The Mad Men of Mumbai – Siddhartha Jayakar and Shauharat Mehta

Siddhartha Jayakar and Shauharat Mehta are the enterprising duo that make up Labyrinth Cinematic Solutions a full-service visual effects company with offices in Mumbai and partners in Los Angeles, Canada and Europe. Jayakar, son of actress Smita Jayakar, has over 14 years experience in the Visual Effects and Post-Production business, having worked with Stargate Studios, Los Angeles, as a VFX artist on over 40 TV shows and feature films.

We caught up with the Mad Men of Mumbai to chat about how they created the cityscape of New York on scenes shot in Los Angeles sitting in Mumbai for the hit series, Mad Men and how they scored Ra.One

Ra.One got the VFX National award. How did you land one of the most talked about VFX films in India and how much did you contribute to the film’s effects?

SJ: I happened to know Ketan Yadav, who is the COO of Red Chillies VFX through a past association and rung him up one day to reconnect. We ended doing a test that was approved and one thing led to the other and here we are! Through the process we coordinated with Harish Hingorani (Lead VFX Supervisor), Ketan Yadav (COO) and with Anubhav Sinha (Director), in almost all our meetings.

SM: Along with Red Chillies who were the primary VFX vendor, we were very involved in the film and through the process of making the film, we contributed close to 500 VFX shots. A large part of the work we did is in the climax scene of Ra.One. We handled a large part of the face damage of the G.One character, played by Shah Rukh Khan, in the film.

How would you describe the role special effects play in contemporary filmmaking? Is it key, imperative or plain necessary with the digital revolution in cinema?

SJ:
Well, through the ages, VFX have pretty much become an integral part of the film making process. It has largely to do with the type of films being made. There are films considered to be VFX driven and films with supporting visual effects. A movie like Avengers or an Avatar is a visual effects driven movie. A movie that uses supporting visual effects would be Batman. It is used in enhancing the overall film experience, but at the same time, it’s immersive so you are not pulled away from the story line by the visual effects, which in films like Avengers and Avatar are more noticeable.

SM: Sid and I were at the Harvard India Conference earlier this year where the growth of visual effects and 3D in Indian cinema was one of the panel discussions - Outsourcing and the Growth of the Indian Technology industry in Entertainment. The panel focused on the growth of the Indian cinema industry – how Indian companies have increasingly been outsourcing services for both the Indian entertainment industry as well as Hollywood. “Where we are at” as far as Visual Effects in India was an exciting discussion and I think India is not far from making its own Avatar! At Labyrinth, we are just gearing up for the digital revolution that will consume filmmakers in India very soon.

Siddhartha Jayakar and Shauharat Mehta. Firstpost

What would you rather do — film a green sequence or make it happen on the green handed over to you?

SJ: When we were outsourced for work on the very first season of Mad Men via our Los Angeles partners, Stargate Digital, it was fantastic turning footage shot in Los Angeles into a vintage New York cityscape, sitting here in Mumbai. Same goes for working on Grey's Anatomy, 24, ER, Heroes, CSI and Lost... it's all very exciting. But, definitely I’d like to be part of the filming process, as a lot of detailing and parameters need to be adhered to on set in order to shoot the footage correctly. That being said, there have been many occasions where we have received green screens that have been shot, sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly and have had to work on them regardless because that’s what we do – we make it happen!

 SM: Everytime we do a job, it is a show reel. It can go horribly wrong or absolutely right – it is a fine line that we tread every time we take on work. Precision and patience is the key. Right now, we just turn the green handed over to us into whatever the client wants it to be.

Do either of you harbor any filmmaking aspirations?

SJ: Yes, a few scripts are currently in development and someday, I would like to direct digital movies on the lines of the Tin Tin series or an animated movie like Up.

SM: Not for me! I’m happier watching movies!

You have worked with Ekta Kapoor in Ragini MMS and SRK in Ra.One in India - who's next?

SJ: We are currently working on two feature films - My Friend Ganesha 4 and a Hollywood film called Broken Spirits. I am personally involved in the Sholay 3D conversion project which will also be coming out soon. We are gearing up for a new television season with our partners Stargate Digital in Los Angeles that involves The Walking Dead, House of Lies, Pan Am, The Event, Touch and few other big television shows as well as a few features.

SM: Also, there is a possibility of a very big domestic VFX feature but we are still in talks with them. It will be an exciting film to work on, when Labyrinth lands it.

Do you think Indian filmmakers will require your services more than they do the emotional song and dance routine or do you think special effects will form an integral part of films pertaining to a subject that requires them and not commercial cinema?

SJ: Well I think Bollywood song and dances will continue to excite audiences, but I think special effects will be a integral part of our cinema in the times to come. Of course that being said, different types of movies are being made that don’t have song and dance routines and are in fact, pure narrative, and do not break away from the narrative structure to do a dance routine. I think special effects or visual effects will always go hand in hand with all these other processes in cinema.

SM: Increasingly, VFX and SFX are being used in Indian cinema and it is only a matter of time where their use will be de riguer and not just an exceptional service relegated to only a specific type of film. The lines between commercial and parallel cinema are also blurring given the audience is extremely discerning in its taste today — so special effects can be used across the board, especially in commercial cinema. It has tremendous scope.

You have also been approached to design Europe's largest nightclub...How did that happen?

SJ: Well I can’t talk about the nightclub at the moment as there have been some delays but yes there is something being planned on those lines soon.