Production Posts – Rustom
Set in an era of the 1950’s, Rustom, Tinu Suresh Desai’s next that is based on true events, juxtaposes a controversial yet heart-touching story with a shining scale of period drama.
Unveiling the do’s and innumerable ‘to be done’s’ behind this passionate venture, writer Vipul Rawal, cinematographer Santosh Thundiyil and costume designer Ameira Punvani, talk to Pandolin about their journey off and on set.
A lot of research goes into writing a period film. What was the process you followed to get the nuances of the story and each character right; especially culturally? Did your being an ex-navy officer help?
Research is paramount for writing any good film, however I had no fixed process except the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years by reading, traveling and observing people. Off course, since this is the story of a Navy Officer, and also the fact that I am ex-Navy enabled me to create Rustom’s character and its nuances easily.
Was the process of writing difficult since you had to match your vision with the director’s? Were there any alterations that happened after the director came on board?
Not at all, because when I first met the director, I already had the fourth draft of the complete screenplay ready. I had developed it over the years on my own.
Having an actor in mind before you start scripting is the sign of a weak and amateur writer
Did you always have the actors in mind when you were writing the screenplay? What determined your choice of actors?
Never. In fact I believe that having an actor in mind before you start scripting is the sign of a weak and amateur writer. The actor’s casting should always be according to the character that has been written. I have always followed this principle.
In a film that is based on real incidents, what is the kind of freedom that a writer has, to make changes/ steer away from the original events?
That totally depends upon the research, the data available and most importantly who the copyright of the material rests with.
People are really appreciating the visual feel of the film. How does the camera and framing contribute to the period aspect of it? What was your approach to framing in this film?
Framing is a very important aspect of filming. Each frame has to be in-sync with the story you want to say and has to add to the situations and characters. Over the years, as you work in the industry, you understand how much it affects the overall output. With Rustom, it was easier because the director knew exactly what he wanted.
What were the kind of lenses and equipment that were chosen for the film?
These days, I try to use the most minimum equipment. If there is no camera and I have to shoot without it, even better (laughs). Coming back to reality, we shot on the RED ALEXA with not too much of equipment or lenses.
90 percent of the shots were pre-decided, so it was easy to execute even without a storyboard
How important is storyboarding in shooting a film like this? Did you stick to the storyboard?
Very little of the film was storyboarded actually. Except a few action sequences, everything was impromptu. In fact, the concept of storyboarding complete films is rare. When you work with experienced technicians, and explain to them what is it that you exactly want, it is not very difficult to get the shots you want. In Rustom’s case, 90 percent of the shots were pre-decided, so it was easy to execute the film even without a storyboard.
How was the preparation and technique different in terms of grading, framing etc. concerning the different portions of the film?
The entire craft revolves around communicating the characters and situations. To give an instance, the lighting and angles for Esha (Gupta)’s frames are very different from say for example, the courtroom scenes. All the portions on the warships, in their house etc., all of them had their own specifications and were chosen to complement the situation.
Who all have you designed for in the film?
I have designed for each and every person. From Akshay Kumar to Illeana D’Cruz, Arjan Bajwa and Esha Gupta. Even the extras who were never visible (smiles).
How did this film come about? Were there any apprehensions considering it was a period film?
I had worked with Tinu (Suresh Desai, director) before on a couple of commercials. Earlier on in my career I had a film with Mani Ratnam called Guru. That was a drama that was spread across four decades, and the experience helped me a lot in this film. So when I met Tinu after reading the script, since he absolutely refused to have a discussion before I read it (laughs), he gave me a couple of days to ideate and throw some suggestions to him. So I took on that challenge and most of the references that I had shared with him were the same as what he had in mind. We clicked there and then, and I took on the project.
What was your brief for the different characters? How varied was it for each of them?
The only single brief that binded me was that the costumes had to be character-driven. So the film is set in 1950’s and in those days, there used to be norms about how you dress. So if you went to a club it was different as compared to a party in the evening.
For Akshay’s character the brief was that he is a Naval officer who is a thorough gentleman, so it was imperative that he follow the norm. For Illeana, the idea was to put her into costumes that make her look demure and elegant. Illeana somehow has that body and an almost old-world charm about her, which made it easier to design for her. The colour palette I used, keeping this in mind, were all pastel colours.
Esha’s character comes from an extremely rich background. So her palette was jewel-toned. Every fabric that was put on her, every piece of jewellery she wore, every cut and style put onto her had an ‘oomph’ about it. And it was great that she could carry it all with so much ease and glamour. Apart from that, even characters like the Jury in the film, had a very specific look and it was very important to put it through in the exact same way that it was done back then.
The only single brief that binded me was that the costumes had to be character-driven
What is the kind of research that goes into a film like this?
The kind of research that went into a film like this was massive. And my favorite way of research is on- ground in-depth research. I believe in actually going and meeting people. So I actually barged in on a few Parsi families that I know of. There is this uncle who I knew and I absolutely barged into his life, his past and so on. Of course photographs and articles of that time were really helpful. But that helped me a lot, since the paperwork was really strong, and that in turn made the shoot a cakewalk.
What is your biggest takeaway from the film?
When you are working with a star like Akshay Kumar, the takeaway has to be discipline. Apart from that, working with Tinu was a very pleasant experience. He was always there. I could call him for the smallest things, like the broach on Esha Gupta’s costumes, or the gloves for Illeana, at the oddest hours and he wouldn’t say no. You could see that he is giving his hundred percent, and that sort of made it imperative and important that you put in your best too.