As technology continues to dominate film production and Hindi movies becoming more ‘real’, will art directors become redundant?
Indian cinema has always thrived on imagination, and classically, the grander the sets, the bigger the film. But Hindi cinema is in the throes of change, and along with that, well-scripted, reality-based, small-budget films are now making a mark at the box office. Technology is also sweeping its magical brush across the silver screen, often replacing on-location shoots with backdrops created on computer screens.
So where does that leave art directors, who for decades have fed the Indian imagination fairytale sets and some even beyond imagination? But, before we get to that, let’s take a look at the work of some of our iconic art directors.
Remember the sheesh mahal in K Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam, where Madhubala danced to the famous Pyar kiya toh darna kya… song? It is said that special Belgian glass and workers were flown in to build the Mahal at Mohan Studios in Mumbai. The set was gigantic – 150 feet in length, 80 feet in breadth and 35 feet in height. Sets as lavish as this come with a fancy price tag and filmmakers even back then are known to have spent a whopping Rs 10 lakh on backdrops, at a time when a lakh was equated to a few crores. The credit for this magnificent creation went to art director MK Syed.
The ’70s and’ 80s were known as the golden era of set design and film sets. Today, barring a few directors like Ashutosh Gowariker and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, filmmakers prefer to shoot on location instead. Among the recent films that rival the imagination for their high production values is Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar featuring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The film had extravagant sets, lavish costumes, expensive jewellery and elaborate fight sequences involving even animals. It is believed that around 80 elephants, 100 horses and 55 camels were used in the movie. And the song, Azeem o shan, shahenshah included about 1,000 plus dancers decked in traditional costumes and was shot on massive sets created in Karjat. The budget of the entire film was Rs 40 crore.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas was another film that had gigantic sets which reportedly cost Rs 20 crore. From artificial lakes to temples to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s room in the film… they were all fabricated at Film City.
Coming to art directors… Indian cinema has celebrated the work of greats like MK Syed, Nitin Chandrakant Desai, Sabu Cyril, Indranil Ghosh and Sharmistha Roy, among others. Films like Sawaariya, Jodhaa Akbar, Devdas, Om Shanti Om, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and recently Kunal Kohli’s film Teri Meri Kahaani are testimony to this trend. Apparently, Rakesh Roshan’s next film Krrish 3 features a villa built on a helipad in Film City and cost Rs 1 crore. It was created by art director Sabu Cyril.
Since Mumbai is the heartland of the film industry, studios like Mehboob Studios, Kamalistan Studios, Film City, Filmistan and RK Studios have contributed to the history of filmmaking. Built in 1952, Mehboob Studios hosted the shooting of films like Mother India directed by Mehboob Khan. Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, BR Chopra and Yash Johar, among many others, created some of their best work at Mehboob Studios.
Lavish sets have helped these studios reel in good revenue from film shootings as well as big-budget advertisement and commercial shoots.
But warning bells are already ringing as elaborate sets and film infrastructure are slowly becoming extinct. Filmmakers are increasingly shooting either on-location or making use of technology in their films. The use of croma (the artificial backdrop using special effects) makes a set designer’s job much easier by creating a false background. It also slashes costs.
In the process, this has reined in the creativity of art directors. So where does that leave these creative professionals? Has technology forever limited their scope and cramped their imagination? How has their role changed over the years, from designing film sets to becoming a part of the production design team? And what is happening to these premier studios?