Renowned Production Designer & Art Director, Mr. Samir Chanda has worked on movies like Ghajini, Omkara, Rang De Basanti, Makdee etc. This trained painter from Calcutta Art College has also done the Production Design for films like Delhi-6, Welcome to Sajjanpur, Guru, Dil Se and more. He has been associated with the Film Making and Advertising industry for over 25 years now. Under the leadership & guidance of the renowned Production Designer Mr. Nitish Roy, he was given an insight into the exciting & creative world of Production Designing. He was, very soon accepted by the great masters of Indian Cinema like Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Kalpana Lajmi and young Film Makers like Samir Karnik and Vishal Bharadwaj.
He is the winner of numerous State, National & International Awards. He has been instrumental in developing the Post- Graduate Diploma in Production Design & Art Direction at the Film & Television Institute of India, Pune
On being asked by the students to explain what Production Design is Mr. Chanda said, “The Production Designer is a creative artist who visualizes a story, accentuates it’s meaning & renders its concepts into realities for the moving images… it encompasses all form of narrative design…” Putting it in plain words he stated that Production Designing not only involves creative expression but a lot of implementation of ideas.
Giving the students exquisite details about his process he described the Production Design book that he creates using the script before the start of any film, wherein he sets the basic design elements: progression of colors, composition and locations, with respect to the scenes, along with photographs and mood boards that compile the visual journey of the film. The book ultimately helps him to communicate lucidly with the director and creates a tangible document that allows for further discussion and change.
Recounting his course of action he said, “The space comes in my head first as I read a script… then I interpret the physical movements & view the script as if I were in a theatre…” He described a simple scene, wherein a mother walks into a room where the daughter cries about something & then they leave; he then described how he breaks the scene down into spaces:
a) Mother comes into the room, so there will be a door b) Daughter is sitting somewhere, so there can be a bed or a dining table c) Depending on what the Director’s context, he chooses the room as a bedroom or dining room d) According to the script’s description of the girl & her mother, he fills up the space with props that communicate social strata and tastes e) He creates windows of a specific style to allow for adequate & enhanced lighting f) Designs a set that allows for wide coverage encompassing all the action, even if the Director comes in later & cuts down the area of the set.
However, he felt that at the final stage all their preparations didn’t matter as the locations, lights & scenarios are ever changing, hence spontaneity and flexibility are key qualities in the job. Decisively he said, “How you perceive that particular scene and how you want to go about it…is what is most important…” He advised the students to try and never say ‘No’ to their clients and to try their best to find solutions for the problems occurring. He illustrated this with the work he did in the film ‘Rudaali’ by Kalpana Lajmi. It was a low budget film, which almost couldn’t afford any sets, but as a Production Designer Mr. Chanda created beautiful compositional elements with black and red sarees. Emphasizing this he said, “As a Production Designer, one should always strive to achieve an aesthetic unity with his director, crew & technicians… A good film set does justice to the script without wasting money…”
Another important aspect that a Production Designer must look into is the contextual logic of their choices. Presenting the example of the film ‘Kaminay’ by Vishal Bharadwaj, where a character named Charlie calls an old train bogey his home, he stated how the facts suggest that the Indian Railway, officially abandons a train bogey only after it has been condemned for nearly forty years, hence the choice of making the bogey look that way. He then described his experiences of working with different Directors and their different methods and approaches to locations and sets, suggesting the need for a Production Designer to be receptive, adaptive & intelligent.
After describing his process, he navigated towards the sea that provided nourishment to his thoughts. He suggested that for the ideas to come when reading a script and to keep ones visualizations varied and crisp one must be observant and constantly study his/her environment. Highlighting this he said, “For the sets to look real one has to understand reality… and then only can one go beyond it. The thrilling part of being a Production Designer is that one can create a concrete jungle a la New York as well as a Rajasthan Desert or snowy mountains of the Alps to remote villages of Bengal...”
When asked about the methods of choosing locations and how one goes about location recces, he suggested that one use the director’s briefs, the context of the script and logically choose a direction, geographically and then set out to find the exact place depending on the various necessities of the scene. He also recommended that the students start sketching out the places and locations they find in their imagination. Urging them to develop a photographic memory he said, “You have to remember the colors, the light, the look and the feel… especially if you have to shift locations…” He said that when one is on a location hunt, if all the logical and factual aspects of the script are in tandem with the places one is scanning, then what one must truly look for is the exhilaration that a particular location brings, which most of the time is the decisive factor on location hunts. Speaking from his experiences he said that sometimes one overlooks the location that is just in one’s backyard.
However, discussing the status of the Art Director in the Film Industry he said, “The Art Directors in India are still treated as glorified carpenters; hence I decided to evolve myself as a Production Designer… It was a struggle to achieve the respect we deserve… But today I can smell a location & I enjoy what I do…”
He advised the students to concentrate on what they want to do and do it, while constantly re-inventing and rediscovering themselves with every new project. He also said that the combination of the correct time, correct location and correct season is a surefire method to make a scene stand out. He concluded by saying, “Doing Production Design is a challenge…Its very important to give the director what he wants, the largeness of the set is irrelevant…so go on exploring locations and take pride and joy in doing it…”
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