So everyone on the Drift knows Iggy Ahluwalia, right? How she fell into the craft of production design and ended up working on Anthony Kaun Hai? Here is Part 2 of her story in her own words. Iggy was also kind enough to share pictures from her personal on-set collection with us.
Production Design in India tends to get quite disorganized. I don't think the concept exists fully just yet.
On Anthony Kaun Hai, there was a (Set) Stylist & Art Director. Couple days before we left for the shoot in Thailand, the Art Director got malaria. She was supposed to construct two sets. I was asked if I could do it. I can do the aesthetics but in terms of architecture and pure sizing, I didn’t have the background. So I said no.
AKH was to be shot on sets and location entirely in Thaliand. We had a two month schedule. The producer on my request, did take an Art Director (of sorts) to Thailand for the Film. He was an old timer and refused to listen to me...I was an upstart in this field but I had plenty of ideas that I needed his help to execute.
This man was very difficult to work with and would contradict everything I would try to do...I don't think he had evolved since Vaastav (which he worked on.) Contemporary Design was just not up his alley. Also I think language proved to be a big barrier for him (in Thailand, English is the only language we could communicate in. That and a daily dose of dumb charades)
We kept him for two weeks and made the best of it. Then we had to ship him back. He was sent back after the first schedule in Krabi, Thailand. (He still got credit as Art Director)
Now the producers asked me to play Art Director as well. We brought on a construction team to construct the sets for me.
AKH turned out OK work-wise. But in the sense of storytelling the film didn’t fall in together. Not much I could have done there. The upside was that I got to work with Hemant Chaturvedi and travel to Thailand and Cambodia after wrapping up the shoot.
At least in AKH we had some money to spend.
When I did my second feature, Rubaru (Percept Pictures), we had very little money. The producer wanted to shoot the film in Italy. We planned everything for Italy. But later the producer realized Italy would be far too expensive. So in a week’s time we changed the location to Thailand.
All our purchases had been made and sized for Italy. We had to adapt to the available spaces in Thailand. Everything was different - every space and dimension. We had a very limited budget, so we had to improvise as best as we could.
Unfortunately Production Designers (or anyone for that matter) can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat! The way Rubaru turned out was a visual disappointment for me. Even though the team was great fun to work with there isn't much that we could do given the budgets, lack of equipment, crew and the limited shoot time.
Take the costume designer for instance he didn’t even show up for the shoot! This chaotic way is pretty much how smaller films in India get made.
So what is Production Design then? It is basically the way a film looks and feels. It encompasses Art, Costumes, even Color toning & correction. Our job is to seamlessly combine these and create an aesthetic for the film.
Let’s say a film is set in the 1970s. Every aspect of its authenticity is the responsibility of the Production Designer. You supervise everything. Sure there are Art Designers and Set Decorators. But the Production Designer coordinates everything, acts like a mentor where necessary and makes sure everything gels together.
In this respect, it’s always better to work with people who understand the way you tend to work and also understand what is required of them. With new people you have to tutor them into doing things. Often people are just not up to taking correction easily.
Of all the people on the set, the Production Designer works very closely with the Director and the Cameraman. You are executing out the Director’s vision. The Cameraman is responsible for the technique, the look of the film and how its being shot.
Since the majority of Production Designers in India are not professionals, they generally tend not to understand camera, lensing, and colors. A Cameraman is technically superior to a Production Designer... but to get a well executed aesthetic film there needs to be a seamless teamwork. In many areas what needs to be teamwork ends up being a one sided job depending on who's got the know how and the Boss's ear.
Let’s talk about how Production Design works. There are three people in India who are considered pioneers for Production Design.
There is Suzanne Caplan Merwanji. She pretty much got the concept of Production Design into India. She’s done films like Kama Sutra, Dil Chahta Hai and Snip! (a personal favorite). There is Sumit Basu and finally, Rachna and Murali who brought the concept into advertising via their design studio XHeight.
There are a lot of younger people in films these days that take on the mantle of production design and are doing a fairly good job of it (Ayesha Punwani, Meghna and Mustafa).
In advertising you to have work with colors and costumes because they might already be specified. For example, we did four pieces for an international brand in Pakistan called Wateen whose brand colors are green. All four films had different shades of green that I had to work with.
Of late our budgets have started shrinking because everyone is now aware of all the (line item) costs. Even clients are savvy about this now. So everyone squeezes you on the price. You have to do the best you can. Often you have to find people who can double up on things and do multiple duties. You hobble along the best you can.
But while I do all this, I am writing a new script which I hope to direct in a couple of years.
Design, Art, Production is all fine...all tools of the same game which I hope to understand while I prepare myself for the big leap...Direction!