Costumes that create conversations
Behind its colour-coded, classy outlook was designer Anitha Ranjith’s conscious choice of design elements and well-studied presentation.
The recently-concluded Margazhiyil Makkal Isai was doing the rounds on social media for many reasons — mainstreaming marginalised folk art forms, connecting urban dwellers to their roots, recognising veteran performance artistes, and lastly, the closing gig by The Casteless Collective. As much as the indie band’s power-packed performance of crowd-favourites such as Vada Chennai and Beef received cheers from the audience, its costume also seems to have drawn equal attention.
Behind its colour-coded, classy outlook was designer Anitha Ranjith’s conscious choice of design elements and well-studied presentation. “As artists, we often take inspiration from our experiences, ideologies and our surroundings. I’ve picked elements from Dr Ambedkar’s Bhim Army, the one that was formed back when the social reformer was alive. This idea was suggested by director Pa Ranjith. The men in the army looked like uniformed soldiers. I wanted to recreate that look for today’s generation and it turned out to be a massive hit,” shares Anitha.
Sourcing images of the original Bhim Army was quite a task. Fortunately, Anitha managed to get a fair idea with pictures from archives and book collections. It took about a week for her to replicate the elements with her creative spin and a contemporary touch to cater to the new-age audience. “The soldiers of the army wore full-sleeved shirts tucked inside high-waist trousers, broad belts across the chest and waist, embossed pockets and caps. I retained most of the components but tweaked the palette to cobalt blue mixed with a turquoise green. In my version, the band members wore white shirts with blue overcoats and pants. They accessorised it with a high-waist brown belt, a cap and a pair of white shoes. Their collar was stitched similar to that of Dr Ambedkar’s,” she elaborates.
And this wouldn’t have been possible without her team. “Right from referring designs, sourcing materials, taking measurements and stitching — it was all team effort. The belt, for instance, was stitched by a tailor from Mahabalipuram in half a day. From execution to completion, my team stayed with me,” she details.
For those who follow Dr Ambedkar’s works and are well-versed with his contributions, the costume came across as a fitting tribute to the leader. For others, there was an important takeaway. “My friends were observing the positive reaction from people. The feedback was motivating. People were able to decode the individual elements of the costume and appreciate the nuances that went into its making. That’s all I needed for the mission to be accomplished. I’m also happy that the team will be travelling with this costume for all the shows this year,” she beams with pride.
A Fine Arts College student with a Masters in Arts, Anitha has always been drawn towards fashion designing and sculpting. Some of her works have already been showcased at the Vaanam Arts Festival. Besides running the Magizham boutique on Instagram with her friend, the mother of two recently made her debut as a costume designer in the film industry with Natchathiram Nagargirathu, which is yet to be released. “Things have slowly started falling in place career-wise. Henceforth, costumes will be a powerful canvas for me to paint constructive conversations in the community,” she sums up.