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“Working on a period film is a high point in an art director’s career”

Basking in the glory of his latest release Lootera, production designer Aditya Kanwar shares his journey into Bollywood

Background

I was drawn to films from a young age and so I studied film and television production. I had no intention of getting into the art department and specialised in cinematography instead.

First Break

During my graduation, I did a short internship with art director Ayesha Punwani. And after I came to Mumbai, I started working on ad films, where I started off as an assistant cameraman. Later, Ayesha happened to be shooting for Loins Of Punjab. She asked me if I could assist her. I agreed, thinking I’d get some money to pay my bills. This film was a great learning experience since she gave me a lot of leeway, pushed me to think out-of-the-box and also take many independent creative decisions. It was here that I realised my new-found love for art design.

On Films Thereafter

Soon after Loins Of Punjab, I landed Honeymoon Travels and Ayesha was the production designer of the film too. I met Arjun Rampal during the shoot and kept in touch with him. Arjun later called me when he was producing I See You and when he told me the film would be shot in London, I jumped at the opportunity. But it was tough since I was the sole art director on the project. We were shooting in a foreign country I knew nothing about and I had to do all the legwork like locating places, finding props, fabric, everything.

This film was a big learning curve for me. After that, I bagged films like Teen Patti, Luck By Chance and my first foreign film Slumdog Millionaire (stand-by art director).

On Lootera

Ishika Mohan, who is Vikramaditya Motwane’s wife, was the still photographer on Slumdog Millionaire and that’s how I met Vikram. He was making Udaan, and he offered me the film. Since it was my first project as production designer it was quite a daunting task. It was a big deal for me and subsequently I landed Lootera.

Challenge

The challenge with Lootera was that we had only two months to do the recce. We were to shoot in three different cities, Kolkata, Dalhousie and Mumbai, and this required a lot of prep. This is a period film and called for close attention to detail. Working on a period film is a high point in any art director or costume designer’s career. There was so much research that went into the film. We went online for references, read magazines of the ’50s and ’60s from Chor Bazaar, checked out art works. I even spoke to my grandparents to get a feel of that era! The sets had to look authentic and had to fit into the design.

When we went to Dalhousie for the recce, we realised that there was not much research we could do as there is not enough material on the place. So we visited a million locals and chatted with them and looked at old photographs to get a feel of that period. This is the first period film of my career and I hope I have given life to Vikram’s vision.

Future Projects

I am working on Dharma Production’s Hasee Toh Phasee. But the monsoon is posing a big challenge for all of us. We will soon resume shooting.

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