Sunday, September 15, 2013

Julian Day: On fashioning Naomi-as-Diana for the screen

Julian Day: On fashioning Diana for the screen
I interviewed Diana‘s London-based costume designer via telephone to gain insight into his aesthetic experience. Julian Day has previously dressed Emily Blunt, Kristen Scott Thomas and Helen Mirren in various films.

Laaleen Khan: Julian, you’ve reinterpreted iconic Diana dresses to perfection, with startling results. What did you have in mind when depicting the style evolution that occurred in the last years of Diana’s life?
Julian Day: I had a look at the reference, a number of pictures, and reinterpreted it to take into consideration the height and shape difference between Diana and Naomi. I reinterpreted those clothes to give the same impression for Naomi’s shape. It’s very pared down, much simpler, less complicated. Fashion plays a big role in her (Diana’s) life. Towards the end of her life, she liked to pare down what she was wearing (and kept it) simplistic.

LK: Are there any other iconic moments from Diana’s life you would’ve liked to aesthetically recreate from her earlier years, such as her wedding day complete with her fairytale gown and the dazzling Spencer tiara?
JD: Not really. In all fairness, some of the things she wore when she started her relationship with Charles were not particularly nice. I think, as she got divorced from Charles and away from the royal family, she was able to use her own style decisions. She became more of herself. She was a fairly stylish lady.
LK: Oliver has said that he was looking for the right vibe with his casting choices rather than lookalikes. What was your experience like recreating Hasnat and Dodi for the screen?
JD: It’s about interpretation of a look in a sense. As a costume designer, I’ve got to be aware…I did a bit of research into the royal household, what they wore. It’s all about creating a mood. We were never intending on making a documentary. This is a film. You interpret it in a way to benefit the film.
LK: What was your criterion when selecting jewelry with Chopard and accessories with other brands? Was anything specially made for the film?
JD: The jewellery was all chosen with Diana’s style in mind, all from past and present collections. Things she had worn. Tod’s produced bags and shoes, original bags they’d made for her. Jimmy Choo produced the classics that she wore. Oliver Goldsmith produced a range of sunglasses that she worn.

LK: How many of Diana’s Pakistani outfits did you recreate for Naomi? Did you enlist any Pakistani or Indian fashion labels for any of these?
JD: I luckily am married to someone of Asian origin and (am aware of) the intricacies of wearing the shalwar kameez. We went to the Asian areas in London and chose fabrics and had them produced by seamstresses here.

LK: How many outfits were there total and how much time did it take to design and produce them?
JD: Between 100-120 different costumes for her. I only had 6 weeks to do it all and very little money.

LK: Are there any plans for a spinoff retail collection of apparel/jewellery inspired by the film?
JD: Personally, I would find that quite distasteful. No, not as far as I would I know. That’s my personal opinion. A jewellery company in America recreated her engagement ring.

LK: If you were asked to work on a biopic on the Duchess of Cambridge, how would you dress Kate?
JD: (She began with) Reiss and the highstreet. Designers are getting to know her now. She’s got her own style. Diana created a style for the royal family. Kate is following in her footsteps, a proxy really. Kate is a fairly classic dresser, I don’t know much about her and I don’t follow the royal family (closely). Her and her husband dress very normally and I wouldn’t change a thing.

LK: Are there any other notable figures whose style you admire and would be interested in depicting for the screen?
JD: I’ve already depicted John Lennon. And F1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda and in Rush (starring Chris Hemsworth). I’d be interested to do Elton John’s clothes. He certainly had a style of his own. And Napoléon.

LK: What are you working on at the moment?
JD: A film in Nantucket about Moby Dick, set in 1819 (In the Heart of the Sea).

Diana: the woman, the myth, the film

Diana: the woman, the myth, the film
A new film taps into our fascination with the late Princess’ legacy, iconic fashion choices & penchant for eastern men

More at: PAPERAZZI mag @Pakistan Today
She’s one of the world’s most beloved royals and led an extraordinary life that continues to ignite public interest.

Di’s appeal never seems to ‘die’ down, as demonstrated by bestselling books, salacious newspapers reports, tabloid headlines and glossy magazine features. Vanity Fair alone published 5 posthumous Diana covers since her death in 1997. Eerie ‘what-if’ reproductions of Diana’s present-day looks include Newsweek’s 2011 ‘Diana at 50’ cover and Israel Zohar’s recent portrait of Diana at 52. Larger than life, she remains an eminently marketable brand that continues to intrigue and sell.

We may morally condemn the voracious curiosity about all things Diana, but it’s hard to resist a peek into her life. Judging from numerous made-for-TV films about the princess over the last three decades, TV producers agree: from naïve celebratory biopics about her wedding to Charles in the 80s, to low-budget melodramas depicting his liaison with Camilla in the 90s, to a series of investigative documentaries since her tragic demise, the world now awaits the first quality feature film on the princess produced for theatrical release.

