Suffocating enclosures characterised by subdued colour palette with whitewashed tones is where Shalini (Huma Qureshi) finds herself trapped. The enclosed place is called Aryavarta - the 2040s dystopian land, where puritanical laws are practiced and patriarchy is at its most extreme. Clad in a conservatively-draped unassuming maroon sari, Shalini shows us that she has partially resigned to her fate but well into the first episode, she is seen as a woman desperate to find her missing daughter, 'Leila' - the Netflix show, which talks about the post-apocalyptic world, where a mother is in search of her daughter.
Back in her non-maroon days, Shalini is shown as a woman belonging to the upper strata of society and married to a Muslim man. The couple is seen enjoying with Leila in their indoor pool area. Here, Shalini is seen in a jovial mood and dressed in a pretty mustard-yellow dress and to some extent even her bralet is exposed. This brings us to the point that how costumes and colours served as a contrast and defined different aspects in the show. If yellow dress signified the happier times, the maroon sari symbolised the grim fate.
"We used darker and warmer colours to show impure," said Darshan Jalan, Leila's costume designer, who had also worked with Huma Qureshi in 'Ek Thi Daayan' six years ago. So, the maroon saris were donned by the inmates of Aryavarta, as they had committed acts of impurity - Shalini, by marrying a Muslim man, as specified in the show. He also expressed that how colours also helped differentiate the pure from impure. "The colours went towards beige, off-white, and white for purer characters such as Leila and Dr. Iyer". He further added, 'Purer the characters are in unnati, lighter were the shades."
The colours and structured clothes absolutely blended with totalitarian and dystopian theme of the show. The class and sector-wise division as told by Jalan, came alive because of the colours. "Khakis and military shade outfits we had chosen for workers as it gave a regimental rule effect." Even Shalini wears a khaki brown suit to show a change in the situation.
Jalan also revealed that initially he felt, it would be difficult to express dystopia through clothes, "I thought it would be tough until I spoke with Deepa (Deepa Mehta, Director of the show) ma'am and understood her vision regarding the same." He said, "Deepa ma'am was absolutely clear about the costumes. She wanted the clothes to be simple and to the point." However, the costumes can have an overpowering effect sometimes and can take our mind away from the plot, as was the case in multi-starrer 'Kalank'. But in 'Leila', the ensembles seemed to do justice to the show.
In this regard, Jalan said, "The costumes had to be such that they don't distract the viewers from the frames, tone, or the drama." In 'Leila', though the costumes were humble and subtle, we noticed the outfits impactfully articulated the situations but without affecting the muted dark backdrop of the show. The dystopia had its colours!