Noted production designer Shruti Gupte tells us how art inspires life and life inspires art
Did you notice that the lavender flowers on the car of Aisha in the Sonam Kapoor film are part of a colour scheme? Or the accented walls in Taare Zameen Par fulfil a purpose? And the you must have definitely missed the greys and blue shades ofThe Lunchbox. If the answer of all the above is yes, then Shruti Gupte has succeeded in her job. The seasoned production designer was recently in the city to talk about the value of colours in the visual narrative of cinema at a workshop organised by Asian Paints. “My practice is that whatever I design it should fit naturally in the canvas of the film. The art direction should not distract you. Even if I make the most beautiful set, I don’t want it to take the focus away from the script. It should organically fit into the canvas of the narrative,” says Shruti, a trained architect.
In a film like The Lunchbox, says Shruti, it is better not to ‘talk’ about colour palette because it will distract the audience. “When you are watching the film you are so engrossed in the story that everything that we have created should be so natural and believable that you take it for granted.”
However, in Taare Zameen Par, the script itself, gave value to colours. “It was shot in 2006-2007 when the trend of accent walls had just set in. We took that concept to establish the living space of a working middle class family. My brief was that the mother is an educated woman who has left her job to be a housewife to take care of her kids. It is her conscious decision. So the house had to be simple but tastefully done.” Ishant’s character had lot of fantastical elements but Shruti tried to keep it as natural as possible.
These days we see a lot of FabIndia kind of furniture in films. Shruti says it is not always about tie-ups, it is a requirement of the time. “If you are designing today’s reality then you will go to the same market that people go to shop. I draw inspiration from the real world so that I can give my credence to my characters. I can take inspiration from a real life person but my interpretation of it will be through my character. When you are designing a film it is not a flat process, it is layered. It is about my interpretation, the director’s vision and the actor’s personality. All of these affect the space and what eventually comes out is a completely new space.”
And then the audience tries to copy it? “You can correlate, what’s about that space that you like. That’s what you will adapt and it will never be exact because your space will be different and your requirements will be different, which is the beauty of it. Art inspires life and life inspires art.”
Shruti advises one has to look oneself as the hero of his or her own film. “Design, at the end of the day, is very intuitive. So you can have many people telling you what works for you but at the end of the day you know what works for you.” If we look around, Shruti observes, the rural spaces are still very vibrant but when we come to urban settlements suddenly colour goes out of our life. “It becomes very practical or mundane. To break that one has to rethink. You can be the most routine person but every mundane person has his own guilty pleasure. Somebody will have a favourite flower. So you can introduce it to your living spaces. Practical doesn’t mean boring. It can be fun.” Like the real, aspirational and moody films, Shruti says our homes are not just reflective of who we are. “They can be reflective of who we want to be or they can be reflective of who we were as children.”
And this explains how she approaches The Lunchbox and Aisha, which are almost antithesis to each other. If one demanded the blues and greys not to show up, the latter demanded the backdrop to play a role. Shruti insists it is not a designer film. “There is nothing unrealistic about the backdrop. It represents the reality of the character. We worked very cohesively on a colour scheme. All characters have colour palettes that represented their personalities. Still we had to ensure that nothing stood out and everything looked pretty as a frame.” However, she didn’t look into the colour trends of the day. “For Aisha we talked about colour purple as a constant. It was present in her room, clothes, flowers…. The inspiration came from the purple dress that was designed for the climax. I said let’s make thatAisha’s colour and then worked backwards.”
Using colours to make a statement is not new to cinema. Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who directed the trilogy Three Colours, where blue, white and red colours of the French flag were used to comment on the political ideals of the French Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity. Ten years back Onir made a film called Bas Ek Pal where he collaborated with designer Anita Dogre to give each character a colour code. But even before people could catch the detailing, the film was out of the theatres. Shruti doesn’t mind the criticism of the film as long as her work is not singled out. But, yes, she does develop empathy with some of her sets. “Like for Aisha’s house, I created a functional set in Mumbai. Most people mistook it as a real location in Delhi. The film may not have done as well but it was high for me. It was truly functional with internal wiring and working refrigerators where crew members could keep their chocolates. In the middle of the shoot we would make popcorns in the microwave. For almost six weeks it was like our home and one day it had to be brought down.” It would have hurt the architect in her. “I have the technical skills but I have also learnt creating aesthetics at the Fine Arts Academy in Vienna,” responds Shruti. “I try to integrate my technical knowledge with my love for theatre and set design. It is a different reality, which needs to be built. Materials are different, the permanency of structure is different but other than that I don’t see any difference. My structure stands only for that long that it is required to stand.”
If she creates the moods of the characters, the fictitious characters affect her choices too. “While I was doing Khoobsurat and was designing Milli’s house, I had just moved apartments. It impacted me. I realised I have a personality trait which is colourful and warm. I am somebody who is very structured and practical and will be found in white and greys but then this completely fictitious person implored me to try some colour. I started with something as simple and replaceable as curtains. It is fuchsia pink with silver motifs! Nobody could have ever believed that I could do something like this and now they have begun to accept them as part of me.”