Exclusive : Neeraja Kona Interview

Neeraja Kona is a brand when it comes to costume designing and styling and has proved her mettle time and again and this time she is in the news for her film Shyam Singha Roy. The stylist is a perfectionist and believes in the power of costume elevating the entire persona of a character in a film. Personally her clothes make a statement and her costumes tell a story. She is a multi-tasker and doesn’t waste a minute; we either see her monitoring her staff, dressing her talent, responding to messages on her phone or when she finds some time and space, is seated in a corner reading a book. Whatever she does, she enjoys herself and involves herself completely. Here with Y.Sunita Chowdhary of Klapboardpost.com, she recollects the time gone by and the way forward in the Telugu film industry. “In the film language, I am a costume designer and a stylist. I studied fashion marketing and visual merchandising but styling was more of a serendipity. I moved to India and Kona Venkat, my cousin, and a writer in the film industry encouraged me to pursue a career here and hence got an opportunity to try something new in the field. I don’t think I can wish for something more amazing,” she says. Neeraja concurs that someone can open the door for you but if we don’t work hard people will not give you a second chance. She has learnt things on the go, and is learning continuously every day. She adds, “I loved being part of every little step. I usually give the advertisement shoots more priority, they squeeze everything into one day and I want to be there to take care of it all. For me, my personal rapport with clients, artistes is an advantage, I am blessed with interacting with people who have been open enough to let me express and actually take my advice for certain things. I think I’ve been able to express what is going to work for them. Over the years seeing people in and out again and again, you learn so many things,” she states.

 Neeraja Kona Interview

What are the challenges that she often faces in her work? “The timings and the hard work that goes behind the thing. Putting the look together isn’t simple, it isn’t just the person who is wearing it, there is a brand, the director, the cameraman, the different sets of people whom we have to satisfy and they all have to get validated through the journey and the silent unsung journey is a challenge for sure. The timings are insane. At the end of the day, I am a mother of a six year old son. I work on multiple projects and balance things and also make time for myself. I carry a book on set, a diary and sketch. When I’m not often needed, I sit in a corner and do my thing. I dress according to my comfort, I love dressing up people, I take their personal taste into consideration and if they carry off something that they are comfy in, they look a lot nicer.”

For people who are not connected to the film industry, isn’t this a glamorous job? “It is a cool job when you sit with them and travel but none see the dog hours that go behind it. People who want to get into styling ask for tips. I tell them not to get tempted. I keep telling them to work hard. Perks are – you get to hang around with and travel but that is not the job, It is just perks. I recently did Shyam Singha Roy and Jersey. The content inspires us a lot. The period look is a complex subject matter and you have to do justice to it. If a couple of designers are working on the project, there is another bigger advantage…there is detailing happening. On the other hand, when one person tries to keep everything and function under one umbrella, there is another advantage. In this case, we know who is wearing what, and we are not repeating. There is a lot of research that goes into it. For Jersey, we pulled up a lot of images. We wanted cricket uniforms and we actually needed them and I couldn’t make up those things. There was a requirement for authenticity. In Shyam Singha Roy, we were putting a cinematic touch here and there. We had many look tests, for such films one look test is not enough.”

Neeraja agrees that handling people is part and parcel of the job and you need to know how to carry yourself. Anything can be reached through normal conversation. “I like to understand the reason why they say it won’t work out. I have the patience and for me styling is comfort. I follow fashion magazines, social media, I am updated, but not everything works on everyone. We try to incorporate and the artist has to be comfy and carry it off. I wear stuff that I make and buy things from Fab India etc. I need to breathe but on sets my work inspires fashion. When we see a stylist we think of following or setting a trend. That is better suited for the artists who wear the costumes. The last few years we have seen a huge change. Designers like Anushree Reddy and Jayanthi Reddy have opened stores in Delhi. The biggest Bollywood stars shop there.”

Exclusive : Neeraja Kona Interview

It is sad that the stylists and designers never get mentioned in the film reviews when other technicians and behind the scenes craftsmen get noticed and written about. How fair is it? Neeraja says, “When I started in 2013, back then we were not there. Fashion blogging sites never featured our southern people and I always wondered why we were not there but ten years down the lane, we are everywhere. The shift has started to begin and I am excited about the next generation. Also there are women everywhere and it will be an exciting phase happening in the entertainment industry.” How do people gauge your contribution?” I would have caught up in the beginning, I did it and never got talked about during interviews or reviews, they just say you look different and the look is different but it ends there. The costume designer would talk about the tone of the film .. . if the person is looking good and rapport is terrific, they get recommended into the next film. The close circle and few people you interact with are of some help. social media has become active. Now it is exciting to see changes of seeing costume designers’ names on the posters. It’s a nice feeling when directors and artists talk about your work. From where you were when you started your journey to where you are now, it’s a nice feeling.”

Writing is perhaps in her DNA and the platform is ready for the stylist to turn director. She shares, “It came very natural to me. I would always write since High School days. Some time back I wrote a story and shared with Nani and I began developing it. This happened three or four years back. I am well aware of the grammar, I know how to break it down and in which order it has to be written in. I picked it up from my work experience and friends said why not try direction, I was not brave enough to say it loud but now that my scripts are ready and are at the pitching stage, you can take it for sure that I will be debuting as a director this year. This year should be exciting. I like to tell stories that are heart warming. I like magic of love and just not the love that happens between boy and the girl. It can be between siblings, between father son. relationships play a key role in my stories and I am wanting an opportunity to tell it one day, very soon.”

Neeraja has an ardent and a refined interest in food, she likes to surround herself with like minded people. Her close friend is into food business so she too got into it with Nithin. She confesses, “I am either thinking of food, eating or cooking. In life too, I take everything with pinch of salt and that worked out for me so far. I practice gratitude a lot, My day starts with my time and ends with my time and I take a break once in a while. I do solo travelling and have been doing it ever since I was seventeen. I have travelled 37 countries and I am still counting. My son is my stress buster and when I am with him, I am much more calmer. All the things I liked helped me be the person I am. I very rarely have outbursts but only the close friends and my hubby get to see that side of me.”

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