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Indian-Origin Costume designer Sonu Mishra to dress up Oscar-winning Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein for NatGeo series “Genius”

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Chicago, May 8, 2017: If clothes do indeed make the actor, then costume designer Sonu Mishra has just finished making the Oscar-winning Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein.

As the costume designer on “Genius”, the National Geographic’s high-profile series about the physicist, Mishra has enjoyed an opportunity to exercise her creative sartorial vision even while keeping it “authentic to the period”.

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The series’ Oscar-winning director Ron Howard’s most important brief to Mishra while designing the costumes was to ensure authenticity. In order to achieve that, Mishra, a Mumbai and New York-trained designer, closely studied the evolution of dressing styles, fabric and cultural changes over close to seven decades between 1886 and 1955 during which Einstein lived.

Mishra said she did not go about just designing the costumes but in a sense recreated the whole era with clothes as the reference point. “I had to keep in mind the socio-cultural backgrounds of the various characters which would reflect in the way they dressed up in terms of their hats and other accessories. We chose the dressing style on the basis of who those individuals were in real life,” Mishra told IANS in a phone interview from Rome.

“It was like a painting with so many pieces. Einstein was the main focus, but I had to consider an entire cast of characters that included great scientists such as Max Planck, Niels Bohr and Marie Curie. These were all powerful and amazing personalities whom we had to also represent through their clothes,” Mishra said.

Along with the make-up, costumes constitute the frontline of any movie or television production. In historically demanding roles such as Einstein’s, actors are known to pay particular attention to the clothes because they can make or break their movements and gait and, eventually, performance. Mishra said it was a joy and privilege fitting Rush and other members of the cast because “Genius” is a period piece about the world’s most famous scientist’s personal life.

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While doing background research before designing the clothes, Mishra said she discovered that students in the Europe of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were known to dress up formally and in a classical style. That was equally true of Einstein, unlike the more popular view of him as a stylishly dishevelled, absent-minded scientist.

“He acquired that relaxed look only after coming to America where dressing was far more informal than in Europe. It was only in America that Einstein’s way of dressing underwent a dramatic change toward the look we all seem so familiar with,” Mishra said. Even within Europe, she had to pay attention to the differences in the way the young Einstein and others dressed up during his days as a student at Zurich’s Polytechnic Institute and a working scientist in Prague later.

Quite apart from choosing the right fabrics, Mishra had to bear in mind finer details such as collars, hats, ties, belts and cravats. In addition, fabrics had to be linen, cotton, gabardine and corduroy . “Anything that was not natural had to be avoided because of the early period,” she said. Mishra said she found the changes in the evolution of women’s costumes for the same period as men “quite rapid”. Details such as hip pads and bicycle skirts had to be taken into consideration.

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While Mishra found fitting costumes for the entire cast exciting and joyful, it was particularly so for Rush as Einstein. “We had to make sure that he and all other actors felt comfortable, especially for him because the series rides on Geoffrey,” she said.

Mishra graduated in fashion design at Sophia College, Mumbai. She moved to New York as 19-year-old in 1989 to work in the wardrobe department at the Roundabout Theatre Company on Broadway and at Odds Costume Rentals. After that stint she moved to Rome where she has emerged as a successful costume designer for major television and movie productions, both Italian and international.

Mishra does not necessarily keep her Indian background as a reference point while working on international projects because their requirements tend to be rather different. However, she said, she is subconsciously influenced by the rich fabrics and colours of India.

Asked about the difference between designing for the movies and television projects, she said, “Television tends to be very focused and costumes are often concentrated on the upper part of the body because of the close-up nature of the medium. The movies, on the other, hand are broader. Of course, both depend a great deal on the kind of scripts,” she said.

Mishra has no plans to work on any Indian productions so far mainly because her hands are full with opportunities in European and American productions. “Genius” in general and working with Ron Howard in particular could open major doors for her in America, although she sees herself mainly based in Rome. She has, of course, worked on major US productions such as Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” and Renny Harlin’s “The Legend of Hercules”, apart from the TV mini-series “Prison Break: Sequel”.

Apart from television and movies, Mishra has designed for a host of international commercials that include an airline, a beverage company and a brand of post-pay card. (IANS)

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Peace Visionary and a Man Who Believed in India’s Destiny and was Ready To Fight For It

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee -- one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it -- that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum.

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's peace visionary. Image: Flickr

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a man of moderation in a fraternity of jingoistic nationalists; a peace visionary in a region riven by religious animosity; and a man who believed in India’s destiny and was ready to fight for it.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93), who died on Thursday, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country’s political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term.

Even though he lived the last 13 years of his life in virtual isolation, dogged by debilitating illnesses and bedridden, he has left an enduring legacy for the nation and the region where he was much loved and respected across the political spectrum and national boundaries, including in Pakistan.

