai is streaming on Amazon Prime Video


We take our fascination for period costumes further and catch up with celebrated couturiers from across the country to discover the extent they would go, to keep it authentic for the screen.

Neeta Lulla | Mumbai

For Mumbai-based celebrated designer Neeta Lulla “believable” trumps authenticity. “It should seem believable — we are after all attempting to create an entire era here.” With more than 400 movies under her belt and films like Devdas and Mohenjo Daro with opulent costumes credited to her name, Neeta is currently in Hyderabad shooting for the Telugu film Shakuntala, a mythological movie. Neeta tells us how for the movie Thalaivi, a biopic based on Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister, J Jayalalitha, she had watched a song clipping at least 15 times before she got the border of the sari just right. She further shares, “I love doing all the research — that’s where the real work is. In fact, for Jodhaa Akbar I tied a pagdi for the first time — for Hrithik (Roshan). And in Thalaivi, I designed a body prosthetic for the first time!”

Suchismita Dasgupta | Kolkata

Busy with her sustainable brand Nextiles, Suchismita Dasgupta is known for her work in acclaimed Bengali films like Suman Mukhopadhyay’s Chaturanga, Bagiya Banchharam Ki, Doll’s House and Chokher Bali, Kaushik Ganguly’s Apur Panchali, Suman Ghosh’s Kadambari, Somnath Sen’s Gora. “Period films give me scope to tread into unknown terrain. I generally like to be a perfectionist as well as authentic. I read the literature from that time to form an idea besides looking at the available pictures and photographs from that era. Then I work on designs, source photos that give an idea of the time and make a presentation to the director and others concerned. After reaching an agreement, I start designing and sourcing,” says the designer. Suchismita will be working on another period film soon and the backdrop is ’50s Calcutta.

Gaurang Shah | Hyderabad

The iconic 2018 Tollywood film Mahanati, a biographical drama film based on the life of Indian actress Savitri, stood out for its regal costumes. The trio known for creating it, Gaurang Shah, Archana Rao and Indrakshi Pattanaik won the National Film Award for Best Costume Design. Talking about the most memorable costumes for Keerthy Suresh who enacted the titular role, Gaurang says, “It took more than six months of research and over a year for weaving, texturing and colouring to get the look right.” He shares that the challenge was to lend a sense of realism to the look of the actress. “Over 100 artisans worked relentlessly to ensure the weaving process was uninterrupted as the whole progression took more than a year and a half from the inception of the costumes to the conclusion of the last shoot,” shares the Hyderabad-based designer who sourced heavy silk fabrics from different parts of India like Kanchipuram and Varanasi.

Laxmi Krishna | Bengaluru

Designer Laxmi Krishna who shot to fame with the period drama Amruthamathi, is now designing for another period horror movie tentatively titled Hagga. The Kannada movie Amruthamathi, directed by professor Baraguru Ramachandrappa, was screened at 10 international film festivals. It is based on the 13th century classical text Yashodhara Charite by poet Janna. Laxmi was given specific instructions by the director about the costumes; he particularly didn’t want the characters to look like North Indian kings and queens. “Getting the right kind of accessories was the biggest challenge. We couldn’t use kundan jewellery because that’s what royalty from North India wore,” explains Laxmi. For Hagga, the designer is taking references from Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. “The story is about a queen who lived 100 years ago and her styling is close to what queens looked like in that era,” she says.

Nachiket Barve | Mumbai

For Nachiket Barve, designing costumes for perioddramas began with Marathi film Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, a 2015 film that was set in 1800, and Ani... Dr Kashinath Ghanekar, a 2018 film based on the life of Dr Kashinath Ghanekar. More recently, he designed for Om Raut’s Tanhaji and lined up next is Adipurush, a mythological film based on the Ramayana. Talking about the process he says, “I like delving deep into the universe that this film is set in, while also making sure that I don’t watch anything on similar lines because I feel it might taint my vision. Once the conceptualisation takes place and an idea is mutually agreed upon, I start finding craftsmen who can turn the vision into reality, whether it means hunting down a karigar in Kolhapur whose family made jewellery for the Bhonsle family to which Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj belongs, or finding somebody in Dharwad to weave Ilkal saris, the kind that Kajol wore in the film, or finding somebody in Agra who can develop a special leather that can work very well for armour.” Currently, he is working on Adipurush by Om Raut which is set in another era.

Rimple and Harpreet Narula | Delhi

Having designed costumes for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period-drama Padmaavat the duo did extensive research on the period by way of going through old travellers’ accounts and manuscripts as well as regular visits to the Calico (Ahmedabad) and Jaipur museums to get the touch-feel-look right. They went through books such as The Wonder That Was India Volume 1 by Arthur Llewellyn Basham which documents India before the Sultanate rule and its Volume 2 by SAA Rizvi which covers the Islamic period as well as other books by noted historians such as Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, John Keay and the writings of the 16th-century historian Abdul Qadir Badayuni. As there were no man-made fibres at that time nor was sericulture prevalent in the sub-continent, they avoided using silk or other Chinese substitutes and only used organic cotton and mulmul along with traditional decorative arts and techniques such as block printing and varq ka kaam that were prevalent then.

—— Inputs from Sharmistha Ghosal, Paulami Sen, Ayesha Tabassum and Heena Khandelwal

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