Thugs of Hindostan production designer on influences, and recreating India in Malta for Aamir Khan's film

Abhishek Srivastava

Nov 05, 2018 08:52:49 IST

Sumit Basu, the production designer of Yash Raj Films’ upcoming film Thugs of Hindostan, also the most expensive venture from the banner till date, used to be a painter in college. In an interaction, the production designer spills out an interesting revelation: the designing aspect of all his films have been influenced by some painter or the other. “Emile Louis Vernier and Marc Chagall are my favourite. I followed Vernier in Guzaarish and Chagall in Dhoom 3 because many of Chagall’s paintings are about circus. I tried to follow Vernier exactly in Guzaarish but there were limitations in terms of actors’ movements and lighting. Vernier used to paint in a room which had windows only on the left side, so in all his paintings you will observe that the windows are never on the right hand side,” reveals Basu.

 Thugs of Hindostan production designer on influences, and recreating India in Malta for Aamir Khans film

A still from Thugs of Hindostan; production designer Sumit Basu. Images via Twitter/@Aamirian_thug and @iFaridoon

Though the trailer of Thugs of Hindostan was unveiled only last month, the man has been living and dreaming the film for the past five years. His background of painting has immensely helped him in designing his films and this venture is no exception. “After I went through the script, I started digging more about India from 1792 to 1805. For this film, I referred to paintings of Edwin Lord Weeks. He came to India along with the Britishers and through his paintings you get a sense of that era and the world. Those are much better references than photography,” says the production designer. Sumit mentions that it was during the shooting of Mirzya that he started watching Games of Thrones but stopped it after 15 minutes into the series and never watched it again. “Film references are dangerous because after you see them, you are not logical about certain things. You will get those references, in a conscious state or subconscious state. I believe that if I can be an architect of an era, it will be much more believable.” He further adds that Edwin made close to 70 paintings that depicted the lifestyle of Indians in that era.

Ask him about the biggest challenge he encountered while designing for the film and he quickly declares: the two ships. “They have to be the ships. The ships that we designed for the film have all the levels that any modern day ships are equipped with. Some of the things have been achieved in real while some have been technically designed. We made all the prototypes in Mumbai and then took 127 boxes of the properties to Malta. Once they reached Malta, the local art director made multiple numbers of those prototypes.” Sumit also states that as both the ships had the capability to sail in the sea, they directly came under the purview of Malta’s Film Commission rules and thus, every time the team had to open the sail, they had to seek permission from the commission. “That the ships should not move was actually an issue for us. My most cherished moment during the shoot was when the both the ships started floating in water; the saddest was when we blew up one of the ships.” Did watching his work getting blown to bits make him emotional? “Not really. Somewhere that feeling had become numb through the years. May be I will cry after three months,” he says, letting out a hearty laugh. Sumit also personally took the responsibility to design all the weapons used in the film - right from the cannons to the pistol.

Not many are aware of the fact that after having made his debut with David Dhawan’s Coolie No. 1, Sumit had to wait for seven years for his next film. The reason was purely by choice and not because of lack of offers. “My first film was a little shock to me at that time. I thought Bollywood was not ready in terms of what my notions were about cinema. I was thinking of cinema to create a world which could make a difference to people, instead of getting references to make a set. That was a shock for me. I designed Coolie No. 1 and then stopped working in films and did only advertising for next 15 years. In that phase I did close to 130 music videos and finally made a start again with Tum Bin through my firm Acropolis.”

A conversation with a production designer cannot be complete without asking him about films, which he considers textbook cases in production designing. After much deliberation, he comes up with his favourites: “La Vie En Rose based on the story of French singer Edith Piaf is simply stunning. It gives an appearance as if nothing is man made in the film. My Bollywood pick would be Band Baaja Baaraat. TP Abid, the production designer of BBB did a wonderful job and I found it 100 percent real. The sets of the film are completely designed but you can’t feel it even for one moment that somebody has actually made those. Lastly, I would pick a Netflix series which I think has now become the Bible to most production designers. Everything in Marco Polo is just amazing be it lights, costume or location,” signs off Sumit.

Updated Date: Nov 05, 2018 08:52:49 IST