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Interview Team : Jyothsna; Ashok Kumar

Anu Parthasarathy, the popular costumer has styled a lot of celebs like Jyothika, Ramya Krishnan, Simran, Shilpa Shetty and many others. She is currently busy designing Sivakarthikeyan’s looks in Remo.  Daughter of veteran film maker Vietnam Veedu Sundaram, this warm and down-to-earth stylist, shares in detail about her journey in the film industry, with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar.



How did you enter the film industry?

After my graduation in interior designing, I joined as an assistant in PC Sreeram and Jayendra’s company JS which makes ads. I worked there for three years and learnt all the aspects associated with ad films. I would very categorically say that JS has given me the confidence in my work now. Whatever I am today as regards my profession, I owe it all to JS.

Later I joined Sabu Cyril’s unit and was involved in the Miss World beauty pageant that happened in Bangalore. I have also worked in Priyadarshan sir’s films where Sabu had done art work like Virasat, Saath Rang Ke Sapnae and Pukar.

I wanted to specialize in one particular category and then in 1997, I started my first film as a costume designer teaming with Aneez, wife of late Jeeva. I had a good start, thanks to Jeeva. Through him I got Vaali and Kushi at the same time. Aneez and I had worked in many films as a costumer for Simran, Trisha, Jyotika, Ramya Krishnan. We had also done the costumes for  Prashanth in the seven wonder song in Shankar’s Jeans. Slowly I also diversified into Hindi. 

From then on, it has been a long, fruitful, fulfilling, beautiful journey with different artists, different directors. I have seen assistants becoming directors and I have worked with them all.

We had done the costumes for  Prashanth in the seven wonder song in Shankar’s Jeans


When you say STYLIST, what does it encompass?

When you are doing costumes for the film, it is for the entire character. It is all about designing for that particular character and all its requirements. It can be fabric or accessories or footwear or jewelry. We also need to understand the demands of the character. This is the main part of costume designing.


To what an extent, does a director take you into the script? There may be directors who may not be willing to discuss his entire script with you. In that case, how do you begin?

When a director takes you on board his/her film, he/she should definitely give a small narration. There are some directors who discuss the entire script. It may not be an elaborate one, but it will have details that are important for me. This lets me understand what is expected from me. If it is a traditional character, then I need to know to what levels this traditional character can go up to.


For example, in Kushi, when I had to design for Jyotika, I also needed to take into account the artist’s personality to go with the character Jenny. For Simran in Vaali, I had to give a homely cum glamorous look for her. It should balance as two Ajiths were there. If the character’s looks are different in the first and second half, the directors will take me through the script to make me understand the delineation.

For Simran in Vaali, I had to give a homely and glamorous look for her


What makes you take up a project?

Since we are mostly working with artists, the offer will usually come from them through directors. In some case, production houses will directly talk. There could also be director’s references. These are the normal channels.

Firstly, I will have to plan out how many films I will be able to manage in a year. Sometimes when I sign a heavy film like Anegan, I know it will be for a long period because of its magnitude. In the interim, if I get some other project, I will decide based on how I will be able to balance both and do justice. If I am confident, I will take it up. The projects will have to be challenging and exciting too.

The projects will have to be challenging and exciting too


Once you decide on the project and the director gives you a narration, do you still sit with him/her for further sessions?

Yes, I sit with the director for every session. First session is all about the general brief of the script. I will just not work on the look or costumes, but also on hairstyle and makeup. I coordinate with the hairdresser and the make-up artist, give them the dress reference. I plan with them before they go for the shoot.

For instance, Nithya Menen in Kanchana played the role of a bubbly  differently-abled girl. Lawrence told me all about her character and had a clear vision as how Nithya should look.  It could be that checked paavadai or a mismatched look or the glass bangles or kajal in her eyes or the kunguma pottu on her forehead. He had already etched the character. Therefore, I need to bring that alive with my costumes and accessories. If you looked at Nithya’s character, she is beautiful, will not able to walk properly or wear coordinated outfits, but there is a lot of life in her character.  As a costumer, it is my prime responsibility to bring out the vision of the director through my work.

