Directing art and aesthetics
Rajeevan's sets for some recent films have been noticed and lauded. Creating an ambience the script demands with a little colour and glamour is an art director's job, he tells MALATHI RANGARAJAN.
The woodhouse was almost a character in "Kaakha ... "
THE YOUNG art director has three recent films to his credit and has made a mark in each of them. "Cinema is team work and technicians have to vibe well for the end product to be a success," he says. Whether it was "Mounam Paesiyadhae", " Parthiban Kanavu" or the recent "Kaakha Kaakha", the congenial atmosphere helped him do his best in the arena of art, believes Rajeevan.
For all this, films were never on Rajeevan's agenda when he began his career. Even in his college days at Loyola, he had always wanted to be a part of Chennai's theatre activity. But scope was limited. So soon it was ad films and documentaries. Still cinema was not his goal. His stint with the innovative Sabu Cyril led him to his first offer "Adharmam".
The experience could not have been very rewarding because Rajeevan returned to theatre and ads without looking for other projects in films. Meanwhile he had some unpleasant encounters in the past few years, but he prefers not to talk about them. "Things are looking up now, and that's what matters. The scenario looks quite competitive, but the healthy aspect is that every one of us is busy."
What exactly is an art director's job? Till about a couple of decades ago, apart from the lead actor and director, no other name in the film credits mattered, and the work of the technical crew was hardly noticed.
But today's filmgoer is very well aware of the many departments of cinema. "Our job is to create the logically right ambience and present the backdrop a script demands ... of course there's a little bit of dream, glamour and colour, all subtly interwoven without distracting the viewer from the story and action," Rajeevan explains.
Pointing out to his computer he says, "As I work on the system, creating and modifying a song or action set and showing it to the director exactly what I have in mind is easy. And immediately the director tells you the changes he wants." Rajeevan shows you the various sets he has created for his next project, "Chathurangam", on his terminal. "Some are purely original while others are inspired, but even there I try to bring in my own ideas. Like this one which is a take-off on the "Wild Wild West" scenario," he says as he shows you another recent creation.
"Chathurangam" is director Palaniappan's second attempt after the runaway hit, "Parthiban Kanavu". "It's the same group that will be working this time too... and we jell so well," says a jubilant Rajeevan. "Working in "Parthiban ... " was such fun.
Diva, the cameraman, and I used to have heated arguments about the set, lighting, angles and so on. But it was always for the good of the film." The two flats in which many of the scenes were shot, the use of white and grey for the background, the corridor between the flats and the bus stop, were features that added flavour to the sequences. They were all sets created by Rajeevan.
And that song sequence, "Bak Bak ... ", that projected the duet scenario in the decades gone by ... Beginning in black and white like the cinema of the 1950s, the song ended with the trend in vogue. "All of us had to do a lot of homework for that one sequence. Diva and I had to look up black and white films, sepia, Eastman and techni-colour eras to the present, study and recreate those backdrops." But the gratifying results must have made the efforts worthwhile... Rajeevan nods in assent.
The highlight of the artwork for "Mounam ... " was the realistic restaurant set put up in Pondicherry. "That's the art director's job ... beautifying things," says Rajeevan. "Mounam ... 's" director Ameer and the unit were fabulous. They appreciated my sincere approach and hard work," he adds.
Apart from good taste, a film technician needs immense patience, avers Rajeevan. From the selection of locations till the end of shooting of a film, an art director's work continues. So was he present on location when Surya was crooning on the rocky waters in Hampi? "Come on... I wasn't needed there... I could have only painted up the rocks," laughs Rajeevan.
That takes us to that exquisite wood house on the waters that he created for "Kaakha Kaakha". "That really had Gautam floored. We erected it in Sri Lanka. I recommend Sri Lanka as a very conducive and cost effective place for film shootings," says Rajeevan. Thirteen carpenters, two painters, 15 days of hard work ... and the wood house that stood on 24 feet of water, was ready.
The green-grass roof of the house had to be watered every day to prevent the grass from drying up. Together with the wonderful lighting and camera, the breathtaking effect was complete. Sophistication, subtlety and finesse have come in to play in major areas of filmmaking, and art direction is no exception.
He is all cheer when he mentions his rewarding association with cinematographers Ratnavel (Randy as he calls him) Ramji, Rajashekar and art director Maniraj.
He is a picture of enthusiasm as he shows the glass and metal set that would be used for Oscar Films' "Dishum," to be directed by Sasi. These days you notice a preference for scrap sets probably the "Boom Boom" song sequence in "Boys" brought in the trend. "Or probably you've seen so many clean sets that you like to see scrap strewn all over for a change. I plan to use black water for the dance set I just showed you," he laughs.
"I've worked for even 56 hours without a break... " says Rajeevan. Such erratic working hours can affect the routine family life a lot.
"It does, " agrees this father of two kids. Fireflies, his ad agency, his work for television (the `Hello Thamizha' set on STAR Vijay is his) and ad films (his recent backdrop for Pothys the complete green betel leaves set, the all-yellow flowers, jasmine filled white and the Kumkum red sets were sell outs) keep him busy round the clock.
The only child of his parents, Rajeevan's choice of profession was met with much resistance from his dad, an educationist, who wanted the son to toe his line. "He was so angry that he didn't speak to me for six years," recalls Rajeevan with a smile.
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