In a biography by Reshmi Radhakrishnan, Sameera looks back at the ups and downs of her career in cinema
Sameera Saneesh’s journey to become a sought-after costume designer in the Malayalam film industry has all the ingredients of an engaging movie. Her biography, Alangarangalillathe: A designer’s diary, written by freelance journalist Reshmi Radhakrishnan is a breezy ride through her 11 years in the industry, braving odds, personal and professional.
“I didn’t realise the seriousness of a book until it was published!” Sameera says with a laugh. She adds: “I was not keen about it initially because I was not sure how we would work it out amidst my schedule. But Reshmi said that we would talk during the breaks. When I became pregnant the project got pushed further. The publisher also changed in between. Thus, it has been in the making for three years. ”
Reshmi says that through the book she wanted to showcase how Sameera has been a trailblazer. “When we celebrate movies and technicians behind it, we often forget departments such as costume, make-up and art direction. How many of us know that Indrans chettan (actor Indrans) was the costume designer in many films directed by the late auteur P Padmarajan? Also, little has been written about the designers who set fashion trends through their films. Sameera, however, came as a breath of fresh air and gave a face to this profession. Being a trendsetter, I felt that her story would inspire many people, especially women. Born into a middle-class Muslim family, she had to break free from several stereotypes to reach where she is now,” she says.
Sameera says she owes it all to her mother, Jameela. ‘I sometimes feel that this is a dream stitched by my late ummachi, while living in the confines of a conservative family. As years passed by…I just had to add colours to that dream…’ she says. It was her mother who enrolled her in drawing classes and, later, tailoring classes. She writes about being intrigued by “colours in movies”, especially those of Faazil, Priyadarsan, Sibi Malayil, Mani Ratnam and the like. “None of the costume designers in these films have had any formal training. Still they could make a mark,” she says.
Setbacks and tiffs have been many and Sameera has not brushed them under the carpet in the book. “There have been many bitter experiences and I had no reservations about sharing them with the readers. That is not meant to offend anyone,” she states.
For instance, her career had started on an unpleasant note. She was busy doing ad films, that too for leading brands, when she was offered The White Elephant, an offbeat project in Hindi. But the production controller was unhappy about having a woman on board and said that she could not work since she was not a member of MACTA (Malayalam Cine Technicians’ Association). “I was not ready to give up, having worked so hard for the project. I called up director Vinayan [founder-president of MACTA] even though I didn’t know him personally. Within a day I got the membership. Even then the controller was unhappy and tried all means to stop me from getting a membership,” she remembers. She decided not to work in films again. But as fate would have it, Aashiq Abu called her to join his début film, Daddy Cool (2009), starring Mammootty. There has been no looking back for her since then.
The 37-year-old is candid about her personal life as well. Her decision to marry [Saneesh Joseph] from another religion cut her off from her family. “He is my pillar of support. But for him and his family it would have been impossible to go back to work after our son, Lukah, was born,” Sameera avers.
Anecdotes about some of the actors she has designed for make the book an interesting read. Mammootty, Dulquer Salmaan, Kavya Madhavan, Dileep, Manju Warrier, Parvathy, Sobhana, and Amala are among them.
She has also put down amusing instances about how her team had to think “out of the box” for some films, as in the case of Parvathy’s nose-ring in Charlie, which was cut out from an ear stud, and Isha Sharvani’s dress in Iyobinte Pusthakam, which was stitched out of a sweater!
She also take readers through the projects that are close to her heart, such as Salt N Pepper, Charlie, Iyobinte Pusthakam, Kammarasambhavam, Pranayam and Athiran. “The dress that Parvathy wears in the song ‘Oru mukilin’ (Charlie) had red-coloured cut pieces attached to it. It was shot at Dhanushkodi and the wind was so strong that the pieces would just fly off in between the shots. The shoot took three days,” she recalls in the book.
- Sameera’s name entered the Limca Book of Records for working as the costume designer for most number of films in the shortest span — 52 films in five years.
- She has worked in over 150 films and is a two-time Kerala state film award winner — in 2014 for various films and for Kammarasambhavam in 2018.
- A diploma holder in fashion designing from National Institute for Fashion Designing, Kochi, she started out as an in-house designer for Raymonds.
The book would have been incomplete without touching upon gender issues in the film industry. “I have always felt secure. But during the initial days of my career, many people had tried to dissuade me, saying the industry is not safe for a woman. It’s your talent that gives you an identity and I am happy that now there are many talented women designers. However, what I have learnt is that changes are so sudden in the industry that one day it may unceremoniously show you the door. So prepare yourself for that!”
Both Sameera and Reshmi agree that the book ought to have had more facts. “R Unni [scenarist-writer], who wrote the foreword, observed that I should come out with another work that could be a reference book for aspiring designers,” Sameera says.
Alangarangalillathe is published by DC Books.