Cover Story

Artists from the world of Cinema

By Jyotsna Sharma   1 Jun, 2016

It was my conversation with artist Akshay Sethi that led me to explore the world of Art Directors / Production / Set Designers who practice fine art. Sethi, a graduate from the College of Art, Delhi showcased his work at the Kochi Muziris Biennale in 2015 and is currently working as a production designer in Mumbai. I subsequently had opportunities to talk with Aradhana Seth & Sukant Panigarhy, two renowned art directors who are also fine art practitioners. 

For the uninitiated, an Art Director / Production Designer is a person who visualizes and supervises the entire look of the film. He / she defines the overall style or tone for each project and communicates this vision to artists / technicians / designers who then help develop the sets. Very few of us realize how important the role of an art director is in a movie. Without him, the film would have very little credibility. He is the person who makes the film look real / believable to the viewers.

We all remember the India sequence from The Bourne Supremacy- the house, the market and the car chase that takes place in Goa where Marie gets killed. Aradhana Seth was the art director for the Indian part of the movie. For Jason Bourne’s house, she worked with an architect to create a scale model. Such attention to detail is what contributes to the success of an art director and in turn the film. In addition to The Bourne Supremacy she has films such as Don (with Shahrukh khan), The Darjeeling Limited, Earth etc. to her credit.

She started out as a documentary filmmaker and then progressed to production design. Her first experience with the overlap of fine art and film was when she required paintings for the walls of some of the sets. She would at times create these paintings / artworks herself or procure them from artists. In 2011, this exceptionally talented lady had an exhibition titled ‘Everyone carries a room about inside’ at the Chemould Prescott Road gallery in Mumbai. For this exhibition, the gallery was turned into a site-specific installation, with a number of paintings of household objects. These paintings commented on how we have memories and a number of stories associated with mundane objects we collect and place in our homes.

In July 2015, as a part of the fifth annual Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver, she created a public art project called ‘Merchant of Images’. This was a travelling photo booth much like the old photo studios/ booths in India, where the subject was photographed against decorative backdrops like the Taj Mahal etc. The idea was to revisit the old photography methods used while creating public engagement with art. The project was greatly appreciated; she is currently working on recreating it in other cities as well.

Recently, she created a 25 ft. long installation of a mudskipper called ‘Kheldho’, in collaboration with Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Goa Forest Department as a part of the CMPA project for the Goa carnival 2016. ‘Kheldho’ was made of marine debris - beer cans and plastic mineral water bottles. This installation was created to emphasize the fact that pollution from marine debris is destroying our oceans.

In addition to this, she is starting to work on archiving the items used on the sets of various films as she feels it’s a shame to see the sets destroyed after they have served their purpose. According to her, her work as an art director informs her fine art practice. She says ‘there is a fine line between the two’.

Sukant Panigarhy, one of the most sought after Art Directors in Bollywood, always knew he wanted to be a part of the great world of Indian cinema. Even as a young boy back home he used to decorate and create ‘Ganpati pandals’; he says he was always interested in ‘creating spaces’. Today, he has a number of important films like Drishyam, Dev.D, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Aaja Nachle to his credit. He is currently working on Dishoom with John Abraham & Varun Dhawan, Bang Bang Reloaded and an art house film.

Through his art practice, he tries to bring to notice key environmental issues. Originally from Orissa, he always found Mumbai to be very polluted. He recounted that it was during the making of Aaja Nachle (where the entire town was a set he had created), that he realised how the film crew was adding to this ever-increasing problem of pollution. The sets they created were simply destroyed after having served their purpose; materials like Plaster of Paris and certain other non-biodegradable items were used, which were not being discarded in the right manner. This led him to carefully select material for his sets in subsequent projects. Further, through his art, he started creating awareness about this grave issue of how each one of us is polluting the environment.

Creating awareness about environmental issues has been the underlying theme in his art practice for sometime now. He uses only waste material for his artwork. He was the driving force behind the Matheran Green Festival in 2015. Currently, he is working on creating eco art destinations in and around Hyderabad & Mumbai. Here, viewers would be invited to experience and interact with art and reconnect with nature. In fact people would be encouraged to bring along waste / discarded materials from their homes and create art from it. He has collaborated with a number of key artists for this project. He is also working with the villagers around the site of the project to produce objects from waste material, which could be sold commercially and help supplement their livelihood. This project will be inaugurated sometime in September or October this year.

 In addition to this, he is curating a project for the Art Basel in Miami this December.

 We wish both these uber creative people all the best and hope to see a number of engaging films and art projects produced by them.