Set design and construction is huge business in Bollywood, employing on an average, 150 people in a 12 hour shift.
Sometimes, workers have to toil round the clock in three shifts.
One sunny afternoon, I visited the sets of Shah Rukh Khan’s film My Name is Khan, at Filmistan, Goregaon. With props like rented fans, lavish beds, toilet equipment, carpets, sofas, plasma screens and kitchenware, the cost is estimated to shoot to a cool Rs three crores. The set is the brainchild of set director Sharmishta Roy, who holds the distinction of winning three awards in the same category in one calendar year.
As I enter the huge corridor, I encounter Mohammed Kasim. The 54-year-old assistant art director is currently in charge of Roy’s design. He started working at a tender age of 13 under Sharmista’s father, Sudhinder Roy. Since 1968, he’s worked as a helper, carpenter and mistry (skilled artisan) for the movie business. Six months ago, he was promoted to art director by the Association of Cinema And Television Art Directors.
Build from scratch
His deputy on the sets, Mohammed Shakir has a similar job profile. Over the years, both these veterans have worked on numerous big budget film sets. For Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Punjab and London were reconstructed from scratch right here in Mumbai. Yeh Dillagi, Dil To Pagal Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Taal, Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya, Bunty Aur Babli are other famous projects they have worked on.
Building a set is a daunting task. The design first materialises on the computers of the art directors. Next in line are people like Kasim and Shakir. Wood planks, plywood, real and artificial tiles, granite, marble, cloth (painted to block sunlight), Burma teak, acrylic, plastic and car paint have to procured at competitive rates.
Back in the ’70s, money was a major factor. It would take six months to build a set due to the lack of finance. Sticks and wooden fames were used to create beds. Says Shakir, “Those days, no one cared for the designs. Only the stars mattered. Today’s generation spends hundreds in multiplexes. We have to give them their value for money.”
It’s lunch time on the sets . The duo take me on a tour of the massive construction site. They show me hundreds of photos of an American villa on which the set is based. The replica is complete with real plants, trees and grass, which is preserved to last at least 15 days after shooting begins. There are six 100 kilowatt electric generators. The film’s production house pays a rent of Rs 50, 000 for a 12-hour work schedule. During the shoot, the charges rise to Rs 1 lakh for an eight-hour work day.
Kasim and Shakir aren’t keen on diversifying. Says Kasim, “We have mostly worked with the Roys. But often, we help out other directors once our projects are over. Like everyone, I too have a dream of starting my own studio after I gain access to additional funds.”
Both of them share with me how much appreciation matters to them. They tell me about when Hrithik Roshan was filming next door for Kites and unexpectedly visited them. Says Shakir, “He didn’t talk to us directly. But we heard how he raved about our work.”