Vajpayee, former Indian Prime Minister
Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world’s largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion.
In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics.

He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.

After despairing for years that he would never become Prime Minister and was destined to remain an opposition leader all his life, he achieved his goal, but only for 13 days, from May 16-28, 1996, after his deputy, L.K. Advani, chose not to contest elections that year.
His second term came on March 19, 1998, and lasted 13 months, a period during which India stunned the world by undertaking a series of nuclear tests that invited global reproach.

Although his tenure again proved short-lived, his and his government’s enhanced stature following the world-defying blasts enabled him to return as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13, 1999, a tenure that lasted a full five-year term.

When finally he stepped down in May 2004, after an election that he was given to believe he would win, it marked the end of a long and eventful political career spanning six decades.

Vajpayee had gone into these elections riding a personality cult that projected him as a man who had brought glory to the nation in unprecedented ways. The BJP’s election strategy rested on seeking a renewed mandate over three broad pillars of achievement that the government claimed — political stability in spite of the pulls and pressures of running a multi-party coalition; a “shining” economy that saw a dizzying 10.4 percent growth in the last quarter of the previous year; and peace with Pakistan that changed the way the two countries looked at each other for over 50 years.

The results of the elections could not have come as a greater shock to a man who was hailed for his achievements and who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 influential men of the decade.

Success didn’t come easily to the charismatic politician, who was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, into a family of moderate means. His father was a school teacher and Vajpayee would later recall his early brush with poverty.

He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into public limelight.

Also read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

His first entry into Parliament was in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It was only in 1971 that he won a Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the lower house seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice.

Vajpayee
Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975 and put her political opponents in jail. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the foreign minister.

The lowest point in his career came when he lost the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, that too from his birthplace Gwalior, after Rajiv Gandhi won an overwhelming majority following his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination. And the BJP he led ended up with just two seats in
the 545-member Lok Sabha, in what looked like the end of the road for the right-wing party.

In no time, Vajpayee was replaced and “eclipsed” by his long-time friend L.K. Advani.
Although they were the best of friends publicly, Vajpayee never fully agreed with Advani’s and the assorted Hindu nationalist groups’ strident advocacy of Hindutva, an ideology ranged against the idea of secular India.

Often described as the right man in the wrong party, there were also those who belittled him as a moderate “mask” to a hardline Hindu nationalist ideology. Often he found his convictions and value systems at odds with the party, but the bachelor-politician never went against it.

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee — one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it — that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum. It was this trait that made him the Prime Minister when the BJP’s allies concluded they needed a moderate to steer a hardliner, pro-Hindu party.

He brought into governance measures that created for India a distinct international status on the diplomatic and economic fronts. In his third prime ministerial stint, Vajpayee launched a widely acclaimed diplomatic initiative by starting a bus service between New Delhi and Pakistan’s Lahore city.

Its inaugural run in February 1999 carried Vajpayee and was welcomed on the border by his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was suspended only after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that nearly led to a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The freeze between the two countries, including an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border for nearly a year, was finally cracked in the spring of 2003 when Vajpayee, while in Kashmir, extended a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan. That led to the historic summit in January 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad — a remarkable U-turn after the failed summit in Agra of 2001. Despite the two men being so far apart in every way, Musharraf developed a strong liking for the Indian leader.

His unfinished task, one that he would probably rue, would be the peace process with Pakistan that he had vowed to pursue to its logical conclusion and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

He was not known as “Atal-Ji”, a name that translates into firmness, for nothing. He could go against the grain of his party if he saw it deviate from its path. When Hindu hardliners celebrated the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, he was full of personal remorse for the apocalyptic action and called it — in a landmark interview to IANS — the “worst miscalculation” and a “misadventure”. He even despaired that “moderates have no place — who is going to listen to the voice of sanity?”

In his full five-year term, he successively carried forward India’s economic reforms programme with initiatives to improve infrastructure, including flagging off a massive national highway project that has become associated with his vision, went for massive privatisation of unviable state undertakings despite opposition from even within his own party.

While his personal image remained unsullied despite his long innings in the murky politics of this country, his judgment was found wanting when his government was rocked by an arms bribery scandal that sought to expose alleged payoffs to some senior members of his cabinet. His failure to speak up when members of his party and its sister organisations, who are accused of killing more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat, was questioned by the liberal fraternity who wondered aloud about his secular proclamations. He wanted then Chief Minister — now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — to take responsibility for the riots and quit but was prevailed upon by others not to press his decision.

A day before his party lost power, Vajpayee was quoted as saying in a television interview that if and when he stepped down he would like to devote his time to writing and poetry. But fate ruled otherwise. The man who once rued that “I have waited too long to be Prime Minister” found his last days in a world far removed from the adulation and attention — though across the nation people prayed for his well-being — surrounded only by care-givers and close family whom he even failed to recognize. (IANS)