Rangasthalam: The stage is set

Art director turned production designer Ramakrishna works in one film at a time but makes news with each of them. He shot to fame with his metallic installations in Andala Rakshasi and fabulous fantasy sets in Sahasam. Now he and his wife Monika, who work as a team, are making news for their sets in Rangasthalam.

Ask Ramakrishna how the concept of production designer suddenly became the norm in Telugu film industry, he says, “Production designers are responsible for the overall look of the film. In South India, if one gets to see a set meant for a song or a specially-designed house, then they know that there is an art director for the film; but now all that has changed. After the entry of Sabu Cyril in vernacular cinema, production designers have become popular.”

Sukumar had apparently commented that the sets of Rangasthalam look so real that the movie won’t win any award in that category. It’s a huge compliment, feels, Ramakrishna.

Monika gives more details, “We shot only 10% in real location and the rest was recreated. It is a village set in Andhra in the 80s.”

After Andala Rakshasi and Sahasam, Ramakrishna shifted to Mumbai and returned for Kerintha, Subramanyam For Sale and Bhale Manchi Roju. In his short stint in Mumbai he worked on Island City (produced by National Film Archive of India) and advertisements and commercials. He is known for his sculptures, installations and his art work in Sahasam. “I am never under pressure, I take up limited and creative projects. In Savyasachi, Naga Chaitanya owns an advertising agency and does ad shoots and there is a space (factory) belonging to Madhavan which I designed innovatively. Since the latter plays an architect, I had to stretch my imagination a bit further. I can never repeat a concept; every day has to be different,” says Ramakrishna.

Sukumar saw his work in Jyo Achyutananda and offered him Rangasthalam. Monika recollects, “People saw Godavari in its greenery so far but the director and Rathnavelu (DoP) wanted it to have a golden/brown hue. They started work in summer and due to rains, the grass turned green. Ramakrishna had the task of replacing the soil and gathered dry grass from elsewhere and had it planted, some painted so that the dry look prevailed. The locations were a tough terrain. There were no people in half of the villages, they left as the Polavaram project is on and only around 50 or 100 people were living there. No phone signals.”

Ramakrishna adds, “In the first schedule we tried and placed an antenna on a tower for Whatsapp. After a few days it got dislodged. To get onto the tower it would take a day. What would we do without phones; co ordination in the production side became difficult. We would work late in the night and wake up very early to reach the location by 6 am. We hired around dozen boats to transport our equipment, to go to a place like Rajahmundry was a difficult thing. I don’t want to reveal the name of the village, I can just say it is the last village in the vicinity. Despite all these challenges we had an absolutely great time. Some sort of positivity prevailed and all departments worked hard. Even Ramcharan and Samantha had nil facilities.”

Monika quips, “When you pool the people in a distant location, the proximity increases and all of them become a family.”

Summer was at its peak and the entire shoot took place there. After a hard day’s work when they would cast a glance at the monitor they would forget their problems. Rathnavelu’s magic would engulf the atmosphere.

Ramakrishna signs off, “Yeleti and Sukumar are superb directors. When you work with directors like them, hits, flops and awards won’t matter. Being associated with them itself is a gratifying experience. I can say for sure that audience will be thrilled with every clip of this film.”

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