A film’s budget is a critical element that decides whether the production will be profitable or not. Yet reining costs is one of the biggest challenges filmmakers face. What happens to this delicate balancing act when you’re making a period film? According to filmmakers, the onus lies with the production design team, who with some smart thinking and creative shortcuts can pull off this seemingly impossible feat. So, this week, we spoke to Meenal Agarwal, the woman behind Dum Laga Ke Haisha‘s 90’s look. Let’s find out how she pulled it off
I have been drawn to architecture since I was a child. I therefore wanted to study architecture but because I didn’t have Maths, I couldn’t go through with it. I pursued photography which also I loved.
Turning Production Designer
I had seen a film called Snip! and loved the set. It was done by Suzanne Caplan and I got in touch with her to ask her if I could assist her. She was doing ad films at the time and I assisted her for a short while.
My first solo project was Mixed Doubles, and then Mithya, Aankhon Dekhi and almost every Rajat Kapoor film. Rajat gives you your own space to think. I had worked on 10ML Love, which is when I met Sharat Katariya and thats how he asked me if I would work on Dum Laga Ke Haisha.
Brief For Dum Laga Ke Haisha
There was no specific brief given to me apart from the fact that the film was based in the ’90s era. Sharat too allows you to think independently. After the reading, he allows his team to contribute ideas and bring them to the table. Then, after script readings, we would brainstorm. We were wondering where to set the film and Sharat said he wanted a landscape like San Fransisco, a place that had slopes and roads that went up and down. Our cinematographer Manu Anand suggested Haridwar and Rishikesh as he had been there before. During our first recce, I didn’t like the place as it was over crowded but when we returned in January, I fell in love with the place as it was practically empty then. The first shot, where Ayushmann’s family is on their way to meet the girl’s family, has been taken on an empty road which had only one van moving along. It came close to the dramatic topography he had visualised when he gave us the reference of San Francisco.
Conceptualising The Look
That was not too difficult firstly because we shot at real locations. Shooting it on a set would have made it more expensive so we shot at a real location, which also made it easy for me to adapt the culture and how people over there live and what the houses look like. For example, for Ayushmann’s house we had a local guy showing us some local houses. We picked a guest house that had dirty, dark green walls. So I redid the paint and made it look like an old house again. There was no kitchen, so we built a kitchen. Then we made the house look old. Ageing objects and spaces adds to texture and emotions. We chose the house because it was next to the Ganga and there was a temple in the background. We kept the old-style flooring, and we kept it very earthy and real like using old utensils and a few brass utensils which his mother might have got with her when she got married. The basic idea about Ayushmann’s family was they were once well off but had fallen on hard times as their business faltered.
In contrast, Bhumi’s house was different. Hers was the kind of family where her father had a government job and they were able to maintain the home. Also, Bhumi’s was a nuclear family, which is educated but still belonged to the same mileu otherwise why else would they get their daughter married to such a man?
The shop was the most difficult to build. I liked the shop as it had a triangular space as it was a corner shop but my director and DoP did not like it as it was very small. But the windows… the look… everything fit my imagination. Also I thoroughly enjoyed putting the details in like the door, the way the glass panes were cut to the ‘Welcome’ sign written across it and it had the lyrics of a Kumar Sanu song scrawled on it. The challenge was to procure cassettes and fill the shop with them. So I asked everyone to hand in their cassettes collection if they had one. Finally, we found a shop where they still sold cassettes on Mohammad Ali Road in Mumbai. They were still selling them as truck drivers use cassettes. The shop makes new movie cassettes too. The next challenge was finding a music system that played cassettes and CD player as no one uses these any more. Moreover, we needed one that would look new. We finally managed to get a decent-looking music player. We took the rest of the props from the location as they had to be rooted. The biggest challenge was sticking to the budget so we tried to source everything at good prices. Everything was possible because of the great team we had.