Kishandas & Co took the arduous task of designing over 400 pieces for this historic film that is set within the milieu of Chola Dynasty. It took an army of 100 artisans who worked round the clock for roughly three years to craft these pieces. When it comes to jewellery, the words vintage and antique already hold a special place in the minds of consumers, and this period film is bound to amplify the adulation people, especially brides have for jewellery steeped in history, observes Vijetha Rangabashyam
People have always had a penchant for historic films. From Mughal-E-Azam to Jodhaa Akbar and more recently, Bahubali, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat, historic films have struck a chord with the audience because of their compelling story and their ability to transport them back to an era they have only heard of or read about. It also lends the audience an opportunity to reimagine, infer and investigate past eras in their own way.
Adding a new flourish to this genre is Mani Ratnam’s much awaited Magnum Opus Ponniyin Selvan I. The film is an adaptation of Kalki Krishnamurthy’s novel set in the 10th century within the milieu of Chola Dynasty and the power struggle that unfolds in the empire. We are all well aware of Mani Ratnam’s brand of films by now, for its distinct storytelling, breath taking visuals, an aesthetic that always has a certain je ne sais quoi and more importantly, attention to detail.
The film captures the grandeur and opulence of the Chola Dynasty in a slick fashion, giving authenticity utmost importance. From the sets to the costumes, each aspect in the film depicts the sentiment of that era punctiliously without being over-the-top. Bringing the nuances of the story alive and embellishing the characters in the film with additional depth is its jewellery.
So, when Pratiksha Prashant, creative director of the brand was approached by Madras Talkies (Mani Ratnam’s production house) for collaboration, she was over the moon. “It was right up our alley. Our brand is steeped in 150-year-old legacy and we have carved a niche for ourselves when it comes to handcrafted jewellery that celebrates Indian heritage and craftsmanship. So, when we were asked to take on this project, it just felt right,” says Pratiksha.
Kishandas not only embellished the main, but also the secondary and tertiary characters in the film. “We were given the script and it took us a while to understand the jewellery requirement for each character. We had no pictorial references from that era; all we had was Maniam’s sketches that came alongside the series in the Kalki magazine back in the 50s. That was our framework and of course, Mani Ratnam’s brief of each character helped us a great deal. Right from the beginning, he knew what he didn’t want.”
The brand was part of hundreds of look tests for each character before finalising the jewellery. “It was quite challenging because the looks can’t be repetitive. There was a lot of back and forth because Mani Ratnam was very particular about the jewellery not being excessive. The brief from the beginning was very clear, to keep it real and the jewels merely had to add to the essence of the character.”
With more than 50 characters, creating a distinctive style for each person was quite a task. “All the queens and princesses had their own identities. No two characters are similar, so the jewellery too had to bring out the spirit of the character alive,” adds Pratiksha. For instance, Princess Kundavai (essayed by Actor Trisha Krishnan) was born to royalty – her jewels had to be stately without the hoo-ha. While for Nandini (portrayed by Aishwarya Rai Bacchan) who married into royalty – the jewels had to resonate with her aspiration and thirst for power.
The jewels had to echo the quintessential tenor of the Chola Dynasty. Since Cholas were stringent Shavites (worshipers of Lord Shiva), using motifs of Vishnu or his avatars was a no-no. There were plenty of trade links during that time with the likes of China and Burma. So, the brand had to use a lot of Burmese rubies in the jewellery. “We set the jewellery with uncut stones. Imagined what pieces would’ve been like with Golconda diamonds. Used snake as a motif rampantly because it was a symbol predominant in that era. We also crafted tiger-claw pendants for the male characters,” adds Pratiksha.
The metal used in jewellery during that time was made out of pure 24 karat gold. So, the jadau pieces were coated in 24 karat gold and then aged, to make them look authentically antique. “Today, antique pieces only have the finish, but they don’t look old and worn. Mani sir wanted the pieces to look old. The karigars today don’t know how to make pieces in 24 karat. So, we made pieces in 22 karat, polished it with 24 karat gold and then oxidised it to get that exact patina you find in gold jewellery from the olden times.”
Understanding the class differences and creating jewellery based on that was also very crucial. The handmaidens were made to wear silver jewellery, but they had to look antique. Jewellery had to look refined, so the stones used weren’t big. A lot floral motifs were used and jewels replete with peacocks and other birds were created. The team also put together an assortment of saree chains, hip chains and plenty of hair accessories, which were all commonly worn by the royalty during that era. “We even had to make the crowns. We worked with someone who specialises in crowns for the Gods in temples. They were not real, but we ornamented them with real gemstones, so they looked real.”
Apart from the main characters, Pratiksha’s team styled dozens of handmaidens, hundreds of courtesans and soldiers and all the commoners, but the real challenge was in getting the look of a crucial ornament, which plays a significant role in the film right. “It is a signet ring which is very well described in the book itself. It is made of ivory with a palm tree emblem. There was a lot of to-and-fro in getting the ring right. In fact, we delivered the piece on the day of the shoot.”
Clients have been knocking the doors of Kishandas for the pieces they saw in the teaser that launched over two months ago. “Mani Ratnam has done full justice to our aesthetic. We didn’t need special marketing or promotions to be done from our end. People have been coming to us for Nandini and Kundavai’s pieces since the teaser launched. Back in the day, people wanted to ape the royalty. Today, celebrities are royalty. Everyone wants to look like them, so this film will definitely be pathbreaking in that sense. People are going to want these pieces.”