POORNAMRITA SINGH: Bollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer
Katrina and Siddharth Malhotra’s multiple makeovers in Baar Baar Dekho, Ranveer’s street style of a rapper in Gully Boy, the high heeled & chic characters from the Amazon Prime web series ‘Made In Heaven’ and Bhumi Pednekar‘s rustic look in Netflix’s Lust Stories. All of these have a single, common thread in that they're creations of Poornamrita Singh's magical wand.
Sanjay Singh Badnor uncovers the dazzling journey of Bollywood's celebrated stylist and costume designer from Madhya Pradesh's former princely state of Narsingharh in this exclusive feature for Rajputana Collective.
Like several veterans in the film industry, Poornamrita Singh began without any formal training or mentorship in the field. Infact, this modern day descendant of Raja Bhoja's dynasty of Parmars spent
her formative years in Agra with her maternal grandparents. Her childhood was spent amidst the elaborate familial mansion, the refined aesthetics of which seem to have seeped into her being. Thus, it came as no surprise when the Hindu College graduate moved to pursue a marketing diploma in Mumbai that she organically found her forte in Tinseltown.
It all began at Genesis, Prahlad Kakkar's production house wherein Poornamrita was a production assistant soon after attaining her diploma from St. Xavier's College. As apart of her sundry work, Poornamrita was designated styling roles for several TV commercials when she discovered her inborn flair for costume design. But her foray with Bollywood began as an Assistant Costume designer with Reema Kagti's hit comedy drama Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. in 2007. Her expertise was thereafter solicited in Sudhir Mishra's Khoya Khoya Chand and Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do apart from several other film labels. There was no looking back for Poornamrita ever since, and she rose to join Bollywood's leading cohort of costume designers.
“In a film, an actor is supposed to leave his own personality behind and don the avatar of the character he or she is playing. As a costume designer, my role is to ensure that I have created the appropriate identity for that particular character”, Poornamrita begins. It is not about styling a celebrity as much as it is about investing in a character's style and creating an identity that comes alive on celluloid that gives Poornamrita the ultimate adrenalin rush. Costumes are of utmost importance since they mirror the mood, as well as the background so as to allow the characters to emerge as real and identifiable. I enjoy creating specific characters instead of just simply making people look good", she adds.
Speaking of which, she pays particular reference to the 2016 Katrina Kaif and Siddharth Malhotra starrer, Baar Baar Dekho, which spanned across five different eras. This meant that Poornamrita and its costume design team were required to create different looks for every decade. A commonplace feature of various film series and sagas, this is still a rarity for a single feature film. She describes her experience- "We had to move backwards from the 60’s to the 40s and to the Edwardian era through four different locations and had to come up with separate looks for each character as per the setting; so we had the bohemian look for Thailand, the autumn feel for Scotland and the typical ethnic wedding vibe for the India locations. We worked on over a 1000 different looks! What was rather encouraging was the fact that both the lead stars, Katrina and Siddharth were very cooperative and willing to be experimental about their styling. It is all about collaborative effort and feels particularly welcoming when actors share their creative inputs. This actually helps me build into their character."
Poornamrita's work rose to the hall of fame when in 2020, she won the Screen Award for Best Costume Design in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, and was nominated for the same in that year's Asian Film and Filmfare awards. However, it was her work in the 2019 web series, Made in Heaven that remains embellished in Poornamrita's career for its signature style and exceptional design components. Her keen eye for detail rendered the show's wardrobe act as an enabler in its own right, constructing individual identities that could be uniquely distinguished by the show's viewers.“ I didn’t want my costumes to be overpowering. At the same time, Zoya had initially briefed to keep things stylish yet not to lose the essence of the storyline’’, Poornamrita says in retrospect. Besides poring over scores of photographs of different families to see how they dress for weddings, to making mood boards for all the characters in the show and creating different color palettes for each wedding, she made sure she was ready on paper before she began to source and collaborate with various designers, labels and boutiques across Mumbai and Delhi.
Poornamrita has also had her share of exciting Hollywood projects and has worked as an assistant costume designer in films such as Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi. Her most cherished overseas venture remains the one pursued under Italian costume designer Milena Canonero's mentorship for Wes Anderson's film, Darjeeling Limited. "It was like a dream come true", Poornamrita explains. "The four-time Oscar winner for best costume designs, Cananero has unfurled her magic onto the sets of films like Chariots of Fire, Marie Antoinette, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. All in all, she is certainly the goddess of costume design and truly an ace at detailing", Poornamrita adds.
As a part of her fashion odyssey, Poornamrita has now ventured out with her very own fashion label, 'SubCulture', where she serves as the founder, director and creative designer. An environmentally-conscious yet stylish brand, SubCulture target's the new age woman in a strategic positioning between luxury and high street fashion. She strives to attain high-quality fashion through a mindful approach and is committed to redefining its footprint. "The SubCulture designs are feminine yet bold and confident with a unique vibrancy. I love that people connect with the simplicity and the boldness of my creations. It gives me immense joy”, proclaims Poornamrita who was listed by GQ magazine in 2019 as amongst the 50 most influential young Indians. Poornamrita is currently working on a film entitled Phonebhoot with Katrina Kaif, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Ishan Khattar