Going shoulder to shoulder as a protagonist in any film is the set the story is taking place in. Set design is an integral part of the visual message of a film; translating the mood, theme, time period, genre and sometimes even the hidden symbolism of a plot. Set designers create these bizarre, organic spaces that have a touch of whimsy to them. No matter how bad things are going for the characters in a film, sets make you feel like you wanna be there. They are a highly captivating storytelling device that oftentimes in history have themselves become the iconography of a film, with such hold on our emotions that people use them as references in creating their own living spaces much like myself.
Here's a curated list of some of the most influential set designs in homegrown films, which played a significant role in the overall impact of the films.
Ashim Ahluwalia's first narrative feature film, Miss Lovely was set in an 80s Mumbai where sleazy, sex-horror films are mass-churned by the thriving C-grade movie industry. Tabasheer Zutshi was the production designer for the film with a team of 5 people on set decoration. Set design was a particularly important component in this film to reflect the glamour and sensuality of the lecherous C-grade film industry in the 80s. Gold and gold-themed decor took centre stage in Miss Lovely with retro elements that alluded to the era.
Set in the year 53, Lootera is enriched in gentle Sepia tones, soft lighting on carved wooden writing desks, grand libraries and elegant dining halls, the vintage charm of a 50s' 'Calcutta'. Set designer and art director Aditya Kanwar worked on the 3 sets built for the film in Mumbai, Kolkata and Dalhousie. A structure set up at Kalatop near Dalhousie, at a cost of over Rs 60 lakhs for the film shoot, was destroyed by heavy snowfall at the time. The deep wood tones and dim lights of the mid-century design of the 50s Dalhousie boarding house was its own character in this melancholic romance.
Titled by fans as the most stylish gangster film ever made in India, the sets of Bombay Velvet embodied grandeur & opulence featuring the Portuguese influence on architecture and design of a post-independence Bombay during the 60s and 70s. The design had a white and brown colour palette, along with elements of late Gothic Architecture combined with Spanish plateresque style and Flemish Architecture. According to director Anurag Kashyap, the central cause of the delay in the making of this film was that it was a story about a city and a whole new city would have to be built for that story, hence the entire movie was shot in a set, built from scratch in 11 months, in Sri Lanka with Sonal Sawant and Dhara Jain.
Watch a video on its construction below.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is known for his immaculate production design in larger-than-life films like Devdas & Ramleela. For Gangubai Kathiawadi, the director used his own personal memories of 60s and 70s' Bombay to create the set. Designed largely in art deco style, wooden structures and joints dominate the framework, which is not prefabricated along with murals and paintings. Great attention was paid to designing the courtyards and open spaces as well by production designers Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray. The director is a proponent of the belief, 'the devil is in the details' and that is visible throughout the film in its sets that are an amalgamation of realism and glamour.
Released just last month, Gulmohar is a family drama that follows the multi-generation Batra family who are all set to move out of their 34-year-old family home into a penthouse in Gurgaon. Designed by Mansi Dhruv Mehta and DOP Eeshit Narain, the double-storied family bungalow is bejewelled with Jamini Roy’s portraits and original paintings by Joya Mukerjee Logue. The walls of the Batra House are filled with art and photographs, gilded mirrors, elaborate bookcases, and elegant wooden furniture reflecting that even if Batras aren’t nouveau riche, they're well-read, intellectual folks who come from ancestral wealth. The designers tell AD that B.V. Doshi was a huge inspiration for the Batra house.
If you enjoyed reading this, here's more from Homegrown:
Before 'Class', Ashim Ahluwalia’s Debut Feature Explored India’s C-Grade Film Industry
Short Film ‘Highway Nights’ Holds A Mirror Up To Misogynistic Views Of Sex Work
Meet The Trendsetting Costume Designer Who Shaped Vintage Indian Fashion Through Cinema