He has carved a niche for himself in period films including 1920, Barfi!and now Gunday. Here’s production designer Rajat Poddar on his journey in Bollywood
I was born in Jabalpur and studied there too. My parents wanted me to become an engineer, but I was more interested in fine arts.
I came to Mumbai and got a job as an art illustrator in an ad agency. I worked on a lot of ads till I met Biswajit Roy, the famous art designer who worked in the movies. He asked me to help him on one of his assignments and I agreed since I was looking to work on outdoors.
I was working on many ad films and music videos which were the rage at the time till I landed my first TV show Khiladifor Zee TV.
One day I met Anurag Basu who was then working on television shows. We clicked instantly. Thereafter, we have always worked together.
Anurag joined Balaji and he asked me to design for his shows. I was working on 18 TV shows at a time! Ekta Kapoor, Anurag and I became quite a team and there came a time when Ekta planned to enter into the motion picture business. She decided to produce Kucch Toh Hai, which Anurag directed and I was in the art department.
Anurag was offered Saaya featuring John Abraham and Tara Sharma by Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt. He asked me to join him. After that, there was no looking back. I worked on almost every Vishesh Film project.
I have worked on three period films, 1920, Barfi! and now YRF’s upcoming film Gunday. For every art director, it is crucial to have worked on period films because it is the true test of his mettle. There is only so much you can research online and through books. To recreate the realism of a bygone era, your own unique creative touch is the real challenge. Since films are a visual medium, you need to be true to authenticity while selling the film like a beautifully painted dream. It’s almost like cooking a great meal. Everyone might follow the same recipe but your own secret ingredient sets the dish apart. Also, you have to think like the characters and visualise the set from their point of view.
We had an 80-day shoot schedule including 11 days in Yorkshire, where we only captured the exteriors of mansions and palaces. The interior shots were recreated in Mumbai. Since it was a horror film, we had to do a lot of stunts where windows would break, glass doors would be smashed. Lighting was of critical importance. All this had to be done on the sets since it cuts down on costs.
This film helped me bag all the major awards. Again for this film, of the 140-day shoot schedule, we shot 11 days in Darjeeling, four days in Kolkata and three in Ooty. Anurag wanted a small house for Barfi’s character, because in the film, his father plays a driver. I knew that it would not look visually appealing to have a small house so we took the creative liberty that Barfi’s grandfather could have worked in a government job due to which he had the house. Besides we found a house situated on a hill slope, thanks to which we could make the house on three different levels.
We also recreated old Kolkata, the streets of the old city, the locations in the ladder sequence where the cops are chasing Barfi and the utensil shop from where he reflects a mirror to communicate with Jhilmil. All this helped cut costs and save time.
When director Ali Abbas Zafar was planning Gunday, the promos of Barfi! were on air. He saw them, liked my work and called me saying he was planning a film based in the ’70s and asked me if I would work with him. The film is about coal thieves who were notorious in Kolkata during that time.
The genre of the film is important while designing a film. The sets have to look softer if it’s an emotional love story likeBarfi! vis-a-vis and action film, which Gunday is. We shot a cabaret song in an old industrial mill. And it was through research that we got to know that in those days, a train could enter a mill compound to carry coal. So it was quite a task shooting a glossy cabaret number, in the midst of this coarse and jagged backdrop.