Costume Cornucopia: Where Bahuroopis are fashioned, styled
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Costume Cornucopia: Where Bahuroopis are fashioned, styled

June 29, 2019

Art productions comprising dance and theatre have been a major form of entertainment since ancient times. Theatre evolved as an organised way to express creativity and with it came the evolution of costume design. Without costumes, productions are neither believable nor loved by audience. Costume design has had very humble beginnings that have morphed into astounding creations that are now seen in modern theatrical productions. As in many cities, Mysuru being a cultural and theatre hub has Rajeshwari Vastralankara, a repertoire of costumes. This Weekend Star Supplement stitches the story of Rajeshwari Vastralankara and how it has been helping people dress up and narrate stories that awe audience.

Where Bahuroopis are fashioned, styled

I have plans to stage a drama and I need costumes for artistes. I cannot afford to buy costumes and I would rather prefer to rent all of them and I have 20 artistes performing.” Tell this to any Mysurean and he will immediately direct you to Rajeshwari Vastralankara on Madhavacharya Road near Agrahara in city, one of the oldest, well stocked up and novel costume rental shops. It is an intimate performance space dedicated to costumes, art and cultural paraphernalia. It is a versatile venue that provides costumes to all eclectic line up of performances – from innovative fine arts and dance programme productions to eye-catching work by local artistes and performing arts companies.

No less than a temple

It is no less than a temple. The building has a slope roof adorned with country tiles and supported by pillars that resemble the facade of some traditional temples in villages. A notice on the wall on right side of the entry door asks visitors to leave their footwear outside. A corner of the building has an idol of Goddess Rajeshwari, the guiding force for this abode of art. And the man behind setting up of this famed shop is B.M. Ramachandra. The 64-year-old is a multi-faceted personality in the field of theatre and his unflinching love and dedication for stage has made him a popular name in Vastralankara or costume design. Interestingly, there is writing on the wall in front of his house that reads “Kala Degula, Bannada Vaadi” (A temple of art, house of art).

Transforming ordinary men and women into stage actors

Rajeshwari Vastralankara is filled with various kinds of fancy dresses in the shelves and the more you explore the more you discover. Inside shelves and boxes are bits and pieces from another world — soldier’s swords, king’s robes, queen’s jewellery, demon’s garlands with skulls, flowing gowns, stiff waist coats, gold-coloured papier-mâché crowns and turbans, to fruit, insect, and animal outfits. This shop transforms ordinary men and women into stage actors who awe the audience. 

The shop was built from scratch by B.M. Ramachandra, a makeup artiste who worked for many years in popular Kannada theatre, cinemas and TV serials. His shop has costumes for every possible traditional, historical and mythological theatre characters. There are also flashy identical clothes for dancers, astronaut costumes and uniforms for Roman soldiers.

This is a one-stop shop for fancy dress competitions where all  types of fancy  uniforms, Police and military fatigues, complete with toy weapons, air hostess uniforms, company uniforms, kids costumes, drama costumes, Krishna , joker costumes, dresses for Onake Obavva, Kittur Rani Chennamma, Jhansi Rani Laxmi Bai, vegetable, animal costumes, bird costumes and all types classical, religious, regional,  western dress, Indian traditional drama costumes in all colours, shapes, sizes, designs, lengths and print  can be found.

Started in 1983, the outlet supplies costumes for theatre, street plays, movies, small screens, schools and colleges, performing art schools and dance schools. “Although there are umpteen drama companies, it is expensive to purchase costumes for every show. Having worked in theatre, I decided to rent out costumes and started this business after my marriage,” says Ramachandra.

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Wide range of costumes are also available for dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Rajasthani, Manipuri, Gujarati, Kathakkali, Kuchipudi, Lavani, Bhangra, Salsa, contemporary and belly dancing. Not only this, traditional and region-specific attire including Maharashtrian, Punjabi, South Indian, designer Sherwanis, Pathani, Kurtas, designer sarees, designer Lehengas and Ghagra Cholis are also available. The shop also makes ornaments, wigs and crowns, hand-embroidered costumes and provides make-up sets to match the costumes.

PROFESSIONAL TOUCH: B.M. Ramachandra’s son B.R. Manjunath helps a child dress up for a fancy dress competition. A unique thing about this shop is that children have a wide variety of dresses to choose from. Picture right shows the idol of Goddess Rajeshwari, the guiding force behind Sri Rajeshwari Vastralankara.

Business is seasonal

We have very little business in May, June and July and these months are dedicated to check annual inventory of stocks and invest in new ones. Dressing up as a character from your imagination costs anything between Rs. 100 to Rs. 500 but the cost is hardly a factor as most parents  don’t mind shelling out money,” says Ramachandra.

Majority students of performing arts schools run by noted dance exponents like Vasundhara Doraswamy, Prasanna Lakshmi, Sridhar Jain, Radhika Nandakumar, Varija Nalige, K. Ramamurthy Rao, Anitha and Nagashree are Ramachandra’s regular customers. 

Rajeshwari Vastralankara supplies costumes and provides make-up service to all performing arts centres, cultural programmes performed during  Dasara, Kannada Sammelanas outside and inside the country, historical and mythological plays that are held  in villages of Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajanagar, Gowribidanur,  Davanagere, Hassan, Chitradurga, Ballari, Shivamogga and other districts.

