It is important for an art director to read the script: Santhanam
One of the highlights of Rajinikanth ’S Darbar is the stunt sequence set inside a Metro station. While even filmi folk were thinking that the team had actually shot inside a Mumbai Metro station, here ’S the revelation - that was a set! The man behind this realistic set is production designer and art director T Santhanam . Even if your name is unfamiliar, your job could be. He is the man behind the sets of movies like Aayirathil Oruvan, Irudhi Suttru and Kaaviyathalaivan.
The protagonist of Vijayakanth, Chokka Thangam, was my first film as an art director, Santhanam begins, who graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Government in 1996, and attended art director M Prabhakar for five years. He started making advertising films, and then got his break in movies with the director of K Bhagyaraj.
Talking about the station set in Darbar, he says, “We had originally planned to shoot in an actual station, but given that we were going to shoot with a huge star like Rajini sir, we realized managing the crowd might be a problem, even in Mumbai. So, we got a shot of him stepping out of the train in an actual station, and then matched the rest with a set. ”
The planning involved extensive discussions with cinematographer Santosh Sivan and the visual effects team to ensure that the set was as realistic as possible. “Lighting played a key role in the coincidence of both images. We place pillars that are geometrically similar to those of a real station, ”says the art director.
He completed the set in seven days with 200 artisans working on it. “I usually discuss the time I need to erect a set just at the time of the story discussion with the director. With big-budget movies starring big stars, time is crucial because delays will increase the cost of production. Then, if you plan your schedule properly, you can deliver on time, ”he says.
Rajinikanth, he says, is very simple on the sets. “He treats everyone with dignity. And he is very punctual. On the set, he will not discuss anything unnecessary beyond work. If he has finished his shot, he will remain on the set, reading a book or listening to music, ”he praises. When working with a star, he says he will gauge their appreciation of the set the moment they enter the set. “If their eyes go wide in wonder, you can be sure that you have done a good job. And most stars ask for the art director and praise them in person. Rajini sir appreciated the set I had put up as his office, ”he adds.
It is important that art directors also read the script in addition to obtaining a narration of the director's story, says Santhanam. “Reading a script is like reading a book, and it helps you better imagine the configuration. You get in the mood and understand the backdrop of the movie while reading the script. This is useful while designing the sets. Whether Aayirathil Oruvan, Demonte Colony or Kaaviyathalaivan, I was able to capture the sensation of the movies mainly by reading their scripts, ”he explains.
One of his principles is to work on one film at a time. “I have lost a few films because of this policy of mine. I missed out on 7aum Arivu with Murugadoss because I was busy with another film, but now, I have managed to work with him in Sarkar and Darbar. The way he appreciated me and my work in his interviews, especially my tendency to be at the shooting spot and not stop with delegating work, made me feel grateful. It is essential for an art director to be on set during the shoot as it helps the other technicians make informed decisions in terms of props and backdrops, ”he says. But ultimately, he says it is the director who deserves all the credit for a good product.
Santhanam’s upcoming project is Karthik Subbaraj’s Jagame Thandhiram, starring Dhanush. “Actually, I am doing only the India-set portions of the film; I couldn’t work on it during its London schedule as I was busy with Darbar. I have worked on it for about 25 days. It had been an interesting experience, ”he says.