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Beatrice’s New Clothes

Himani Dehlvi takes Indian fashion to the sets of Royal Shakespeare Company’s Much Ado About Nothing in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
June 20, 2012 12:09:22 am

For the past few months,Delhi-based costume designer Himani Dehlvi has been shopping for two weddings and a funeral. She’s been sifting through mountains of colourful dupattas,lehengas and polki jewellery,as well as white and off-white chikankari to be worn during the last rites. She’s amazed how calm she still feels about it. “I should be nervous,” she adds with a giggle,not a thread out of place in her own attire. Dehlvi’s colourful (and funereal) shopping is meant for actors in Stratford-based Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) forthcoming play,Much Ado About Nothing,which will open in Stratford next month.

RSC,one of the world’s oldest,most prestigious theatre groups,is setting its new production in a modern Punjabi family,and Dehlvi was roped in by director Iqbal Khan. The play also marks Dehlvi’s return to theatre after almost 20 years. “I was still in school when I began helping backstage in Feisal Alkazi’s Ruchika Theatre. That’s where I learned to handle clothes and costumes,” she recalls. Her education was in sociology rather than fashion design,but that doesn’t seem to have been a hindrance. She’s been costume designer for films such as Bhopal Express,Outsourced,Disney’s Zokkomon and the short film,Shwet,as well as wardrobe supervisor for Monsoon Wedding,The Bourne Superamacy and Bride and Prejudice. Sociology taught her how to carry out a research,something that’s evident in the details of her styling.

About Much Ado,she says,“I knew what I didn’t want. In Hindi films,Punjabis are portrayed with over-the-top style; I wanted to portray Punjabis with good taste. The idea is not to put everybody in traditional,and blingy,Indian clothes. Instead,westerns,ethnic and a fusion of the two coexist in modern India and that’s what the style of the play will depict. For many in the audience,it will be a look at the new India where young girls carry BlackBerrys and pair of jeans with kurtis.”

The storyline revolves around the fun-loving Benedick and the woman who can match his jokes with repartees of her own,Beatrice. “Beatrice is a very strong businesswomen,dressed in trousers and Indo-western with Indian jewellery such as stone neckpieces and big earrings. There will be a little more jewellery with the power suit than a western woman would wear,” says Dehlvi,about the character played by Meera Syal. “The colour palette begins with earth tones such as beige and olives,and then moves on to peacock shades,yellows and oranges for the wedding,before the play ends on the spiritual note with whites and off-whites,” she says. Khan wanted Delhi’s class distinction to be evident,and Dehlvi has planned to have servants dressed in worn,slightly faded clothes. “In Delhi,we’re used to a layer of dust over everything. The clothes of servants carry traces of dust,” she says.

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Dehlvi adds that she is “not making the play a platform for Indian fashion” but there’s a definite visual conversation. The use of embroidery reveals Indians’ love for needlecraft,and one of the lehengas looks more like a gown. Add to these faux glass bangles (that won’t break on stage) and vibrant attire of men. “Indian men wear a lot of colour,and look good in them,” says Dehlvi. If she has any regret,it is that there are no plans to stage the play in India yet.

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