What goes into the making of armour in a historical production?
If it is for a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, ergonomics, robotics, and a 300-year-old technique of making vintage leather, according to designers Vipul Amar and Harsheen Arora. The owners of luxury brand V Renaissance in Delhi, which specialises in leather products, along with a team of artists and technicians, created armour for the characters Rawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) and Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) in Padmavati. The movie will be released on December 1.
The team created three types of armour over eight months, one for Kapoor and two for Singh. “We first created one armour for the initial battles fought by Khilji,” Arora said. “Then, they asked us to create one for Ratan Singh as well. Bhansali was so happy with the armour we created that he asked us to create one for Khilji’s final battle as well.”
Earlier this year, Amar and Arora had worked on Sushant Singh Rajput’s costumes in Dinesh Vijan’s Raabta. “Designer Maxima Basu, known for her work in Bajirao Mastani, got in touch with us for Raabta,” Amar said. “If you remember the chest plate that Sushant Singh wears in the film, the leather work on it was designed by us. It was Basu again who introduced us to Padmavati and its team and recommended us for the armoury work.”
Working with Bhansali was a whole new challenge. “Bhansali is very particular about detail and so, it was imperative for us to understand his vision of the characters,” Arora said. “Once we were briefed about the characters, we did our own research too. We wanted to understand what kind of armour was made during 1300 AD for a person in a specific position in the army. Then we studied the armour worn by the sultans, maharajas and Rajputs of that time. We also researched about the resources available to artisans making armour at that time.”
Even if it was for a film, Amar and Arora wanted to make sure that their creations were functional and protected the actors who wore them.
“The purpose of any armour is to protect the warrior from an attack,” said Arora. “It has to act as a shield. So, even if it is just a film and the armour is going to be worn during an action sequence, we wanted to make sure that it acts as a buffer for the actor. At the same time, we also did not want to make the armours too heavy. They should be practical and wearable for a shoot. We consulted an engineer who checked the robotics of the armour. The way robots move, that’s how the armour needs to move. It needs to be a second skin to the warrior.”
The pair employed time-tested techniques, including sculpting, chiselling and inlaying, to make sure that the metal and leather did not weigh down the actors. “Also, if you see the trailer and notice Maharaja Ratan Singh’s armour, the chest part in particular, has a very specific kind of leather that you cannot find in the market,” Amar said. “We have a very special process of creating it since we specialise in making vintage leather that we believe was in vogue around 300 years back.”
While Amar is a designer, Arora is a psychologist – training that helps in designing armour, according to her. “Ratan Singh is the embodiment of love and patriotism while Alauddin Khilji embodies conquest and invasion,” Arora said. “Interestingly, even though the same materials have been used in their armours, they have been treated differently to depict their opposing personalities.”
For Ratan Singh, Arora brought in elements that represent nobility and honour. “Even the colours used for Shahid’s armour show just that,” she explained. “The blood red depicts honour, love, and eagerness to serve one’s land and the deep gold stands for courage, generosity and passion. The design elements in Shahid Kapoor’s armour are inspired by the sun rays and the chest-plate is coloured like the Rajputana soil at different times of the day.”
Khilji’s armour was dramatically different. “The leather lions on his shoulders show his strong-headedness,” Arora said. “The lions have been chiselled and hammered, which is also symbolic of Khilji’s conquest. Also, the darkness of the character has been enhanced by engraving reptile scales on the lion heads.”
Over 11,000 man hours went into the creation of the armour. The team included around 50 artists and technicians from carpenters, painters, mechanics and engineers. “We are basically a luxury brand and the base material that we work with is leather,” Amar said. “So we specialise in anything to do with leather – luggage bags, furniture, clothes. In our business, we tend to use many kinds of workmanship from carpentry, to painting jobs to specialised sculptors. So, even with the armours, we have created them by amalgamating a variety of processes. We even used a team that works on the repair of cars and vehicles.”