Lawrence had a clear vision of how Nithya should look


How good or bad are the directors in terms of costume sense?

It is not necessary that everybody should know everything. The director need not think in a modern fashion. They have already decided on the story and they will give you only a thin line. This is suffice to take it further. They (the directors) have a particular image of how an artist should look like. They would ask for suggestions. I need to bring to unison their thoughts and my ideas. It is all about being very honest and upfront in the meeting. If there is something that I feel will not work out, I will explain and they will understand. It is just a small thread.

It is all about being very honest and upfront in the meeting


Would the artists discuss their ideas with you?

Every artist has their own dressing style and sense. They also have an idea about how their character should look like in the film. When we sit with different people for different films, we get an idea of their thoughts on the dressing scenario. We need to know if we are in the same page as regards the dressing aspect. If the artist is suggesting a specific costume, we should attempt to incorporate that in the film provided it is in line with their characterization. The artists have also gone through their three hour narration and have an idea about their role. So, ideas will emerge and we would take into consensus to arrive at the right kind of look.

Every artist has their own dressing style and sense


Were there cases where you differed from the artists?

I have never had a difference of opinion. The artists are quite experienced and there is this trust that drives the equations well. Besides, they can always have a look at my file any time and the work that I have done. We have a rounded discussion before arriving at a specific look.


Any challenging experience?

I have had many challenging moments in my career. We generally play around with different concepts. In Vaali, for the Nilavai Kondu Vaa number Suryah wanted to try a ‘set’ look for an outdoor number and that required a lot of embroidery work in Simran’s entire costume that included the headgear also. Eight of my staff worked just on the head gear alone. There was so much of intricate work in that.

Azhagam Perumal’s Dum Dum Dum was a Mani Ratnam production and Mani sir used to sit for the discussions. For the Desingu Raja number, he was suggesting that we try a different unattempted look for Jyotika. I enjoyed working for that song. We tried different types of ‘kacham’ and jewelry. We took her look from the books that had the pictures of Tanjore queens. The saree was off-white with maroon border with puff sleeved maroon blouse, with the saree till the knee level only with kemp jewels. We also tried on her ‘kondai’ and made gold plated ‘thaazambu’ to be kept in her hairbun. Then I did Rudraksham jewels for one of her sarees. I was very happy with the result; it was Mani sir’s idea, but he gave me that chance to work upon.

Ramya Krishnan is one actress who works hard on her looks and experiments with it. I did her looks in Panchathanthiram. Her stylish looks were one of the highlights of the film and Ravikumar gave a lot of liberty to work upon.

I have worked on the looks of Trisha, Simran and Jyothika in many films.

The most challenging one was Revathy’s Hindi film Phir Milengae that had Salman Khan, Abhishek Bachchan and Shilpa Shetty. I was asked to give a totally different look to Shilpa who was hitherto known for her stylized costumes and dressing sense. Revathy was keen that I work only in cottons for most of Shilpa’s looks. I worked in Mangalgiris, pure cottons, linens throughout with plain chiffon with simple blouses in a few scenes. To be very honest, Shilpa Shetty does not need any embellishment at all as she is such a stylish personality.

Mani sir’s Guru was extremely challenging. He asked me to dress Vidya Balan and Maddy for the period 1978. Vidya Balan was a wonderful person to work with. I made a lot of references for that period sitting with sir for materials, styles and other related subjects. For Maddy I had given checked shirts, broad ties, high-waisted, slightly flared pants with appropriate watches.

Vidya and I had a good rapport and she was keen that I do her looks in Bhool Bhulaiya, Hindi remake of Chandramukhi. We worked on Bagalpur Tussars, plain sarees with printed blouses for her. She was in a particular look in entire film, but when it came to classical portions, it was Priyan sir’s concept with Sabu sir’s set work. He said, “Let’s mix a little of Odyssey with Bharathnatyam that could be in the outfit or in the jewelry”. I had planned it in the jewelry and kept the outfit traditional. I stitched the classical costumes. Pothys had woven four sarees of the same type. It was mango yellow with maroon border. For jewelry, there were kundan and temple jewelry mix, i.e. basically a mix of north and south. The flower arrangement for the head gear was Odyssey style.

