Reimagining Tamil cinema actors in concept-based designs

Costume designer Sathya NJ discusses the idea behind his viral concept designs that give a different shade to senior artistes

Sathya NJ chanced upon a video of Nasser — who was sporting a bushy beard — attending the Tamil Film Producers Council meet earlier this year. The actor’s unkempt beard caught Sathya’s attention and he began to visualise Nasser in a vintage, western look. In actor-comedian Vivekh’s case, it was his salt and pepper makeover that impressed Sathya, who saw him through a different lens, as a uber-cool gangster. Both cases resulted in a viral photoshoot, with the actors posing for his concept designs.

The ‘what if’ triggered an idea. Sathya began reimagining Tamil film personalities as a lockdown activity, now he intends to continue the project as a series.

This formed the base for his designs, though he admits that he has been grinding the same batter. “It is not that the designs are exceptional. The innovation lies in the thinking and I had a gut feeling this would work and it did,” says Sathya over phone from Chennai, a day before the shoot of Ravana Kottam, in which he plays a supporting character.

A dashing Nasser | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sathya says he wanted to break the perception audiences have about actors, known for playing supporting characters. The intent is to bring these less-spoken-about artistes to the fore, and give them a different dimension.

For instance, comedian Manobala, who audiences usually see in plain, formal clothes. Sathya saw him in a different shade, in a yellow jacket with a white T-shirt and jeans, in a yellow background.

The designer admits that it was difficult to sell his idea to celebrities, who, he says, were outright uninterested at first. He had to follow-up on senior actors such as Nasser and Vivekh for weeks, sometimes, months, to get their approval. “Nasser sir was hesitant till the last moment. However, when he saw the first photo of himself in the costume, he got excited. In fact, he called me after the shoot and said, ‘If you aren’t satisfied with the work, I don’t mind dropping in for a reshoot’.”

Turning the spotlight on

Sathya got a similar response from Vivekh. This photoshoot was such a hit on Twitter, with over 23k likes, that people compared the actor’s style statement to stars Ajith Kumar and Vikram (from Dhruva Natchathiram). Vivekh finally posted a tweet, asking fans not to compare and respect individuality. “Vivekh sir gifted a Tommy Hilfiger watch after the shoot, and said that he has been getting offers to play a hero,” says Sathya.

He states that his intention is not to style actors in the limelight. “Some of the heroines asked me to style them. But I don’t want to compromise on that front. That’s not my plan. I would prefer styling someone like Seetha ma’am [actor], who we have approached,” he says.

Actors Mansoor Ali Khan, Karunas and his wife Grace, choreographer Sandy, television personality Gobinath and Bigil girl Indraja Shankar are a few others he has styled so far. He adds that the goal is to style 100 celebrities.

“Directors, too, are beginning to think of actors in a different light. That’s success, according to me,” he says.

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