National Awards 2019: Best Production Designer Vinesh Banglan on designing sets of Kammara Sambhavam
Vinesh Banglan, who won the Best Production Design honour at National Awards 2019, says Malayalam cinema has won the position only four times.
Vinesh Banglan was always good with pencil drawings and paintings. And cinema has always been a passion. After completing his 12th grade, he quickly jumped into cinema, and worked as an assistant production designer on his friends’ films, did paintings regularly, and also worked actively for national advertisements. In 2011, he bagged his first independent work — Chaappa Kurish, directed by debutant Sameer Thahir, featuring a relatively fresh set of actors and crew. This year, after 30 films, and nearly a decade later, Vinesh won the Kerala State Award and National Award for Best Production Design for the Rathish Ambat’s period film Kammara Sambhavam. More from an exclusive interview with the 34-year-old below.
Do you recall the first film where your work was noticed?
I think it happened right from my first film, Chaappa Kurish. It was also the first film shot in digital format. Then came Shyama Prasad’s Arike, and then I got busy.
The first film where you started noticing the production design?
It has to be Two Towers from the Lord of the Rings series. He is also my favourite director.
Is professional training important in your line of work?
You need to be good with drawing because the process first begins on paper, where we draw the layout. But otherwise the best training you will get, is on the sets.
What was the brief for Kammara Sambhavam?
I was told that it’s about the history that we have read, and the reality we don’t know of. Except five or six locations, the rest was work on sets. The road beside the sugarcane fields where Murali Gopy’s character is killed, was a set. Even the sugar cane fields were created. Murali Gopy’s bungalow was already there but we created a few extensions to it.
Where did you get the references?
References were from history books, and period films like Gandhi. We went to museums in Haryana and Delhi to study about trains. The film took two years in its making but the process went smoothly. It was exciting to create a city we have read about or just to recreate history. Be it the train (Mahatma) Gandhi travelled in or the control room of (Netaji) Subhash Chandra Bose, or camps and airports.
Filmmakers often say that while Google is a boon, it can also drive people to view things through a microscopic lens, and dig up facts more easily. What would you say to that?
True. In fact, we checked Wikipedia for facts, and sourced raw materials from various places. We didn’t insist on simply procuring it from Kerala. That’s why it was easy to get something like Japanese coins from that era. Props weren’t difficult to get, and we found some during our travels. In Kammara Sambhavam, I also had a great partnership going between the costume designer and the cinematographer, which is crucial for the final look of the film.
Do you usually take many films at the same time?
I can only do one film at a time but I assign my assistants to collect raw materials and props for other projects. Kuruppu, my next film, is set in the '80s. It’s riskier as it’s a period still fresh in the public memory, and I have to be finicky with details; while Kaaliyan is set in the 16th century. With period films, it’s like revising our history books.
How do you see the evolution of production design in Malayalam cinema?
It has evolved in perspective. Now, I see a lot of people venturing into this field. We have won only four times before this. Such awards are a great source of encouragement for our films considering our budget constraints. Our competition this year was Uri, Padmavat, KGF, and Mahanati. It also means we can aspire to make big budget films.
Is there something called a Malayali’s sense of aesthetics in here?
In colours, we prefer subdued hues. Even in yellow, we prefer warm yellow. Black mixed tones are what we prefer back home.
If I were to suggest you pick a few of your favourite designs from your films, which ones would they be?
I loved everything about Chaappa Kurish. For Philips and the Monkey Pen, I felt the production design was infused perfectly with the tone, BGM (Background Music), and milieu of a feel-good film. What we got was an ordinary Kerala home but we gave it a Dutch design by adding a room, some French windows, and a veranda. When the characters went outdoors, we turned the sit-out into kitchen, and the boy’s room into a living room. Manju Warrier’s home in Jo and the Boy is another favourite.
Which is more difficult—indoor or outdoor sets?
It depends on what you have to design. For Kammara Sambhavam, we hired a property in Ernakulam, spray painted the ground in grey to shoot the war scene. And every set in the village was designed with an eye for keeping the mountain in the background.
And your favourites in this field?
I love Peter Jackson films. I loved the production design of Hugo. Sabu Cyril would be the obvious choice in India. I also like Susan, who designed the sets of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Then of course, every Sanjay Leela Bhansali set.
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