After spending nearly two-and-a-half years identifying the right locations, creating stunning sets and painstakingly figuring out the visual elements for the pan-India project Radhe Shyam, production designer Raveendar Reddy is taking a well-deserved break. While the release of the film has been postponed due to the third wave of the pandemic, Raveendar says that he cannot wait for the movie to hit theatres and for audiences to see the visual treat he and his team have helped create. Starring Prabhas and Pooja Hegde, the love story has been directed by Radha Krishna Kumar.
TNM caught up with the production designer, who is known for his work in Tollywood films like Chatrapathi, Magadheera, Bhaagamathie, and Maryada Ramanna, to find out what went into making Radhe Shyam, recreating Italy of the 1970s and more.
Being the production designer of Radhe Shyam was a very different experience for Raveendar, when compared to other films he has worked on. While most Telugu films shoot a scene, or at the very least a song, in a foreign location, here most of the story takes place in Italy of the 1970s. Raveendar had the challenging task of recreating this time period. âA lot of research and preparation went into making the movie look as convincing and authentic as possible,â says Raveendar. A significant portion was filmed across Italy. âWe had about 70 people in the production design team from India itself and we had local art directors along with their team of 20 to 25 people working in each town we filmed at, be it Rome, Florence or Varese, to help us get the local references right,â adds Raveendar.
He says that getting his hands on the script early on and interacting with the director helped in understanding what was needed when it came to visuals for the film. âWe usually have multiple sittings with the director and director of photography, though we have different ideas we all arrive at the same vision and work towards bringing that to life,â adds Raveendar.
Eye for detail
Every item and prop used in a particular scene had to be just right. There were instances where the team was tempted to use certain objects because of their artistic beauty. âBut we restrained ourselves, consulted the local experts and stuck to what was used in that particular period. We would decide to use a particular prop only if the story required it or if it would enhance the emotion of the scene,â he says.
While researching Italian design for the project, Raveendar says that he fell in love with the elements and artwork from the 1950s. He met with local art directors in the regions they filmed in and found similar pieces that would have been around in the 1970s. âFrom the furniture and crockery to even the telephone and mirror, we have made sure it represented that particular periodâs culture as closely as possible in Radhe Shyam,â he says.
Whether the cobblestone village squares or the beautifully decorated interiors of a home, Raveendarâs eye for detail can be seen throughout the film. A few of the sets were specially constructed in Hyderabad as well. There is a hospital scene in the filmâs trailer that was shot in a studio in the city, the beds and stretchers seen are what you would find in a real hospital ward. Reportedly, the custom-made beds and other equipment were donated to a private hospital in May last year, during the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Filming during a pandemic
Much like it affected every industry, the onset of the pandemic delayed the filming of movies across the country. Raveendar says that there were multiple postponements. âMany crew members, including the director and the director of photography, tested positive for coronavirus and shooting had to be halted. Some scenes were even shot with the director or other crew members watching via a Zoom call,â recalls Raveendar.
Despite challenges, Raveendar says that the entire team loved working on the film. âIt was like working with family,â adds Raveendar, about collaborating with actor Prabhas and the rest of the cast. âThere were laughs and discussions as well as arguments, all of it led to making the best film we could. This movie is a never before seen visual treat for the audience.â
The role of a production designer
Recently, there have been a lot of period dramas coming out of Tollywood, be it SS Rajamouli's RRR or Sukumar's Pushpa, to name a few. These films have highlighted the importance of production designers and art directors and the effort they put in to recreate a particular time period.
While Raveendar agrees that these movies have increased the visibility of his job, he adds that there is a need for a lot more recognition. Raveendar, who studied art at IIT Delhi, got his big break in 2001 when he joined the team of the popular Telugu television serial, Amrutham. He moved on to become an art director in the film industry and has now established himself as a production designer, who takes care of the visual elements of a film and is responsible for the final output, while coordinating with other teams as well. Raveendar says that production designers play an important role in the making of a movie, though many times their contribution is taken for granted. âEven in a simple scene filmed in a market or the roadside, there is a lot of work that the art department does to enhance the emotion and beauty of the scene by adding the right elements at the right time,â he adds.
However, Raveendar says that he knows he has done his job well when the audience forgets that what they are seeing onscreen is a set. âIf the audience gets to know that it's a set, it's a failure, that's a thumb rule,â he says
Need for new techniques
Raveendar says that now to enhance production design, old methods have to be done away with. "Using new technology and methods learned from other industries would help us get the job done quickly and efficiently and also save money for the producer,â he says.
When Raveendar worked on Maryada Ramanna and Eega, both directed by SS Rajamouli, he got patents for some of the techniques that were used in the film. âFor example, we had used a special plywood technique to construct the house in Maryada Ramanna that will sustain and stay new even after ten years. And in Eega, we made customised tiles with a different, new material, we got a patent for that,â recalls Raveendar.
Raveendar says that he has been lucky to collaborate with directors and producers who have given him the freedom to experiment. For those who want to join the field as an art director or production designer, Raveendar says that patience, observation and taste are the three things that they need to cultivate, along with respect for their work.
Watch Radhe Shyam trailer here :