September 17, 2008

I Want to Call It a Day

By V Lakshmi

Thota Tharrani, it seems, has the blessings of Vishwakarma, the architect of the Gods.

Be it the slums of Dharavi in Mani Ratnam's Nayagan, or the transparent bus used in the Uravasi, Uravasi take it easy policy song of Kadhalan, or the Babylonian dome that appears in the Sahana song of Sivaji, Tharrani's creations have never failed to overwhelm audiences.

He was busy sketching for his three-day exhibition, to be held from September 18 in Malaysia, when we entered his studio.

Tell him his work in Dhaam Dhoom is being appreciated and he smiles in return. "I was handed the clapboard when the shooting for Dhaam Dhoom started. Before Jeeva left for Russia, he and his wife Anees had a quiet lunch with me in hotel Savera. That was the last time I saw him," he says and adds that Jeeva is one great director, good enough to be a legend.

Speaking of legends, ask him who his favourite is and he says, "The likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Satyajit Ray are more like my gurus. I can't identify what I like in them. They are my inspiration." Compel him to pick his favourite art director and he says, "I have worked with both young and old art directors. If I really have to pick someone, it would be Surendra Rao, AK Sekar and Ganga."

Ask him to explain the differences between the set for a commercial movie and an art film or theatre and pat comes the reply, " You left out the ads." But then he continues, "When Bharathbala came to Chennai for making ads, I helped him with the sets. Be it a commercial feature film or an ad film, it's all fun if you put your heart and soul to it. The only aspect that acts as a constraint to your creativity is the budget. While ad films have a finer finish, the same is expected in movies, which isn't possible until there is enough finance to support the long hours of work. A set is a set and the time frame to make it depends on the budget."

After the exotic and exuberant sets are torn down, doesn't he feel like weeping? "It's more than that. The feeling of it going down unsung. But, erecting a set is not great work. Maintaining it is seriously a Herculean task. When a set of mine is sold for an astronomical amount, it's only right that I receive a royalty. But then, there have been occasions when I have been completely ignored. The set for Anjali was sketched on a blackboard in 15 minutes. An art director needs his entire team to complete his work. At this rate, I want to call it quits. I want to do one good film and then retire with my canvas."

Has he been satisfied with his work so far?

"All my works are great. But there is this ten percent depression one always experiences. I've always felt that I would have done a better job, had I been given more time." Has he ever been nervous while working on a project? "Every time. If it's a big budget movie, I get all jittery, wondering if my sets have truly reflected the money being spent."

Finally, we ask him what he'd prefer to be called - an artist or an art director. He shoots back, "It's like asking me which is my favourite eye. How can I answer?"And secret dreams? "It wouldn't be a secret anymore if I tell you," he signs off.


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