Children usually like to watch cartoons, but Bijaya Ratnabali preferred watching Fashion TV as a child. The fashion world drew her in at a young age.
"I used to madly watch Fashion TV," the designer recollects.
When Bangladesh finally got the internet, Bijaya used to go to cyber cafes to browse through different models, their dresses and also watch videos of fashion runways.
As she grew older her ambitions towards designing became apparent to her. Artists can pick any number of mediums for their artistic expression, for Bijaya it is the medium of fabrics, clothes and material that is her canvas to create on.
Bijaya today is an accomplished costume designer who has been working in the film industry of Bangladesh since 2013.
She has designed for TVC/OVCs of notable production houses like Applebox, Little Big Films, Filmy Features and worked with many prominent directors – Piplu R khan, Shankha Dasgupta, Amitabh Reza Chowdhury, Abrar Athar, Nuhash Humayun, Raka Nowshin Nawar, Iqbal Hossain Chowdhury.
She was Costume Designer for the film Munshigiri available on OTT-platform Chorki, alongside the web series Boli.
She is also the owner of the fashion brand, Ratnabali_b, where she creates ethnic fusion designer wear.
Branching out from intern to designer
When Bijaya was twenty-two years old and pursuing her undergraduate degree at a private university, she went for an audition to Applebox.
She recollects, "After I went there and saw the costume department, the head costume designer and her assistants – how they are dealing with clothes, colour palettes – I was fascinated, and I knew at that moment that I have to do anything and everything to get into this."
Bijaya interned at Applebox in 2013 where she climbed the ranks through the Costume Department to become the in-house costume designer for the production company.
After completing her internship, she was promoted to the assistantship position where she got her first break to design costumes for an OVC.
Her first freelance project was designing for Filmy Features' TVC for Mr. Cookie. It was an enriching and eye-opening experience for Bijaya who realised that, "the more you work with different directors, scenarios, characters and ways of storytelling – it broadens the scope for designing, experimenting and it helps you to discover yourself as a designer."
Beginnings in TVC
The world of a freelance costume designer is one of exciting experiences. Not bound to a production house, Bijaya got the opportunity to work on some memorable projects.
She recollects one such project where she was given the chance to design cosplay characters based on an international battle royal game. Bijaya shares, "This was a very exciting and challenging project."
The prospect of designing a character and blending them with the artist's personality is one of Bijaya's favourite things to do. Apart from designing complex and interesting characters, Bijaya also appreciates working with scripts that reflect the struggles of real-life people.
She stresses, "This thread of showing everyday people in a stylized and slightly glamorised way is very inspiring to work for. This is the best thing about TVCs – you get the opportunity to showcase real life in a stylized way, so they seem to be larger than life characters."
The list of TVC and OVC projects with renowned directors trail on endlessly as a testament to Bijaya's designing profile.
Foray into films and fashion design
Her first opportunity to lend her skills to a film was the docudrama Hasina: A Daughter's Tale. Stepping out of her designer shoes, Bijaya worked as the Assistant Director of the project.
She recollects, "Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited us into the Ganabhaban to have tea. It was very cosy. It was us and some of her associates and Education Minister Dipu Moni."
The next big project Bijaya worked on was the webseries Boli for the platform Hoichoi.
''We were transported into a new world," Bijaya shares, "designing the character of Sohrab Company for Chanchal Chowdhury in the Boli web series was a very exciting assignment for me."
The character of Sohrab Company was antagonistic, cruel and dark, yet exuded a helpless vulnerability. Bijaya explains, "Finding the right texture and colour palette for Sohrab, and seeing Chanchal Chowdhury transform during the look test was a euphoric moment."
Films allow Bijaya to see the characters develop through her designs. Unlike the precision required in designing for TVC/OVCs, films create the space for the designer to explore all aspects of designing – from sketching the characters to setting the colour palette of each scene. As a costume designer, film is Bijaya's favourite medium.
Speaking of films, who saw Nusrat Imrose Tisha dazzle in a sheer metallic chiffon saree at the red carpet in Moscow Film Festival 2019? Courtesy: Bijaya Ratnabali.
The designer's attention to detail was apparent in the velvet blouse with hand embroidered detail gracing the sleeves, and she fully captured the classic, old-school elegance about the artist impeccably.
Signature style and unique brand
When asked how the designer gets into the headspace to start designing, Bijaya shares, "I think being in the open air helps me get into the headspace. I walk a lot when I think about my design. When I am walking and seeing everything around me – I get inspired to think about my designs. I listen and absorb and get into my headspace."
The landscape, climate, weather of Bangladesh and the sub-continent inspires Bijaya, and we can see the reflection of that in her entrepreneurial endeavour – Ratnabali_b – where she creates ethnic fusion designer wear. She shares, "My clothing line is Ratanabali_b. it is another identity of mine – an alter ego."
The motto for Ratnabali_b is telling stories through styling, and she explains, "I do ethnic fusion. In my character design and fashion design I input history, heritage and landscape of Bangladesh and attempt to transform it for the urban population." Ratnabali_B is a small-scale operation running with a small team.
Bijaya Ratnabali has been quietly working in the fashion and costume design industry for over a decade. Her tenacity and passion have forged a path to her being one of the most sought after designers. And we will be seeing more of her work with projects in the pipeline such as an upcoming government funded feature film, web series and TVCs.