Janhvi Kapoo with designer Nachiket© GettyImages

Nachiket Barve On Being A National Award-Winning Designer

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Nayare Ali

Nachiket Barve’s been inundated with congratulatory messages since winning the National Award for Best Costume Designer for the film Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, along with Mahesh Sherla. The Mumbai-based designer is evidently elated! A low-profile personality who’s consistently served up innovative looks in peppy colour palettes, this victory’s been long overdue.

Already neck deep in multiple movie projects and his upcoming menswear line, Barve’s schedule is chock- a-block — though he takes time out for HELLO! for an insightful chat, letting us into his world where he’s as particular about a weave as he is about the draping of a pagadi or saree.

HELLO!: Congratulations on your win! What’s your current state of mind like?

 Nachiket Barve: It’s overwhelming! I worked on the film with complete passion, not with the idea of winning an award. I believe in the saying from the Bhagavad Gita: “Karm karo, phal ki asha mat karo.” I randomly got a call from Om Raut, the director of Tanhaji, congratulating me, but I didn’t know what for. That’s when he mentioned that I had won the award for best costume, and Ajay Devgn for best actor.

H!: How different is this space where you design costumes for a historical film?

 NB: It took me two years of extensive research, where I spoke to various specialists. Om is a visionary; he’s educated abroad with a global perspective, but his heart is Indian just like mine. So there was a synergy between us. Any costume project hinges on four pillars — the script, the directors’ vision, the cast and my creative inputs on how I visualise characters. There has to be a connect among all of us. There are hundreds of people involved behind the scenes. From secondary costume designers, key costume designers and assistant directors who work on the leather, armoury and metal artisans and footwear specialists... I was very finicky about the draping of pagadis and sarees, so we had specialists on set for those, too. Everything had to be perfect!

H!: You have worked with top stars like Ajay and Kajol in Tanhaji and Prabhas and Saif for Adipurush. What was your experience like with them? 

NB: Ajay is fantastic. He was also the producer of Tanhaji. He speaks little, but sensibly. He loved the costumes and congratulated me when I won the award. Both he and Kajol trusted me blindly with styling. They were patient, especially Kajol since her saree had to be draped just right. Mickey Contractor, who’s been doing Kajol’s makeup for years, told me this was the first time he saw her so excited. Kajol is part Maharashtrian, so she was also excited about wearing the Nauvari saree. She wore one for the first time for her wedding. She even posed for pictures between shoots!

The filming for Adipurush is completed. I designed costumes for the whole film and even the VFX characters. I’d like to believe that we are at the cutting-edge of filmmaking. This was so fascinating as there’s only a blue wall, and we have sketches with us. There are fabrics to add, and we have to envision how it’d look on a VFX body when it moves. All of it is computer-generated, and we had a team of VFX experts working closely with us.

The stars are all consummate professionals. Prabhas is so enthused and wears the worth of his stardom lightly. Saif is classy, has an innate sense of style and is curious about things. Even during the shooting of Tanhaji, he took me home and showed me the Pataudi archives, and we settled on a ring from that collection.

H!: You studied apparel and accessory design at NID, post which you were awarded a French government scholarship to study at École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. How did this experience shape you as a designer?

 NB: That year, the National Institute of Design selected nine students from across India. I was the only one from my batch without a design background. Every year, the French government would choose one Indian student from NID for a scholarship; I was that student.

As a designer, it opened my eyes as I saw things unfolding in front of me. It gave me an understanding of how my thought process compares with that of the rest of the world. It sets the bar high. I learnt how to write a press note — even today, I write my collection notes as well as the text for my website. I also got a chance to work with LVMH for Celine; that experience made me realise how Indian I was. In an international setting; their context and culture is different from ours. It makes you self-aware. Devdas had just released in India, and for westerners, India was the land of maharajas and pink elephants. I could neither relate to that concept of India, nor was I as European as them. I was this hybridised mix of the best of both worlds, which gave birth to my fashion philosophy: celebrating Indian craftsmanship and techniques, yet giving the product a global vibe.

H!: Your career began to gain momentum after you designed for the senior Bachchans for a Tanishq advertisement. How was that experience, given that your father is a personal physician to Amitabh Bachchan? 

NB: My dad has been his family doctor for years, so they know me in a different light. They called me out of the blue, and there was the added pressure of knowing someone. He was shooting for The Great Gatsby in Australia, so there was no time for trials before the shoot. I requested him to bring some shoes, and he brought along 25 pairs of blacks and 25 pairs of mojaris and asked me to choose — for an ad where his feet wouldn’t even be visible! I also learnt a lot from Mrs Bachchan. I value her feedback, which comes from a place of knowledge and merit.

H!: Your fashion philosophy shows that you love to experiment with colour... 

NB: After Covid, I felt that if I can bring joy to the world in my own way, by creating a happy vibe, then I should do it. We’ve always been pioneers of slow fashion and inclusion without even realising it. I still get orders for clothes from my first collection. Recently, two women from California ordered outfits from my website and wore them to a wedding in Tuscany. I was able to be a part of their happy memories, and that brings me joy.

H!: Tell us a little about your family life. 

NB: My wife Surabhi and I were introduced by family in 2012; we got married the next year. Surabhi has done fashion management from the National Institute of Fashion Technology. She has a different set of skills, like number crunching, and works with me. My daughter Aarohi was born in 2020 in the first week of the lockdown! It was a blessing to be able to spend so much time with her. There’s so much you learn from kids. You rediscover the world through your child.

H!: Both your parents are doctors. Was there any pressure to get into that field? 

NB: Everyone in my family is a doctor. I remember when I was six years old, I told my mum I wanted to be a cobbler, and she said I could become a cobbler, but I’d have to be the best in the world. I was a good student and scored 90 percent in Class 10. I could have become a doctor. But I give credit to my parents who gave me a carte blanche 20 years ago to study fashion, at a time when it was not so popular as a career.

H!: Where do you go from here? 

NB: We are launching our menswear line soon. I’m also doing a contemporary urban prêt line, in addition to the designing for a number of films. I have two Marathi movies; there’s Har Har Mahadev, a multilingual film in Marathi, Hindi and Tamil, and there’s a slice-of-life Hindi contemporary film.

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s September 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!