Hard for me to say No and for Arjun to say Yes-Niharika Khan
She’s got The Dirty Picture to gloat over. He has The Life of Pi. But other than success, costume designer siblings Niharika Khan and Arjun Bhasin have little in common. Mirror catches up with them
Mitali Parekh (MUMBAI MIRROR; October 28, 2012)
In his open-plan, sun-washed apartment in Bandra, Arjun Bhasin sits guarded and churlish. Sister Niharika Khan — who will now forever have ‘National Award winner’ (for The Dirty Picture) sewn before her name — sits crosslegged on a table. Her train of conversation runs candidly across countries, inappropriate for discussion in front of the press. Arjun periodically tries to steer it to safer territory. “You know, not too many people know we’re siblings,” she says, “Which is odd because if I grow a beard, I’m Arjun.”
The costume designer siblings arrived at a common career through different routes. True to his nature, Arjun took the methodical path. He first studied filmmaking, then focused on costume design, and assisted designers before setting out on his own 10 years ago.
Niharika fell into the profession only in 2007 with Khoya Khoya Chand, because “they wanted Arjun, but couldn’t afford him”. So even while Arjun might repeatedly announce that he is five years younger than Niharika (and it’s true), she considers him a senior in the profession, constantly checking if she can assist him. “I get so excited when he shows me sketches and mood boards. I’d jump at the chance to work with him. But he doesn’t let me,” she rues. “But why?” asks Arjun. “You are a designer yourself. I think you should assist only for a little while. As assistant, you are always second-guessing what the designer or director wants, and executing their vision. You have to handle a film on your own to really learn how to do it.”
The denial could be because of the stark difference in their nature — Niharika zooms through life, trusting everything to work itself out. Arjun walks at a measured pace, evaluating each step.
Being in the same field, it would seem natural to eye each other’s projects, seeing how Arjun has some particularly covetous international ones (the much-awaited The Life of Pi, The Namesake, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Can A Song Change Your Life?). “Which is why I always ask to assist him!” she emphasizes. “I don’t want to hold you back in your career,” he says dramatically, before adding, “Each designer makes the project his own and nobody can replicate that. I’ll turn down a project when I know others can do it better. “Oh! I think no one can do it better than me!” pipes Niharika. “When I got Band Baaja Baaraat, I didn’t know how I was going to design Indian wear. I took it up as a challenge. If I feel I can’t do it, then I have to do it well.”
Forget the five-year difference, the strong bond between the siblings (they have an older brother) is a result of shared experiences at boarding school. “Niharika stole my pocket money,” complains Arjun. “I did not! I remember stealing my other brother’s pocket money, but not his. Besides, he (Arjun) knew he would just have to ask me if he needed anything,” she says.
Niharika is far from the advisory older sister; it is more the role Arjun plays. “I’ll always say: Be sure you do the right thing. Don’t rush into it. Are you sure you want to do this?” “While, I,” completes Niharika, “will say: Go for it! Just do it!” “As you can see,” illustrates Arjun, “I’m sitting at the table, while she is sitting on it.”
Yet in Niharika, you sense a quiet maturity while Arjun comes off as impatient, even suspicious. “Basically, he’s a snob!” she declares. “A few years ago, I asked him to style me and he said, ‘After you lose 20 kilos.”
They are all in and out of each other’s life, and love shopping. “Niharika was a fashion victim,” Arjun lets on, “She went through a Madonna phase.” “He wore my clothes,” she counters and he has no choice but to admit, “I have worn a few skirts in my time.”
Both hate malls. “You feel like you have strobe eyes after a few hours in them,” he says. “And she hates labels.” “My assistants have to butter me up days in advance to even step into a high street store,” she says. As is his way, Arjun is very decided and likes a few things with variations within the theme. His wardrobe is dominated by blue and white checks, and stripes. “I like having more things to choose from,” says Niharika. “And she’s fearless with colour,” he adds.
Working in the same profession has other perks. “I call him to cross check how a person is to work with, or if I want measurements for an actor and don’t want to call him/her,” says the sister.
But their professional projects are distinctive. Arjun’s movies speak softly, sartorially. You don’t realise the clothes are calculated, which is the biggest compliment to his craft. Niharika’s spectrum is varied — Delhi Belly, Rock On! and Karthik Calling Karthik. While he picks a project based on the script, she chooses emotionally, depending on whether she wants to work with the director or production house. “Basically,” she sums up, “It’s hard for me to say, ‘No’ and it’s hard for Arjun to say ‘Yes’.”
She’s talking about the movies, but it could mean life.
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