Ramya Krishnan is one actress who works hard on her looks and experiments with it



Anegan was extremely challenging. I knew it was a heavy project and was excited. You get to do different time periods. We needed to play around the characters a lot. Besides that, I had to do 1962 Burma too. There was a lot of work and it was good to team with someone like KV Anand who was extremely clear in what he wanted. KV encouraged me a lot. He said, “You are beginning from 1962 and people have not seen 1962 Burma. You need to recreate and show it exactly”. It was very challenging and a lot of responsibility. If somebody mentions that this has not been done by anyone, that can take me to any level from the minute they narrate, just not the fabric part but I will get into it in layers. Even if it is just theory, it is enough, I can dream it up.

We met settlers from Burma and saw their photo albums. Direction team had done some work  and we referred to that too. When you read theory, you don’t need photographs as they thoroughly explain everything from fabric to all the fine details. We readied the file, locked the look of every character and decided where we would be sourcing materials.

Dhanush is very comfortable and amazing to work with. For the 1980 Dhanush, I gave him different types of lungis, medium sized collared shirts with netted baniyan inside. For Amyra, I used a lot of pearls, lace, satins, printed skirts and plain tops and sometimes even printed tops for the Burma segment.

Anegan is one film which I took my dad to see. He came out in the interval and told, “You are doing films every year, but this film will show who you are. All the costumes were coordinated and perfect. Did you read about them?”. His opinion makes a lot of difference and there could not be any better acknowledgement to my work than this.

Dhanush is very comfortable and amazing to work with


Sivakarthikeyan’s Remo

When I decided to do light films, I got a call to do Sivakarthikeyan’s looks in Remo. It is an amazing commercial film, a summer film for children. It is the perfect script for Sivakarthikeyan where he gets to do different characters. This is a heavy project for me. Last year it was Dhanush for Anegan and this year it is going to be Remo for Sivakarthikeyan.

Last year it was Dhanush for Anegan and this year it is going to be Remo for Sivakarthikeyan


You are a favorite to everybody in the industry. How did you manage this?

It is very simple. If you are truthful to people, the rest will automatically follow suit. I don’t connect with people on a very superficial manner. To me, it is a little beyond that. They reach out to me because there is a level of trust and they feel very comfortable being with me and talking to me.  They also know that when they talk to me, it does not go beyond me. I connect with each one of them on a different level. It has nothing to do on a materialistic platform.

If you are truthful to people, the rest will automatically follow suit


In Tamil, who has an individual style statement?

Nayanthara is wonderful and she is doing a great job. For every film, the care she takes for her costumes to accessories, it is amazing. It is very clearly evident be it in her song sequences or the other scenes. She has a clear idea and she is also very strong about the color combinations. She knows which dress should be worn with a boot and which will not go with it. It clearly shows her interest.

My all time favorite is Jyothika- she is absolute class and is lots of style. Even with a simple white shirt and blue jeans, she will look classy. There is no need to accessorize her at all. She looks gorgeous always. She has a distinct style statement. She is not glamorous, she is very real. There is a lot of dignity.


Simran is another actress who has her own style statement. After Simran, it is Nayanthara and after Nayan, you can give it to Amala Paul. Amala’s off screen appearance, be it at an award function or a regular event, the care that she takes on her attire is extremely remarkable. It makes a difference. The attention she takes on her hair styling, make-up and her accessories is praiseworthy.


In men, it is always Suriya. He was the first one to have got into the Bombay fashion. He is extremely good looking and he is open to experimenting. After Suriya, it is Arun Vijay; if you had watched his Thadayara Thaakka and Yennai Arindhaal, you would have realized his amazing sense of styling. He wears simple jackets with amazing style.

In men, it is always Suriya.


What is your personal style statement?

I am very simple  and a casual dresser. I am mostly spotted in jeans and khadi kurtas. I love palazzo pants. I don’t go for brands and I like cotton and jute.


That was wonderful talking to you Anu! Wishing you the best!


Jyothsna Bhavanishankar






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