‘Slumdog Millionaire’: Costumes Were Sandpapered, Shredded, and Washed 50 Times to Get the Right Look

Ever wondered why costumes on TV shows and movies usually look on point, never missing the mark? Well, we have costume designers to thank for that. Costume designers ensure that the actors’ outfits fit into the narrative and timeline (in the case of period dramas such as Outlander where the costume designers had to use pumice stones to ensure the outfits were time-accurate).

A person in front of a large banner of the movie Slumdog Millionaire
‘Slumdog Millionaire’ poster | Prasad Gori/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In Slumdog Millionaire, the costume department took their time with the outfits and employed various techniques, including shredding and sandpaper to get the right look, and it worked.

The designers made the outfits from scratch

Slumdog Millionaire was a shot-on-location epic that told the tale of an orphaned child living in the slum who, despite the trials and tribulations throughout his life, bumbles and connives his way into finding love and becoming rich.

Suttirat Larlarb was the costume designer responsible for the outfits viewers see in Slumdog Millionaire. According to the Daily Beast, Larlarb and fellow designers made everything from scratch in a studio. In India, people believe the best way to archive costumes is to stash them all into garbage bags, so Larlarb decided against imposing her “New York systems.”

Larlarb had a relatively easier time working on the costumes, but her biggest challenge was working with local Bollywood actors who would always show up looking their best. Larlarb felt the collaborators made her job tedious and unproductive, considering she was trying to realistically portray people in poverty who don’t typically dress up.

The designer also said that she had a tough time telling those involved how to rough up the costumes. She said, “if I wanted someone’s sleeves rolled, they fold them up in perfect symmetry.” She did, however, note that their attention to detail partly stems from respect as actors in India get a lot of respect.

The designers used unconventional techniques to achieve the distressed look

To truly achieve the look they were going for, Larlarb and her design team would remove shirts from actors’ backs and stamp them in the mud. The design team would resort to this method if their other distressing techniques, such as stretching the outfits, shredding, and washing them close to 50 times, failed to achieve their desired results.

Larlarb said that she had to visit about 50 stores during filming looking for “beggar” costumes to no avail. She would also trade some of the handmade dresses to the street children watching for their “perfectly grimy outfits.”

Another challenge Larlarb had was to create a visual line for the characters who the movie aged drastically. According to BuzzFeed, Latika was given looks with shots of yellow that helped her pop out from the Technicolored Mumbai crowd.

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ received critical acclaim

The movie premiered in august 2015 and received critical acclaim. In 2009 Slumdog Millionaire won eight out of 10 of the Academy Awards it was nominated for becoming the fifteenth film ever to achieve such a feat. It also won seven of the eleven BAFTA awards and five of the six Critics’ Choice Awards it was nominated for.

The movie was highly praised, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a solid 91%, while Metacritic gave it 86 out of 100. However, despite Larlarb’s success in capturing the true essence of street life in Mumbai, her work on the film was barely recognized. The film snagged numerous awards, but Larlarb only took home one award, a top honor at the Costume Designer’s Guild Awards in a prizegiving dinner hosted by Debra Messing of the Will & Grace fame.

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