'The more cross-pollination of talent and ideas, the better

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The more cross-pollination of talent and ideas, the better

Arjun Bhasin has been costume designer for Bollywood films like Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Now, he's in the news for the recently-released American TV show Divorce. Sujata Assomull chats with the crossover star

By Sujata Assomull

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Published: Thu 13 Oct 2016, 9:41 PM

Last updated: Thu 13 Oct 2016, 11:43 PM

When you think of Sarah Jessica Parker, Manolo Blahnik, Oscar de la Renta and Philip Treacy are the labels that first pop into your mind. And if you know the work of Arjun Bhasin, the costume designer of Zoya Akhtar's Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (remember Bagwati?) and Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai, you think of slick yet effortless style. So, with Parker and Bhasin now working together, you expect the result to be all about high-end fashion.

Bhasin is the costume designer for Sarah Jessica Parker's new TV show Divorce, which made its debut in the region this week. It is a quiet, subtle and, at times, dark story though it is still a comedy based on the dissolution of a 17-year-old marriage. The cast includes Molly Shannon (of Saturday Night Live fame) and Thomas Haden Church (the villain from Spiderman 3).
Says Bhasin, "I decided very early on in the process that I wanted to stay away from the high fashion 'brand' dressing that we were used to seeing Sarah Jessica in. We wanted the clothes to tell a story and be connected to the history of the character - her past, her immediate emotional turmoil and so on."
Having previously worked on Life of Pi and About Ray (which starred Ella Fanning), Bhasin is a costume designer who has always put the character above the fashion. For this show, he chose not to set foot onto Fifth Avenue but spent a lot of time in vintage stores instead - as the feel for Frances (the character Parker essays in the series) is very retro. "We made several pieces based on vintage designs. We bought a lot of vintage fabrics and duplicated things that we thought were interesting. Or simply styled new pieces to have an old-world quality and sophistication."
He and Parker watched many films from the 70s and 80s such as Kramer Vs Kramer, Annie Hall and American Gigolo - and these became their inspiration points, not the catwalks of Milan, Paris and New York. You will see Parker repeat outfits, especially her coats, sourced mainly from the aforementioned vintage stores. Of course, you will see designer shoes make a guest appearance - because who can imagine Parker without her Choos and Blahniks?
Based in New York, Bhasin is one of Bollywood's true crossover success stories, yet he is very low profile. You will not find him on Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. He was fashion director at the launch of GQ in India and, even at that time, he hardly spoke to the press. Perhaps that is why he has managed to achieve such success in America.
New York is not new to him, as he studied at New York University Film School and worked on the erotic thriller SwimFan before he started work in Indian cinema. It was the 2001 film Dil Chahta Hai that first drew attention to his work. It was cool, urban and contemporary. No chiffon saris and embellished lehengas. It reflected the way the urban youth of India were either dressing or aspired to dress. Though he has not styled a film in India for a year or two, he is open to working there again and does go home a few times a year. "I love working on films in India. I have a few select directors who understand my creative aesthetic and call me to work with them. I hope I will be lucky enough to continue working in both systems."
His sister Niharika Bhasin Khan is now a well-known costume designer in her own right having worked in The Dirty Picture and, more recently, Fitoor. Bhasin feels the time for cross-pollination has never been better and says, "I've had so many American actors and crew tell me that they'd love to work on Indian films as well. I think the more cross-pollination of talent and ideas and aesthetics, the better." And with Divorce receiving so many accolades for its look, do not be surprised if the next Indian to attend the Emmys is Bhasin.

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