The ‘Mani’ of the masterpieces

Deccan Chronicle.  | Swati Sharma

Entertainment, Kollywood

It took 50 craftsmen from Hyderabad-based jewellery house Kishandas & Co six months to bring Mani Ratnam’s vision to life

The jewellery created at Kishandas is predominantly ‘one-of-a-kind,’ with the price rarely considered or discussed. (Photo By Arrangement)

By When creative minds meet, the end result is always a masterpiece. The silver screen has an inextricable link with exquisite jewellery, and ace movie maker Mani Ratnam has taken this connection to new heights. His magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan has been grabbing eyeballs for its mind-blowing costumes and jewellery recreated with inspiration from the fashions of a bygone era.  

Designed to perfection

Each character in the film has a look-book, the result of a collaboration among several professionals, including the director, stylist, and apparels designer. The process of arriving at the final design took a lot of time. Before a piece of jewellery was finalised for a sequence, several rounds of discussions were held. “Every exquisite ornament worn by every character in the film was handcrafted, as were the trinkets worn by actors who play commoners. We created them all to transport the audience to the Chola era and showcase the opulence of royal jewellery during that time,” says Pratiksha Prashant, daughter-in-law of master craftsman Krishnadas of Kishandas & Co.  

The motifs used in temple jewellery, which first appeared during the Chola Dynasty in the 9th century, were mostly flowers. Filigree work on gold was a favourite style. “Three artisans/jewellery designers worked on the ornaments, and the entire process, from inspiration to studying examples from history to character specification, took about six months and involved 50 craftsmen,” says Prashant Krishnadas.

Heirlooms in the making

The jewellery created at Kishandas is predominantly ‘one-of-a-kind,’ with the price rarely considered or discussed. Every ornament combines heritage design, rare stones, and the beauty of refined hand craftsmanship. Pratiksha claims that the jewels in Ponniyin Selvan are made of real gold and precious stones. “They took a long time to make because everything was done according to the tradition of that particular time, and all ornaments were made by hand. The jewellery will later be put up for sale,” says Pratiksha.

Tough ask

“Making jewellery for men was the most difficult challenge we faced. We’re used to making jewellery for women, but crafting ornaments for men was a new experience for us. We had to make armlets, belts, body chains, and kadas. We were also told to incorporate the Chola Empire’s tiger emblem in men’s jewellery such as rings and armbands,” says Nitin of Kishandas.

The extensive research done made the task a little easier. “Madras Talkies (Mani Sir’s team) provided us with a lot of information and pointers. Eka Lakhani, the stylist, and the team did extensive research on the types of pieces that could be used and what could not be used too,” says Pratiksha. “For example,” she says, “The Cholas were Shaivites (worshippers of Lord Shiva), we couldn’t use any motifs or symbols associated with Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna. The team described the appearance and hairstyle of each character. The jewellery was then created to complement the clothing style and signature looks.”

Eka Lakhani went to Thanjavur to see and understand the sculptures at the “Big Temple” (Peria Kovil) there, and it was then that she realised that jewellery was what would bring the period look to life. “Someone who understood heritage aesthetics was required. We approached Kishandas because our aesthetic languages are so similar,” says Eka.

Recreating past glory

“The magnificent sets, costumes, and every intricate detail seen in the teasers were all tailored to perfect the Chola Era period look. The kings and queens were dressed elaborately at that time, and we wanted to highlight the wealth of that period through the jewellery,” says Pratiksha, adding, “We used a few pieces which are seen even today, such as the Magai Mala and the Thussi, but many ornaments, such as hair accessories, belts, hip chains, armlets and the typical vankis that we make for today’s brides were made in different styles to fit the period look.”

Scaled up!

Pratiksha was associated with a couple of movies earlier, though not on such a scale. “We’re used to doing photoshoots and campaign shoots as a jewellery brand, but doing it for a film of this calibre was a completely different ballgame,” says Pratiksha, who is the creative director and handles the marketing of the brand.

The Kishnadas’ elite clientele includes members of the Nizam’s family and the venerable upper crust.  “Because of our Hyderabad heritage and legacy, our clients and their families often become friends. Actress Aditi Rao is one of my close friends. She was instrumental in suggesting our name to Mani sir and Eka when the team was looking for someone to bring his vision to life,” says Pratiksha, adding, “We did a look test on Trisha Krishnan during our initial meeting, and they liked it.”

“Pratiksha and I had lengthy discussions prior to each look-test. She used placement jewellery while I did my first round with dummy fabrics. We  made the costumes and jewellery that worked well together after we knew what we were doing,” says Eka.