Please tell us about yourself

Turn the camera on Neha Panda, a NIFT graduate, who has got off to a racing start and styled around 20 films since she got into the business just 18 months ago. So, if you were struck by Raima Sen’s grunge bohemian look in Maach Mishti & More, or her chic avatar in the recent Aami Aar Amaar Girlfriends, you can congratulate the petite stylist with a pixie haircut. And while she confesses that she’s better with “urban, weird, psycho looks,” she has worked with hugely popular mainstream films like the Dev-starrer Challenge 2, Awara that had Jeet in the lead, and 100% Love.

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What do you do?

Neha is a part of a new breed of stylists who are changing the look of Bengali films. They’re experimenting with looks and giving films a chic edge. Says stylist Sandy (Sandip Ghosal): “It’s no longer all about loud colours and bling.”

“Most of these stylists have a background in designing and bring to the table their knowledge of the global fashion scenario, current international trends, silhouettes and fabrics,” says Himanshu Dhanuka, owner, Eskay Movies.

One thing is clear. Being a stylist is about more than picking the right designer brands. Most stylists are involved from the time the script is discussed and bring their expertise to the table. Neha recalls how surprised Dev and the producers were when she made a power point presentation of 20 slides for Dev’s look in Challenge 2. This included everything from a selection of colours to silhouettes and she began work only after a certain look had been picked.

Take a look at Neha who parked herself in Sudder Street for three days just to observe how the foreigners (usually backpackers) there dressed, for inspiration for Raima’s bohemian yoga teacher avatar in Maach Mishti… As a result, Raima was fitted out in loose cotton pyjamas, zouave pants, bandanas, and messy hair with beads and streaks. “No one had really experimented with her look in this way before,” says Neha.

How does a Stylist add value to a film?

Crucially, stylists are in charge of the entire look of the character, down to the last detail. And most are present on sets regularly. A stylist told actor Ritwik that she would be shopping even for the underwear he wore onscreen in Shabdo, in which he plays a foley artist who strips down to bare essentials while working. “The character needed to wear a nondescript brand, which was bought and duly weathered in soda water to make it look realistic,” she says. Her portfolio also includes movies like Raju, made by Germany’s Hamburg Media School, which was in contention for the Best Short Film (Live Action) at the 84th Academy Awards last year.

“It isn’t just the actor who gets under the skin of the character, the stylist does so as well in order to decide the perfect look,” says actress Koel Mallick, who underwent a 180-turn from her usual glamorous avatar for her role in Hemlock Society (2012), thanks to Neha.

The stylist also gave Tanusree a makeover for the role of a prostitute in Bedroom. She changed her complexion with layers of dark foundation, gave her chapped lips, kohl-smeared eyes and dreadlocks. “It was a huge challenge to transform the pretty, fair actress into a depressed prostitute, and I definitely didn’t want the stereotypical scarlet lips and loud colours for her,” says Neha.

“It isn’t just about making the styling realistic, but also about reinventing the actor’s look with every film,” says Mainak Bhaumik, the director of Bedroom, Maach Mishti… and Aami Aar Aamar…

As today’s stylists are involved in the complete look of the stars on screen, they lay down the law and insist that top actors lose weight for a role. For instance, Neha watched Parno Mittra’s and Raima’s diet like a hawk before Aami Aar Amar…’s shooting started to ensure they looked good in the skimpy resortwear they sported in a song.

What did you study?

And there’s no doubt these designers have the right qualifications for the job. Neha studied fashion designing in NIFT, Calcutta, while Sandy did the same from the city’s Wigan & Leigh College before doing a stint as workshop manager for Anamika Khanna. On the other hand, Suchismita has a diploma in brand building communication in her kitty and worked in advertising before doing textile designing and merchandising for an export house.