Art directors are also troubleshooters: Anees Nadodi
Anees Nadodi, who designed the sets of the films Sudani from Nigeria, Varathan, and Luca, talks about his work and what the job of a production designer in Malayalam cinema entails
Though it’s been only two years since art director Anees Nadodi made his debut in the industry—with national award-winning Sudani from Nigeria—he has already proven himself to be a formidable talent in his field, with his commendable work in Sudani, Varathan, Thamaasha, and recently, Luca. It all began through his association with Sudani director Zakariya Mohammed and its co-writer Muhsin Parari. Aside from honing his skills on the plays directed by Zakariya, Anees also worked on Muhsin Parari’s music video, Funeral of A Native Son.
Take each of Anees’s work and one can see that they’re distinct from each other. If Sudani and Thamaasha were characterised by their minimalistic design, the work in Varathan and Luca called attention to itself, in a good way. Anees strongly believes that a set that looks like it was created defeats the whole purpose of production design, but an exception can be made if the script demands it. He cites Luca, which used cyan as the predominant colour in Tovino Thomas’ portions and browns and maroons in Nidhin George’s, as an example.
“We printed out a colour palette and worked closely with the director of photography (Nimish Ravi) as well as the costume designer (Remya Suresh). The three of us made the purchases together. There was smooth coordination between all of us, which doesn’t happen often in Malayalam cinema,” recalls Anees, adding that the art department looked to the paintings of Rembrandt and Van Gogh for inspiration to design some of the frames. “In Luca, the frames were loud and prominent because art itself is a character (considering the main protagonist is a scrap artist).”
However, for films like Sudani, Anees prefers a more lived-in look. He adds that half of the character development in the film was done through the production design itself. “Majeed’s (played by Soubin Shahir) home is also a character in the film. If you look carefully, you can see that we had placed several props in his home that tell us details about his life: his childhood and teenage years, his football obsession, the cultural activities he took part in, his community, the Spoken English classes he took, and so on.”
Anees reveals that this detailing was not in the script but gradually incorporated during the discussion stage. “The work we did took on the behaviour of research as went deeper. Everything we did in that had to reflect the various phases Majeed went through. Compared to Sudani, Luca wasn’t that much of a challenge. We can confidently say that Sudani and Thamaasha are films we would recommend to a student of production design.”
Anees had taken a similar approach to design Priya’s (Aishwarya Lekshmi) bungalow in Varathan as well. “It was an empty bungalow which we filled with props. We were going for a vintage Bohemian/Anglo-Indian look overall. The house had to reflect the changes that happened over the course of the three phases of Priya’s life. And, of course, there are the props needed for Fahadh’s climax fight scene.”
So how much time does it take between script reading and selecting materials for production design? “It depends on the budget and scale,” he says. “If wide shots are being used, then that would mean more work and a bigger budget. A lot of attention has to be paid to continuity as well.”
When asked if the occasional schedule changes affect his work, he says, “Shorter deadlines can sometimes pose a big challenge. I got more time on Sudani even though the work was comparatively less because the team spent three months on pre-production. But I got less time with Luca and Varathan. I joined the former a month before shoot whereas, for the latter, I got only nine days to prepare. Luca was a much bigger challenge because there was another art director before me and when he left, I had to develop and execute new ideas. Also, since we had finished four days ahead of schedule, we had to speed things up a bit. For example, to design the house of Srikanth Murali’s character, we worked from 10 pm to 10 am. This is why I would say that art directors are also troubleshooters (laughs).”