“Shortage of quality craftsmen is our challenge as we are finding it difficult to meet customer demand which has evolved over time. In the past, schoolchildren mostly hired historical costumes. Children are more daring now as they look for that perfect fit and ask for designs that no one has ever attempted before. But we are doing our best to keep up with the changing times.” — B.R. Manjunath, Ramachandra’s son

CROWN PLAZA: Ramachandra’s son B.R. Mahalinga arranges the crowns used by Gods, kings and queens on stage.

Awards and accolades

Ramachandra is the recipient of Karnataka Nataka Akademi Award in 1995-96. He was also felicitated with various awards by Vasundhara Performing Arts Award, Nrityagiri Award, District Rajyotsava Award and Hoysala Award.       

Ramachandra wants his sons to continue the legacy. Elder son B.R. Manjunath and younger one B.R. Mahalinga are also adept in the realm and helping their father. His wife H.B. Yeshodha, also a theatre artiste, Ramachandra’s sister and daughters-in-law, daughter and son-in-law are all helping him in this profession without depending upon labourers.

In between all these activities, Ramachandra engages in Ranga Chavadi Amateur Theatre Company activities. Many retired engineers, doctors, teachers, forest department and other government officials perform various characters and present their skills in the stage shows organised under Ranga Chavadi. This is their way of living happily.

FAMILY BUSINESS: B.M. Ramachandra sits along with his wife H.B. Yeshodha and grandchild M. Kushal. Standing at the back are son B.R. Manjunah, son-in-law M. Jagadeesh, son B.R. Mahalinga and Ramachandra’s another grandson M. Mukthesh.

A man with an eye for colour

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A makeup artist with an eye for colour and design, B.M. Ramachandra started out in a humble way. “In 1981, I came to Mysore after my marriage to eke out a living and I found scope to start a costume shop of my own. What prompted me to do so was an incident where I had agreed to supply costumes and I failed. The play was ‘Yechamma Nayaka’ at Mysuru Central Prison to educate jail inmates. One of my friends, who promised to supply costumes, denied it at the eleventh hour. So I decided to set up my own shop and I have been running the same successfully so far,” he reveals.

He said that he rebuilt the house on Madhvacharya Road lending an artistic touch and reserving the ground floor entirely to store costumes and imitation jewellery. Ramachandra was 17 when the artiste in him forced him to don make-up for his maiden role in theatre.

Art for Art’s Sake: B.M. Ramachandra holding a piece of jewellery and explains about the significance of costumes. Behind him is a photo of Ramachandra and Hamsalekha, the famed lyricist and composer.

Having his roots in Rajmahal Guttahalli (now Vyalikaval) in Bengaluru, it was the lure of theatre that made Ramachandra end up in this profession. Amid opposition from his parents, one-day he decided to take the plunge into theatre movement after he was fed up with working as supervisor a cloth shop on Kempegowda Road in Bengaluru during 1970s. 

When Ramachandra entered theatre, he was a novice but keenly watched dramas and this was his only experience. He later joined Viveka Ranga, a theatre company in Bengaluru along with his close pal Hamsalekha, another popular name in Kannada film industry as a lyricist and music director.

Later, Ramachandra joined Ponnuswamy, a man of yore at Chowdeshwari Vastralankara which was one of the famous costume rental shops in Bengaluru those days and learnt the techniques of make-up from Shivanna, working as his assistant. “From mythological to social, amateur to professional, modern to experimental, all plays become complete only with relevant costume,” says Ramachandra.

HAIL THE LORD: A child being dressed up as Lord Shiva complete with snake, tiger skin costume and the destructive ‘Third Eye’.

Having worked with acclaimed theatre directors like B.V. Karanth,  Srinivas Kappanna, Veeranna Belagallu, T.S. Nagabharana, R. Nagesh, H.K. Yoganarasimha, Prema Karanth, Chandrashekar Kambara, Girish Karnad, C.G. Krishnamurthy (CGK), Gubbi Company’s technician Balaji Singh and technicians of Chowdeshwari Alankara of Bengaluru besides international fame artistes Vasilios Calitsis (Greece), Fridge Benefits (America), costume specialist Adriyana (Italy),  institutes like National School for Drama (NSD) New Delhi and Rangayana in Mysuru, today, Ramachandra has the credit of renting costumes to more than 1,000 plays irrespective of languages.

He has also dabbled in the world of films, working as its makeup artist and supplied costumes to more than 30 Kannada films including ‘Veerappan’, ‘Sirivantha’, ‘Nannavalu Nannavalu’, ‘Prachanda Ravana’, ‘Vasantha Kavya’ and other Kannada films. He also supplied costumes and worked as makeup artiste to history-based television serials.

PALS BOND TOGETHER: Ramachandra with friends versatile actor Suchendra Prasad and theatre artiste Kalpana Naganath who is also a disciple of theatre giant B.V. Karanth.

25 % of earning for the needy

Apart from contributing his mite for promotion of theatre, growth of Kannada and culture, B.M. Ramachandra also contributes 25 per cent of profit earned by his Vastralankara for needy people every year. His shop gives scholarship to meritorious children of theatre artistes, financial aid to widows of theatre artistes and holds mass feeding for poor during Ayudha Puja every year.

ADDING GLITZ: Most of the clothes are stitched at Rajeshwari Vastralankara itself. Also, they are fashioned, styled and resized as per customer requirements. Ramachandra and his sons personally supervise the work.

Free costumes and make-up service are given for orphan, deaf dumb and blind students, Shakthidhama and government school students whenever they conduct fancy dress and cultural programmes. 

Ramachandra said that lot of children ask him to provide forest brigand Veerappan’s dress to take part in fancy dress competitions but he never encourages such wishes as it would send a wrong signal to the society.

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