It’s been over a month since the release of Rana Daggubati-starrer Ghazi, a story about the mysterious sinking of PNS Ghazi, a Pakistan-deployed submarine during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The film’s production designer, Shivam Rao, whose work was nothing short of exemplary, opens up about creating make-believe submarines worth over one crore with the help of a team of mechanical engineers, interior designers and architects, and why spending three years on the project has been worth it.
Shivam had a creative bent of mind from a very young age. He studied a two-year film-direction course from LV Prasad Film Academy, but it was his background in interior designing which came handy during the making of Ghazi. Recalling his association with the project, Shivam told TNM, “Sankalp (director of Ghazi) and I worked together for Anisha Kuruvilla’s Ko Ante Koti. I did a lot of art work in the film. So, when Sankalp decided to work on Ghazi, he approached me because I had design background and we started it as an independent film.”
Despite lack of funds and nobody willing to bet on a bunch of newcomers, they came up with a small show reel and made a presentation. “Even before Matinee Entertainment and PVP Cinema came on board, we had built a prototype submarine set at a cost of Rs. 25 lakh. We used the show reel to impress potential producers and it worked. After the producers joined us, we decided to make the film on a national level.”
It took months of research, says Shivam, and multiple visits to the submarine in Vizag’s RK beach to build the sets for the film with such precision. “It was a Foxtrot Russian model that was actually used in the war. We went there to see the measurements, and get the nuances of the vessel right. Over a period of six months, multiple visits helped me understand and learn about the interiors of a submarine. In Hyderabad, I live in Sainikpuri, a place filled with navy folks. They also helped me understand the functionality of a submarine.” The original submarine was around 300 ft long. “The replica was just 125 ft long and we squeezed everything in it. Wherever the story takes places within that space, we focus on the key characters. Though our model was small and was convenient to shoot, in the film it appears quite huge,” he said.
A lot of equipment – be it steering wheels, the pipes, the meters and vaults - were made based on references from Russian archives. “The submarine in Vizag is very close to the sea and due to which a lot of moisture formed on the inside. They had to keep repainting – on equipment and the interiors - to avoid rusting. You couldn’t even read the description of the equipment because they were painted over and over again. In India, majority of the war equipment are not made public. Hence, we had to rely on information from archives of other countries,” he said, and added that the submarines were built in lower Tankbund area which is close to metal scrap market and electronic market. All the equipment in the film were sourced from these markets.
The entire set work cost the team around Rs. 1.5 crore. “The first set that we made when we had originally planned to make the film as a documentary was very superficial due to lack of budget. We thought even if we could make a decent set, we could focus on the performances of the actors. But when PVP came on board, I was quite adamant that we work on the detailing since it had become a national product. We wanted the actors to react to the submarine instead of just performing. We added a lot of functional aspect to the story. The submarine had an analog model unlike most that use digital interface today. To complete one command, people had to manually operate the equipment. There was so much drama in it. Hence, I was very particular that the sets looked authentic to make audience feel immersed in the submarine setting,” he said.
As the story revolves around India’s S 21 and Pakistan’s PNS Ghazi submarines, two sets were created. “The Pakistan set was built in an empty floor of a commercial complex. Initially, it was meant to be the Indian submarine set. In terms of dimension, this one was more precise. Even though it had space constraint, we used it for our benefit. When Rana came on board with a bigger production house, it meant more number of days of shooting. This is when I converted the whole set into Pakistan submarine as it had less number of days of shooting. We made the Indian set more shooting-friendly. You can open the panels from side for the camera movement. Also, the two were separated by colour. While the Indian set is a combination of silver and grey, the Pakistani one had a lighter shade of green,” Shivam said.
Speaking of his future plans, he said, “I’m working on my script. I will definitely direct in the near future. I’m currently working as a production designer on Telugu film Goodachari, a project which stars Adivi Sesh.” He has also signed a big project but he remains tight-lipped about it.