Sukant Panigrahy is the art director of movies like Chak De India! and Dev.D. Here, he talks about three films that have influenced his work.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
For me, more than the art direction in a film, the vision of the director is what I admire more. In this respect, I love the production design of all Wes Anderson films, be it Hotel Chevalier or The Darjeeling Limited. If I had to pick one of his films, though, it would have to be The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. It was very different; an entire dreamworld was created, like in Alice In Wonderland. There was no timeframe to the story and in terms of the sets, the designing was contemporary. The huge ship and the research vessel, which was an essential part of the film had interesting detailing and looked beautiful. Even though you know it’s not real, the art direction makes you believe that it is. The first few frames lend humour to the film and keep you hooked as you realise that they have gone to the extent of creating a whole new world. Keeping this in mind, I tried to do something very different with the production design of Dev.D, especially the tiny details in the sets of Dev’s room and Chanda’s house in Delhi.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
I think the art direction in Tim Burton’s movies is wonderful, especially in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, which the movie even won an Academy Award for. The way the streets of London have been transformed and depicted in the film, the textures and the dull background colours — it’s all perfect. A time period — a sort of capsule — was recreated such that the sets looked gothic and edgy. And I loved how somewhere between all of this, the movie managed to be a musical. The attention paid to details in the movie immediately comes to notice. I think recreating the essence of a particular place somewhere else is a great quality.
Among Indian films, I think the art direction in Priyadarshan’s Saza-E-Kala Pani was fantastic, even though the film itself was a commercial flop. Originally a Malayalam film, the film was dubbed in Hindi. A film about the lives of prisoners in pre-independence India and their time at Kala Pani, the cellular jail in Port Blair, Andaman, the prison setting of the film was entirely recreated. The incredible detailing, down to the last prop, is so amazing that at no point does it look like a set. In addition, despite the grandeur of the sets, the film was made with a modest budget and the shooting was completed in three months. Sabu Cyril won a National Award for the art direction in the film. The designing sensibilities of the film stayed with me for a very long time. In fact, I was inspired to meet Sabu after seeing the film.