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“You have to create magic with every shot”

With a vast body of work in the Hindi film industry, production designer Sumit Basu shares his experiences on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and challenges while working on a period film

Background

I was born and brought up in Kolkata and I did my graduation in fine arts. I worked in an ad agency for two years and came to Mumbai in 1989. I assisted art director Nitin Roy for two and a half years, and after that, I started working on my own, on TV series, music videos and ad films.

First Break

After 15 years in advertising, I landed my first film, which was Anubhav Sinha’s debut film Tum Bin. Soon after that, I launched my own company called Acropolis with two more production designers, my wife Snigdha Basu and partner Rajnish Hedao.

On Guzaarish

This was the first film where I had to recreate an old era. Working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali was an experience because he wants magic with every shot. He pushes you to think out-of-the-box and there is no room for mediocrity. I have had fights with the man but if you’re talking sense, he is flexible and reasonable enough to change his ideas. Creating the old Portugese-style houses in Goa was the real challenge, which I think we did justice to.

On Rockstar

In Rockstar, we had to work with a script that was set across several timelines. There were some scenes where the audience had to figure out the phase of the story merely by Ranbir Kapoor’s look or the surroundings he was in. This was a challenge as well as a triumph for us.

On Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

This project is very close to me since this was my first time with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and cinematographer Binod Pradhan, both talented individuals and sticklers for perfection. We had to find real locations since it’s a period film and during the recce, we realised that Milkha Singh’s village Lyallpur in Punjab is now part of Islamabad in Pakistan! However, we managed to find an apt one in Ferozepur and found another key location in a railway colony which was to be shown as a refugee camp and a post-settlement area. A railway dumping ground was portrayed as another location, where fabric dying takes place. A lot of VFX and digital mastering comes in very handy for a period film. Everything, from clothes, to shoes, to coins as well as the background require close attention. We had to take cinematic liberties but every time we did that we intimated Milkhaji about it.

Future Projects

I just finished Imtiaz Ali’s Highway and now have Dhoom 3, Peekay and Asif Ali’s Saif Ali Khan-starrer tentatively titled Production No. 5.

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