Uthara Menon, stylist and costume designer who made us adore stars like Trisha, Ajith and Simbu, is all set to fathom appreciations for her tremendous work in ‘Sye Raa’. Here are a few tidbits from our exclusive interview with this model-turned-stylish, who is also the sweet sibling of renowned film director Gautam Vasudevan Menon.
Question: Congratulation Uthara! Your work is receiving a very good appreciation before the release itself.
Uthara: Thank you!
Question: How did you get an opportunity to work for a periodic drama like Saira Narasimha Reddy?
Uthara: It came through Rajeevan Nambiar, my colleague. We have worked together for projects like ‘Manam’ and ‘Sarainodu’. As this project needs sync between styling and production design, Rajeevan brought me the if I could contribute and I readily agreed.
Question: You knew the hype around this movie right? Did the pressure affect your work? Can you share with us about what challenged you the most?
Uthara: I work hard…period….big or small. It is the quality of work that matters to me. I usually don’t buckle under pressure. And it is my honour to style Mr.Chiranjeevi.
Question: This movie is a periodic drama around the 1800s. Nobody knew how Saira Narasimha Reddy looked. Any specific references you considered for costumes and styling?
Uthara: Yes, we were absolutely blank when we walked in on this project. We first put together an efficient and talented team of art directors, concept artists and costume designers. We worked out for about seven months looking for references from books and the internet. I wanted to keep the 1800s look to be as authentic as possible, right from the kind of jewellery they wore to the way the clothes and turbans were draped. Led by Anusha Punjala, our team has visited museums like Salar Jung, Chow Mahal and Central State Library. We were able to get some interesting photographs regarding the dressing styles. Coming to Narasimha Reddy’s look, we didn’t even find four pictures but we wound the look around the fact that he was a Palaiyakar, we used those ideas and created his look.
Question: What is your approach for styling the other crucial characters?
Uthara: So again, based on the character briefing given by the direction department (which is very necessary for a costume designer) we sketched different looks for different characters and the different scenes. There are villagers who range from rich to poor. We tried to show this differentiation as beautiful as possible with different kinds of fabric. Once the sketches were approved, we experimented with different fabrics to bring those drawings to life.
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Fitting Chiranjeevi garu’s image into Syee Raa character was the toughest for me so far. We had to do 100s of sketches with my absolutely talented concept artists team under the able guidance of production designer @rajeevan.n before finalizing the look. Everything had to be imagined and created since there wasn’t much history available on Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy. Nevertheless it was an amazing experience…thank you Gopi, Ramprasad, Jai and Uday…..without you guys this wouldn’t have been possible!!! @syeraanarasimhareddymovie @megastarchiranjeeviofficial…thank you so much sir for acknowledging me and mentioning me in your speech….thank you!
Question: Is there any specific character which you felt hard to style? Which character gave you more professional satisfaction?
Uthara: I would say that every character you will see on screen gave me satisfaction. Creating the looks for the Britishers was a great challenge because we needed to understand regiments and separate calvary from the foot soldiers…rank and seniority….and so on…each character was sketched along with their belt and badge and footwear to get the most authentic lookout.
Question: How is the support from the cast?
Uthara: For most of the artists it was new and interesting…so they were all very clued in and keen to experiment along with us. We used to drape Kicha Sudeep’s garment on a mannequin and place blowers next to it to see if there’s enough blow effect on the garment for it to fly…because that’s how he enters on a horse with the wind.
Question: How is it working with Production Designer Rajeevan? What kind of support did you get from him?
Uthara: I consider him as one of the best! Till date, I have never seen him use the internet for any look or set design. Everything is in his head and he creates all his beautiful sets from scratch. As he and I have always wanted to combine art and costume for a seamless look and a visually delightful film on screen, we both supported each other and created what you see on screen. I found him highly supportive and at times he used to give me sari-blouse combination ideas!!!! I’ve even helped him with propping some of his sets. We have worked on colour palettes for all our films. ‘Blockbuster’ song in ‘Sarainodu’ was completely created by both of us, costumes and set. I’m fortunate to have him by my side professionally and am thankful for having given me this opportunity. I would always call him and check what his set colours are before I purchase my garment…he really liked that, which is why we have a sound working relationship today.
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Styling by Uthara Menon…. without the combined efforts of some very talented art directors and concept artists and of course @rajeevan69 Rajeevan Nambiar, styling of all the characters in this film and working on colour palettes and creating the look for the film would have been even more of a challenge than it was….I couldn’t tag Jayachandran and Gopi…Rajeevan you will have to get the national award for your production design brillance in this film…let’s give credit where it’s due!!! ??
Question: It is difficult to work for stories like ‘Sye Raa’ as most of the shooting will be in different locations. How did you cope up with that?
Uthara: Well, it was quite a feat for me and my team. For me, there was a constant trip to Hyderabad. I felt it hard as I have a kid who needs my attention. ‘Sye Raa’ was a unique challenge for me and I embraced it. I balanced this difficulty with creativity and that always gives me an edge. Creating the colour palette for each and every scene was living my dream. I thoroughly enjoyed giving the movie a beautiful tone you will see very soon. Even for the three different wars, you will see in the movie, each one had a subtly different look and feel.
Question: Tell us something about working with director Surender Reddy.
Uthara: Mr Surendar Reddy is a director who knew exactly what he wanted with the look and feel of the styles. He used to ask us to change even the smallest of the details if it bothered him. At the same time, he gave me complete creative freedom to do my work.
Question: Producer Ram Charan. How did you treat him, as a Producer or as the son of Chiranjeevi garu? What is his involvement in styling? Did you have budget constraints?
Uthara: We used to have fortnight’s meetings with all HODs present to share what was styled and to brainstorm on any new ideas to make corrections. Ram Charan used to be present at each and every one of those sessions. We discussed work so much, obviously as a producer.
Question: How do you feel when your work gets an appreciation from Chiranjeevi?
Uthara: It definitely feels good! Mr Chiranjeevi walked into our office and saw all the sketches and appreciated me. He once said “Uthara, you make me look like Maharaja,” which overwhelmed me. I’m thankful to him as he has duly acknowledged our hard work at the pre release event. I have to say that a stylist sets the look and tone of the film bringing the characters to life. It is important to take notice of this…and it is no easy task.
Question: What do you think makes this movie unique to you?
Uthara: First of all, being a part of this period film and creating looks for such a big star cast left me with a lifetime experience.
This is the largest team I’ve ever worked with.