25 October 2016
Many times we watch a film and wish we could also live in such a wondrous world. What we don’t see on screen are the days, months or years of hard work and toil that went into putting together each frame of that film. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of technicians who work tirelessly to ensure that a film makes it to the big screen. Nevertheless, technicians are the most overlooked talent in the film world, not by the filmmakers themselves but by the majority of the audience. Still, once in a blue moon comes a film that forces everyone to sit up and notice the grandeur of filmmaking; and Kaashmora is that film today. The trailer looks nothing short of a fantastical visual feast set in a world of fantasy. And Rajeevan is the Art Director who brought to life this masterpiece.
Setting the Stage
“When I was in college I took part in theatre and would design the sets. At that time I didn’t know that it was Art Direction,” he laughs, “I had no idea about it and didn’t know that I wanted to be an Art Director until I finished college. I went on to do ads and then understood how movies are made. I worked with Chetan Shah for a couple of years. He guided me to get into Art Direction. Then in 1991 I briefly worked with Art Director Sabu Cyril before branching out on my own. I then ran an animation and gaming company before starting out as a full time Art Director in 2000. At the time I had no help in the film industry, but once I started there were many who helped and guided me.”
Location, Location, Location
Over the years Rajeevan has worked on some of the biggest films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi and English. Speaking of his experiences he says, “Regardless of language, cinema is what interests me. I can’t say that I like this project or that. The main difference between South and Hindi industries is that Bollywood is organised and they are aiming for Hollywood standards. They do a lot of prep work and shoot less. We are the opposite here. I prefer working in more organised projects because it gives us enough time to create the best project.”
Coming to the craft itself, “Even though I keep an eye on the entire film and ensure that continuity is maintained, each individual sequence is important to me. I put in utmost emphasis on emulating the original – be it nature or any man-made product. The biggest challenge is trying to match the original but we have come a long way from when I first started in the film industry. Technology is evolving every day and digitalisation has taken over. There is good and bad with that. The picture is very precise so every pixel is clearly visible and mistakes are easily visible. The upside is that mistakes can be corrected in post production; this was a Himalayan task in earlier days.”
As for Kaashmora, it’s the first time Rajeevan has worked on a fantasy film. How was the experience? “I’ve always wanted to do armours, chariots and all those things fantasy is associated with. Working on Kaashmora was fun; we pulled off something very interesting. During the making we had major fights, screamed at each other, but at the end of the day, it looks good. I’m glad that we put out such a good product, the team work paid off. I have to say that the Director had utmost clarity about what he wanted and told us, so here we are!”
Being a fantasy film there were of course many surreal sets. “Most of the 19 sets created for the fantasy part were fairly big. The biggest was the durbar which doubles as a run-down library in the current episode. It was 240ft x 120ft x 45ft and took us about 50 days to build.” Now that is a magnificent structure. “It took us eight months in all to put together the sets and make the props such as armours and weapons. We used an old factory where we put up a shed spanning 45ft x 300ft x 120ft. The whole of the second half was shot in that factory.” Did he say that he also did the armours? “It was an interesting experience. Usually the war costumes are made out of papier-mâché, fibre glass or rubber – all of which are really difficult to manoeuvre and are very rigid. The actors wouldn’t usually be able to move in them. But we did a lot of research and put together the costumes using polyurethane foam which is very light, flexible and low maintenance. It is as good as wearing a t-shirt for the actors.”
Looking ahead what does Rajeevan have up his sleeve? “I like creating something that hasn’t been done. It could be anything – modern locale, fantasy, period, villages – anything! My focus is on giving them a different twist. All my sets are designed in 3D before they are erected. Everything including texture is visible in the sketches that are shown to the team. That’s one thing I think that sets me apart from my peers. Also I have a huge team with very talented boys who work on various aspects such as conceptualising and working intricate designs but I do all the designing myself. I find satisfaction in that. In the future as well I don’t have any great ambitions. I just want to continue producing unique sets.
I have to mention that although I’m very happy with the directors I’ve worked with, I am not particular about the directors I work with as much as I am about the scope of my work in any particular project. Right now I’m working on two Gautam Menon projects, one with Simbu and the other with Dhanush. There is also Druva in Telugu, which is a remake of Thani Oruvan. We’ve spent a lot of time and money to achieve a totally new and modern stylised look in the film.”
Advice for Upcoming Art Directors
What advice he would give to those wanting to follow his footsteps? “There is only one thing – observe. Whatever it is you are doing, observe. Any small thing might help you in the future, be it a bird, chair, food, anything! You never know what is going to help you and when. Also travel a lot and don’t go on the internet for designs and copy them! Start sketching and creating. Either by hand or by 3D design, or get someone to do it for you. Once you have something on paper, you will be clear about your vision and you can execute it. You can also boldly show others that this can be done.”
He’s mentioned that he has a large team so how does one manage so many people in times of stress? “Never be the boss; you are one of them. I might be the person who is the face of the project and also came up with the idea but it takes those 300 to 400 people who spend days without sleep or food to make the sets on time. It is my duty to be nice to the people who work so hard. Also you have to listen to others. Almost everyone on set has been doing their part for many years and are experts in their craft so it is important to hear them out if they think there is a problem; even the newest assistant might have a view point that is useful, so I always ask for opinions and work as a team. It is all important when you think about the fact that you are only as good as your last film!” Is that really true even in Art Direction? “Yes of course. Even if you’ve done 200 excellent films, if you did a bad job in the last film which a new director thinks closely matches his, then you are in trouble. It doesn’t matter that there might be very valid reasons like weather, budget restraints, bad management from others, nothing will matter. So just give it your best shot and work with everyone to make sure that the end result is up to the mark.”
- Maya Nelluri