In The Path Of Zarathustra production design isn’t just a prop
Architect Pooja Shetty, whose first Hindi film as a Production Designer was Ship Of Theseus, tell us how she went about re-creating the Parsi world and life for The Path Of Zarathustra.
How did you get involved with The Path of Zarathustra?
Oorvazi (Irani, Director) had watched Ship of Theseus and liked it, so she got in touch with me. I went to meet her at her office and liked the people there, they were really committed and passionate about the film. They wanted to make it and get it out there. Also, it is a community driven and a very personal film, so I said ‘yes’. Most film people don’t care about aesthetics and designs. Production design is considered a prop and mundane thing for a film. But Oorvazi and her team were more committed in that sense and wanted more in regards to design, just like Ship Of Theseus.
What was the brief given by Director Oorvazi Irani with regards to the production design of the film?
Oorvazi gave me a lot of freedom. She wanted the visuals to be as real and authentic to the Parsi lifestyle. So we went through an insane amount of books and photographs for research. Luckily, most people on the film were Parsis. We had access to clubs and agiyaris. That made it easy for me to understand the Parsi world and recreate it. A lot of people came forth to help us make the film.
Can you tell us about the location recce and where the film is shot?
Most of the locations are through Oorvazi’s network. All the locations in the film are real Parsi places, mostly. Often the food on the set was Parsi too. So, it was a great slice of Parsi life. We shot at two agiaries in Mumbai, a fire temple and ashram in Vasai, Ripon Club, Chor Bazaar, outskirts of Mumbai and hinterlands of Maharashtra. For our montage shots we visited a lot of Parsi homes. I got to go to places I would never have been able to visit otherwise, especially the agiaries.
As they are all real locations we had to work our ideas around them. We went to the places and checked what is available – lighting, production, etc. and made sure that they weren’t jarringly different from each other. Otherwise, we had to bind it to give the same feel. Then we put down design ideas, colours, materials, props, costumes and found the right people (painters etc.) to collaborate with for it.
Did you have a colour palette for the production design of the film?
It depends from film to film because everyone has different styles and aesthetics, ways of composing and framing scenes. It depends upon the cinematographer, the way they shoot – stop block or handheld. It is always good to create a colour palette and design your film around it. With The Path Of Zarathustra we wanted purity so we stuck mostly to whites, off whites and an earthy colour palette. Many Parsi homes have a strong yesteryear character and wooden furniture which goes well with earthy colors. Even the props we used were handed down. We wanted it to be as real as possible.
Where did you source props for the film?
Parsi homes are normally cluttered but some places didn’t have too many things, so we had to bring in a lot more and prop it up. We mostly borrowed stuff from people. For one of the scenes we had to create a fire in an agiyari in a cave so we got a fire bowl made for it. So, it was a mix of things.
What was the most challenging aspect about this project?
There was no such challenge, but when you are shooting on real locations there are limitations. We couldn’t move a lot of things and had to make sure we didn’t damage the real locations. We had to be respectful of the space and owners. I remember a particular scene when we wanted the lights really low in the agiyari as we wanted the source of light in the same frame but such things were tricky.
Which is your favourite scene in the film?
I liked the outdoor location shots and montage shots. One of the places belonged to an old lady, who was so sweet that she brought all her antiques out and we used it to design her space for the scene. I enjoyed shooting where people were so intimate. Then, there was this lovely ashram, small cottage and a fire temple in Vasai that belonged to an old Parsi gentleman. During the recce we decided to shoot there for Tom Alter’s death ceremony sequence. We also found a hill with a stark tree over there. I think that is also a very beautiful shot. And in that scene instead of a four-wheel cart we used the traditional two-wheel cart to carry Tom Alter’s dead body to the top of the hill. Oorvazi had to pull the cart to the hilltop, which was an unsteady path. It was an intense scene but it was cumbersome and funny as the cart would constantly wobble on the way up. So, a lot of behind the scenes moments are my favourite memories.
What are you forthcoming projects?
My next film Tumbad is again with Anand Gandhi. I am not actively looking for movie projects, I only do films that excite me. I am an architect by profession and have a lot of personal projects which leaves me with little time for movies.