Starring Brit-Aussie Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, Ecosse Films’ Diana attempts to recreate the last two years of Diana’s life. Originally titled Caught In Flight, the film is based on Diana: Her Last Love, by Kate Snell and 2006 inquest reports on her death. An excerpt from Snell’s foreward: “…the love Diana was seeking…had to include a man, a family, the feeling that she was loved for herself, and that she could maintain the love of the public;”—Granada Media, 2000).
Director Herschbiegel interprets Diana’s relationship with Dr. Hasnat Khan—the pivotal core of the narrative—along with her summer fling with Dodi Al-Fayed. Hasnat is the Pakistani-British NHS cardiac surgeon who, according to popular opinion, never sold her out for fame or riches. He even rejected an offer to act as a script consultant for this film although producer Robert Bernstein tells the Daily Mail that Hasnat met Snell and “allowed her to meet his family and his friends, and it’s through that relationship that we were able to move forward” (a claim that Hasnat vehemently denies). Bernstein also reveals implicit approval from Buckingham Palace, who permitted the crew to film scenes at the Kensington Palace gate and gardens.

At 5’5” and 44 years, Naomi may not be a dead ringer for the 5’10” Diana who died at 36, but her screen interpretation seems poignant and sensitive in the previews of the film. “It’s not just about matching her physically, it’s about getting inside her, getting the interpretation right,” she says. ‘She (Diana) had a very expressive face. She had that sideways smile we all remember, and those big eyes and a strong, athletic walk.’ For the role, Naomi undertook six weeks of voice-coaching, wore a series of wigs, shaved her eyebrows and added a small prosthetic to her nose. Diana’s final two lovers are portrayed by Lost alums; Hasnat is played by Naveen Andrews, a British actor of South Indian origin, and Dodi is played by Cas Anvar, a Canadian actor of Iranian origin.

Diana is due for release on September 20th in theatres across Pakistan by HKC Entertainment, the company that brought Bride and Prejudice and The Reluctant Fundamentalist to our shores.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Are we burka-ing up the wrong tree?

The Burka-Clad Crusader for Justice
Is the world burka-ing up the wrong tree by focusing on the Burka Avenger’s costume choice? The show’s creator, Haroon Aaron Rashid, seems to think so.
The creators of The Burka Avenger
She’s the new superhero that’s sparked debate across global media platforms. 
A mild mannered schoolteacher by day, Jiya fights oppressive elements in her village with her martial arts skills while dressed in a black burka.

Image via
The Burka Avenger is a 13-episode, 22-minute animated Pakistani series ( that airs Sundays on Geo Tez, part of the network that also airs the controversial baby giveaway spectacle (

According to The Washington Post she makes Disney princesses look “downright antiquated” while The Huffington Post states, “Disney could learn a thing or two about what a female protagonist should look like from the fearless Burka Avenger.”

The Burka Avenger seems to have sparked more international ( frenzy
and social media trending ( than local concern, mostly centering on the show’s title and choice of superhero costume.

Image via
“It's a sort of Pakistani feminist shaking her fist at the sky,” opines Lahore-based lawyer and columnist Ahmad Rafay Alam ‏(@rafay_alam). “…the ‘debate’ exists only on Pakistani social media and the Western press.”

So what’s with the hoopla over the burka?
Lady Gaga's burqa
For one thing, burkas are quick to inspire sensational news reports and influence pop culture ( Michael Jackson allegedly wore one to remain incognito in Bahrain ( The leader of the Red Mosque fiasco tried escaping in one (

An Emirati in Sex and the City 2

Watching a woman in niqab attempt to eat French fries in Abu Dhabi, Carrie Bradshaw comments, ‘Well, I could get into the head wrap, but the veil across the mouth, it freaks me out. It's like they don't want them to have a voice’—Sex & the City 2 ( Not to mention the commotion they’ve caused in France (

Cult Lollywood classic, 'Haseena Atom Bum' (Bomb)
When it comes to objectifying women, Pakistan has its share of female ( objectification (
A buxom, blood-soaked Lollywood warrior
So Jiya could just as easily have dressed like Lara Croft, a Bond girl, or a buxom warrior from kitschy ‘Lollywood’ cinema
Nigella created waves of consternation among British tabloids when she wore a burqini on the beach

Instead, the Burka Avenger’s wearing a costume similar to a scuba diver’s unitard accompanied by a ski mask and billowing cloak.
Adil Omar (left) and Haroon Aaron Rashid (right) in the music video for Lady In Black

Islamabad-based rapper Adil Omar describes her as a “silent ninja” and a “vigilante” in his lyrics for the catchy Lady In Black video ( or Omar explains, “Hip-hop is also generally full of misogynistic bullshit, so it felt good to write something about a strong female character who kicks ass.” About her burka, he added, “It is an invisibility cloak in the context of the series.”

I asked two education development specialists their views on Jiya’s burka. Izza Farrakh Satti is an adviser for the DFID's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Sector Programme and thinks, “…The title ‘Burka Avenger’ trivializes and possibly even mocks the ‘burka.’ Had Jiya’s…superhero costume just happened to be a burqa, the message would have been deeper and more subtle. Batman isn’t the ‘bat-eared’ caped crusader, Superman isn’t the ‘flying machine in red underwear’, and Catwoman isn’t the ‘tailed superwoman.’”

