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Themis Vanessa Speaks on Design, Creativity and Her Evolving Relationship with Cinema

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“A lot of people, even within the industry think that we are jobless and that costumes are easy,” says 27-year-old costume designer Themis Vanessa.

As a costume designer and stylist who works predominantly in the Tamil film industry, she points that while designing and styling are vastly different, cinema requires a mix of both. Contrary to widely held belief, costume designing is not just about fashion and sourcing clothes, Themis clarifies.

“A lot of the work is done before the shoot. We have to do research, pick according to the body type and it has to go with what the art director and the DOP (director of photography) want,” she elaborates.

Fresh out of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai, Themis began her career in 2015 when she worked on the costumes for the Tamil film Remo as a freelancer. Soon, she worked on Sivakarthikeyan-starrer Velaikkaran and there was no looking back. Having worked on advertisements and commercial as well as independent films, Themis says that her tryst in cinema was accidental.

She always wanted to start her own label and a store. “I had no dreams of coming to this industry. It might sound cliché, but it happened by chance. What started as a freelance gig became something dear to my heart,” she says.

Speaking to Silverscreen India, Themis talks about out her relationship with cinema and her varied experiences in the field.

New beginnings

Hailing from Chennai, Themis had always wanted to stay in the city and had no intention of leaving. After working for a while with the costume designing team for Remo, she took up a job in Bengaluru. When realisation dawned that was not what she signed up for, she quit in three days and rejoined the Remo team.

Having started her career at the age of 22, she points out that she has been lucky in terms of the opportunities that she has got, but it has not been without difficulties.

“It is a male-dominated industry. The tailors, dress assistants are all men,” she says.

As a young woman who was new to films, she recounts that it was difficult for them to understand the concept of space. Since they were not used to having too many women on set, they did not consider having a separate women’s restroom on set.

“Quite a few people do not like to take instructions from a woman, especially from someone who is younger to them,” she says.

Themis has had the opportunity to work with several renowned costume designers, including Archa Mehta and Eka Lakhani. Despite the erratic working hours and prolonged shooting schedules, Themis has come to love cinema.

“Being in this field gives you the power to create a character, and that is a lovely thing to be part of.”

Talking about her gradually evolving love for films, she credits people like cinematographer PC Sreeram and production designer Ajayan Challisery for educating her on production.

“I am lucky to have met people like this. Every film that I have worked on, I have noticed different people and how they work,” she says. By working with actors like Shraddha Srinath, Raashi Khanna, and Madhavan, she believes that she has gained considerable insight as every actor has a distinctive style and method of doing things.

Way forward

After wrapping up work on upcoming Tamil film Maara with Lakhani, Themis is currently working on the period film Ponniyin Selvan. She feels that no two days are similar on set and the creativity of her job entails has kept her going.

Having started off with men’s wear while working on the set of Remo to experimenting with women’s costumes for Maara, there is something to look forward to all the time.

“I did men’s wear for two years and then I learnt a bit of everything. Now I am working on a period film, so it is just going on its own. So, I do not have specific aspirations and I am happy with what I have. I do always aspire for more. In the sense, aspire to do better work and have a better life,” she adds.

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