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Ranjith anna wanted every frame in Natchathiram Nagargiradhu to be artistic: Production designer L J- Cinema express

Ranjith anna wanted every frame in Natchathiram Nagargiradhu to be artistic: Production designer L Jayaragu

In conversation with production designer L Jayaragu who speaks about staging the experimental visuals of Pa Ranjith’s latest film, Natchathiram Nagargiradhu

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Published: 05th September 2022

Pa Ranjith’s latest film, Natchathiram Nagargiradhu—arguably his most indulgent film so far—feels like a series of meaningful paintings. And that was the objective of production designer L Jayaragu. The production designer, also Ranjith’s college junior at the Government College of Fine Arts, Egmore, has earlier collaborated with him in Dhammam. He fondly recalls, “In 2021, I got a call from anna, and went to meet him when he handed over the script. He told me just one thing—that this is an artsy film. He wanted every frame to be artistic.”

Natchathiram Nagargiradhu opens with a shot of Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss, that shows a couple in love, with their bodies entwined. The woman’s face is visible while the man’s face is buried in her. Klimt’s work is a recurring theme, in fact. In another scene, a wall-painting is of his Water Serpents II that highlights the sensuality of women's bodies and same-sex relationships. “We decided that the film’s visual language would follow Klimt’s aesthetics. We replicated the lighting and colour tone of his work that is known for extensive use of gold. His work too, like our film, speaks about love with great affection,” Jayaragu says.

Why Klimt though? “His use of gold has glimmer and hope, as opposed to other painters like Van Gogh whose subjects are of nature, or Caravaggio whose work is a bit gruesome,” he adds. 

As significant as Klimt is Buddha in this film. Like most of Ranjith’s films that reference Buddha, this film too speaks of Buddhism, adopted by Dalits to escape oppression. The cave paintings of Buddha from Ajanta Caves were an inspiration for the murals created in this film. “They have a tint of gold in them, which makes the colour palette go along with Klimt’s. The wall paintings in the theatre space are meant to speak of breaking the barriers of oppression through love. The walls were old, and I had to make sure that the murals wouldn’t look too new.”

The team shot in the theatre space in Puducherry for about 40 days, a “hard period”, according to Jayaragu. “It is a confined space, and each frame had to be unique. Each wall painting had to be done carefully to communicate a story. I went there first and coordinated with cinematographer Kishor thozhar, to frame important visuals, like the one where Rene leads Arjun (Kalaiyarasan) through a door that has a Buddha painting over-arching it.”

Jayaragu also speaks of how in the scene where Arjun apologises to Rene, the latter sits like Buddha. “This film gave me scope to work on producing such visuals, where dialogues were not needed to convey the story.” He goes on to speak of how the team has employed symbolism in the film. “There is a painting of a cat on one of the doors, which was done by Ranjiith anna himself. The way I see it, dogs are faithful, while cats are on their own, mindless of others. Like the cats in the film, caste is present everywhere, and like them, we have also become mindless of each other.”

Even the choice of which family is on the left and which one’s on the right during the theatre portions, is meant to communicate meaning, he says. “The casteist family is placed on the right. It is a political statement,” Jayaragu explains. Films that allow scope for such symbolism, help bring some attention to the work of art directors, according to him. “In most films, people don’t notice the background, but only in anna’s films do people observe every aspect and look out for signs and symbols. This allows me to play creatively with the sets, and it’s gratifying when people notice and understand,” he signs off.

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