Huma Zafar who chairs a charity school in the Punjab, isn’t a fan of the title either: “My first reaction before I was introduced to it was, ‘are they mocking someone who wears a burka?’ But she grows on you and it is a bold, positive step towards education.”

The show’s creator, Haroon Aaron Rashid (, has been a successful pop singer in Pakistan since the 90s. His band, Awaaz, aired the first Pakistani music video on MTV Asia, followed by world tours and a solo career in 2000. Rashid says the idea for the Burka Avenger was inspired by incidents in Swat ( as well as by his mother and sister, who are both schoolteachers. With field experience producing and directing his own music videos, he came up with the storyboard, musical score and sound effects for an animation short to promote the Burka Avenger as a phone game. The results were “amazing” and prompted the idea to make it a full-fledged cartoon series in October of 2011.

Here's the interview:

Laaleen Sukhera Khan: How did you flesh out Jiya's character and superhero alterego?
Haroon Aaron Rashid: I wanted her to be a schoolteacher. My mother (who’s from New Zealand) and sister were teachers so I have great respect for them…Jiya is clued in, aware, makes a difference, and cares about the world, education and Halwapur. She’s an inspirational teacher and a role model in her own right. She only wears the burka to hide her identity and fight bad guys.

LSK: Has Malala's courage and worldwide fame inspired the characters and/or storyline at all?
HAR: It hasn’t affected this. We’d completed 7 episodes (by the time) the Malala incident happened including the concept, storylines and characters.

LSK: Has your own multicultural urban upbringing in Islamabad ever echoed any of these storylines? How did you put yourself in the shoes of rural kids?
HAR: I’ve traveled extensively and have a broad view of things. I wanted (to incorporate) local cultural elements. Living in Pakistan…you come across wonderful people but also people with very narrow views. A lot of that goes into the show. For instance, (experiencing) discriminatory attitudes firsthand. In the West, people are a little more PC.

LSK: Can you tell me about your upcoming episode that discusses discrimination?
HAR: In this episode (to be aired in the coming months), one of the central character’s family is kicked off their farm…for economic reasons…and for being different. Josh (a Canadian band with members of Indian and Pakistani origin appear showing we’re brothers. The message is about (going beyond) race, colour and creed. It’s about unity.

LSK: What were the options when designing Jiya's costume?
HAR: The burka is a great way to hide your identity and it made sense. It has a local relatable flavor and it’s worn by Muslim women so it’s not anti-Islam. It’s not objectifying women like Wonder Woman or Catwoman…It’s less about what she’s wearing and more about her deeds.

LSK: She’s wearing black nailpolish too. So she’d have to remove it quickly when she’s back in Jiya mode? 
HAR: (Laughs) She’s a superhero so she can do that fast.

LSK: So your merchandise won’t include a burka?
HAR: At this stage its t-shirts. People have been asking for posters and dolls (figurines). It’s only been 10-12 days since the story broke and we’re still trying to catch up.

LSK: Why call her the Burka Avenger? Why not the Ninja Avenger, for example?
HAR: Ninjas (have) a lot of negative connotations and associations with death. For me, it’s about doing something new, creative and original and turning stereotypes on their head. In the West, they think that women only wear the hejab or burka because they’re oppressed. We know that’s not true.

LSK: Why do you think some people like (former ambassador) Sherry Rehman  (@sherryrehman) and (author) Bina Shah ( are viewing her costume as symbolic of oppression? There was even a full-blown debate about it on NDTV in India  ( ). Do you think this whole burka controversy has been blown out of proportion?
HAR: This whole thing happened because people hadn’t bothered to watch the show…They’re assuming it’s a woman who’s oppressed and (dressed) in a burka day and night. I held focus groups before launching with feminist friends, they thought it was empowering women and that the burka is their choice. If someone wants to make judgements based on a name, it isn’t fair. I don’t mind that it’s opened up a debate, that’s good and healthy. But we shouldn’t let it overshadow the broader positive message of our show. Highlighting that too much in the press is taking too much away form it…I think Bina Shah has changed her opinion dramatically since she watched the show. Sherry Rehman’s was a knee-jerk reaction…(Activist) Marwi Sarmat ( is not exposed to the concept of the show. If Jiya’s identity was discovered battling the bad guys, she’d get in trouble and wont be able to do her job.

LSK: Has Mitsubishi protested yet for naming one of your villains 'Vadero Pajero?' What would you say to them?
HAR: In some sense a rich vadera (feudal landlord in the Sindh province) is the only person who can afford to buy one in these in rural areas. He’s the big sahib while everyone else is on foot or bicycle. It’s nothing negative, it’s a status symbol whether you’re wealthy and evil or wealthy and good. 
Note: The Burka Avenger’s iphone and android game is due to launch shortly. Rashid is currently discussing TV, graphic novel and merchandise rights with companies in Europe and Asia. He also hopes to develop the series as a feature film for future theatrical release.

Adil Omar featuring Haroon - Lady In Black (Music Video):