Reliving the memoirs of Rangasthalam

Visit Rangasthalam  set and the first thing you notice is its aesthetic brilliance. Production designers and real-life partners Ramakrishna Sabbani and Mounika Nigottre Sabbani have recreated an artistic village of the 80s era comprising a government hospital, Gangalamma temple, panchayat office and houses with old potsherd roofs and mud replicating a beautiful village of Godavari in the city.  The couple takes us back on their nostalgic trip in an exclusive interview

HYDERABAD: Born and brought up in Hyderabad, Ramakrishna Sabbani’s tryst with films started with Andala Rakshasi. After his second film Sahasam, he relocated to Mumbai and returned to Hyderabad for Kerintha and went onto allure the audience with his creativity in films like Subramanyam for Sale, Bhale Manchi Roju, etc.

So, what exactly is a production designer’s job? Ramakrishna shares, “Our work is to create a perfect ambience and the backdrop a story demands by using our imagination, colour without distracting the audience from the story and the characters.”

Sharing how they seized the opportunity, Ramakrishna and Mounika explain, “Impressed with our work in Jyo Achyutananda, Sukumar approached us for Nannaku Prematho. But we couldn’t grab the offer due to other commitments and finally collaborated for Rangasthalam. When Sukumar narrated the script, we realised that it will be an ambitious film in our career. We visualised the film, the texture, colour hues and design it should have in the discussion stages and planned everything accordingly. Besides production design, we have handled the art direction for Rangasthalam too.”

Interestingly, the duo didn’t take any references to build the set and everything was conceived from their own imagination. “Before arriving at what we thought would be appropriate for the film, we have sketched the village to make Rangasthalam possible. As 90 percent of the film has to be shot in the set, every day was a challenge for us. We had six assistants working closely with us. Given the budget and time constraints, we have delivered everything on time. As creative people, we have to constantly analyse our work and improvise the concepts, if needed. We ensured that there won’t be any room for mistakes with our meticulous planning. Also, Sukumar is sure of what he wanted and he was involved in every aspect. That made the things easy.”

Terming Rangasthalam a special film of their career, Ramakrishna and Mounika recall, “The film has an interesting, yet nostalgic design with props. The emphasis is always on realism. Since the film was set in the 80s, nothing from that era is available in the market. So, we have decided to create everything from the scratch. The rats, roofs, wooden gates, doors, cool drink trays, Frooti pack, Horlicks box, cool drink, trays were all the work of the production department. The village set cost `5 crore and 400 people worked for two months.”

The real challenge of craftsmanship came while marking. “The outdoor was a rocky terrain with only two trees. So, to come up with all the designs and placement of each thing in line without imagination was really difficult. We spent many days working on the modalities. We started the shoot when summer was at its peak and continued to work under different weather conditions. I must say, it was an enriching experience,” recalls Ramakrishna.

Mounika, who hails from Delhi, says there were no references to those years and it’s was tough to gather all the material at hand. “At times, Sukumar, Ram Charan and others were surprised to see the things on set which they have seen in their childhood,” reminisces Mounika.

So, from where did the duo obtained these things? she says, “We have procured some items that ruled our lives in the 80s from some antique shops in Rajahmundry. We also salvaged old building materials like windows, doors, vintage trunks, chests from the locals. We have got brass vessels, antique iron spatulas, bowls, jugs and other kitchen utensils in exchange for new ones from the villagers. We have used three trucks to transport all these things to Hyderabad.”

The BFA graduate from Hyderabad, Ramakrishna says it’s tough to shoot in a remote village. “We shot in a village near Polavaram and it was difficult to reach the location in the early morning and return to Rajahmundry in the nights. We travelled on boats carrying all the equipment and worked till late at night. There were no mobile signals and if we have to call someone, we have to place a call at the nearest post-office. We tried to hook an antenna for mobile signal but after some days, it was knocked off due to heavy wind. So, it was impossible for us to co-ordinate without phones. Imagine a 400 member team including Ram Charan, Samantha living without any facilities and external communication. With a lot of determination, we braved all the challenges and experienced the life of the 80s (smiles),” reveals Ramakrishna.

He adds, “Some villages we shot in were submerged due to Polavaram project. So, if one has to see the green cover of their villages, they should watch Rangasthalam.” Working on a film of this magnitude is not an easy job and at times, some differences may crop up between technicians. Ask Ramakrishna if there was an instance which required him to convince or persuade Sukumar? He explains, “There is no room for arguments or differences whatsoever. We had a plan and our only job is to make sure our director’s conviction comes true. Everything went on really smooth. I take this opportunity to thank Sukumar, our producers and other crew for supporting us in all endeavours.”

— Murali Krishna CH

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