Production Posts – Sultan
The much awaited Salman Khan starrer Sultan has finally hit theatres. The story set in Haryana revolves around a wrestler cum Mixed Martial Arts fighter, his love and life. Playing a crucial role in bringing this entire story to life are Production Designer Rajnish Hedao and Editor Rameshwar Bhagat.
While Hedao talks about the experience of creating an enormous set that could be located by Google Maps, Bhagat takes us through the editing styles used in the film and how they worked on a tight schedule to give Sultan an Eid release. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Rajnish Hedao, Production Designer
Take us through the process and experience of designing for a sports based film. What was the brief you received from Director Ali Abbas Zafar?
It’s primarily a love story with wrestling as it’s backdrop. It isn’t a sport based film, but yes, wrestling does play an important part in this story. A village boy, Sultan, falls in love with Aarfa, who is a wrestler and in order to win her love, he decides to become a wrestler. So the first step was to look for places where wrestling is done. In India, Punjab and Haryana are the two major states where it’s played with extreme enthusiasm. We were mainly looking for a complete village, which had nice architectural houses, temples, bazaar et al. The focus was on getting beautiful architecture that would complement our story line. We did a lot of recce but we didn’t get everything in one space i.e. a complete village where we could shoot smoothly over a long period. Also it’s difficult to shoot in real bazaars as nowadays they are overcrowded, not just with people but also advertisements and hoardings.
In the film we are showing the growth of the characters across a span of about eight years i.e. almost a decade. Hence we certainly had to show a ‘now and then’ condition. The periodic change is very important from the script point of view. Also when you have a star as big as Salman Khan, isolation and security are big concerns. Thus we concluded that we’d build the whole set in Film City, Mumbai. 90% of the film is shot here.
The name of the village is Baroli and it’s supposed to be in Haryana. It was an enormous set that we built in 3 months. We made a table model first and then went through it from various camera angles to see whether it was perfect for our requirements. It had to be an authentic village with multiple roads, corners and all the other spaces so that it didn’t look repetitive onscreen, and we could shoot various scenes in one setup. The final set up included everything from the character’s homes and akhadaas to a mosque, temple, havelis et al. Nearly 300 workers worked everyday for 70 days to make the gigantic set. We used all types of paints, textures, colours and technicalities to make it as real as possible.
This time I have used a lot of real greenery which I think is the USP of the set. And it also sets it apart from all the other sets made till now. People definitely make big sets and there is nothing new about it. But nobody takes the ‘nature’ part of it seriously. This time I was adamant on making it as green and as real as possible. We actually got permission from the forest department and brought trees (obviously the dead ones) and planted it in the courtyard a month before the shoot started. We sourced it from different nurseries in and around Mumbai. That is the extent to which we went to make everything real, authentic and natural. Additionally, we used to lay grains beside these plantations to call in the birds and followed this practice religiously for almost a month. Eventually the birds started coming in.
Were there any real locations that you’ll shot in?
We majorly shot in Mumbai’s self-made setup. But we did shoot some portions, mainly the songs, in Punjab as it is difficult to shoot in Haryana. We worked a lot on the ‘440 volts’ song, which has a lot of fantasy sequences. The character sits in a real situation and travels to a fantasy land. It was conceptualized by choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant. So we made out-of-the-world kind of props including life-size scare crows that were almost reaching the sky, a small table at a dhaaba that converted into a big English wedding table and so on. So the song becomes an amalgamation of real plus unreal props and locations.
What kind of research and referencing did you do for the film?
We did a lot of referencing for the songs. For example, when we had to play on the fantasy level for ‘440 volts’, we made a normal jeep into a Mad Max: Fury Road film type vehicle. We researched a lot on how to design props. Most importantly, we required maximum amount of research on the sports front. Visually, we had to show a transition from the character playing kushti in a village to competing in an international arena. The whole wrestling set up changes from rural to international competitions. Not only the playing ground but the seating space of the audience, media, players, sponsors, brands, their entry and exit space etc.. So we worked on all those technicalities.
For the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Wrestling Championship and Kushti at the village level, we converted a stadium into various sets. According to the tournament, we would change the setup of a single stadium, the Nagraj stadium, which is in Delhi. The climax scene of the Pro-Take Down wrestling tournament, which has Sultan participating after a gap of eight years, was to be shot in the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi but couldn’t materialize due to permission issues. So we utilised a big studio floor to build a set.
We have used Green Screen and extended the whole setup depending on the tournament that Sultan was playing in the film. This needed a lot of research too. For example, in a real wrestling championship, when the wrestler bounces even once, the game is over. But here you are shooting that single bounce almost 29 times to get the perfect take. Thus you have to change the base 29 times and you need to be prepared for those stunts. And researching for such practical nuances is a must.
How does the color palette change as the story progresses?
The film starts from a small village and travels to a high-end wrestling world championship and comes back to the village at the end. So mainly there were two palette transitions from rustic to beautiful vivid colours during the international tournament sequences and back again to rustic. The transitions weren’t difficult. You start from a dangal in Punjab/ Haryana, take the original mud colour of the ground and move ahead with that. Once you get this main colour right, then it’s easier to weave primary colours around it. I never wanted the film to have monochrome or sepia in its look.
I wanted it to be colorful, but obviously not use all the colours at the same time. So you start from rust, turn it to burgundy and then you slowly move towards bright red at the end. We started from saturated colours and went towards the brighter ones. Also we took references from the colours that are a part of the Olympics, Asian games and such tournaments. You move your palette and merge colours according to your understanding.
What was the most challenging aspect of designing for the film?
When you get the script, the whole story runs before your eyes. And you start building images in your mind. These are images that one has already seen or experienced in life. You can see them coming alive, and later design around this basic idea and make it into a set. In this film, the director wanted innovative ways to show Sultan’s training regimen. Sultan is a man from a small village, so showing him going to the gym, weight lifting or using western ways like the other wrestlers from the cities, would have looked inauthentic. Also there is this transition of his, as a wrestler, which means that the training regimen also changes every time that he goes for different tournaments, trains under different coaches, etc. Showing the same, single regime in the whole film wold have been boring. So we researched new ways of training for this character’s daily regime diary.
We had to shoot different exercises in different locations. We constructed various rooftops for a major kite chase sequence within the Film City set. The sequence shows how far Sultan can run and jump and how energetic he is. We have used the same rooftops in the portions that were shot in Delhi too. We have shown him pulling sugarcane carts in the fields and similarly doing high-octane training in the junkyard. In Delhi, we also shot Sultan practicing in a place call Agrasen ki Baoli, where we made a makeshift gym. Visually it’s very interesting and stands out. When we were doing a recce in UP, we came across a jaggery making setup where we saw this big furnace where a man was churning sugarcane juice to make it into jaggery. And he keeps churning the juice continuously using a big, strong, heavy ladle. And we instantly liked it. We got it made as part of the setup of Sultan’s house. Sultan stirring the juice and making jaggery eventually became an architectural character of his house. And yes we all enjoyed eating fresh jaggery on the set!
Rameshwar Bhagat, Editor
What is the typical process you follow when you sit to edit a scene?
First, the scenes are assembled through a sorting and syncing process, with OK takes and shooting comments marked by the director. Frankly I don’t think much about the editing when I first watch the rushes. Keeping the script at the back of my mind, I look for the strongest, most true performances and stay open to what grips me. Every scene has an internal rhythm and a story in itself. All the shots of the scenes have to be put together in such a way that they convey the story in a limited amount of time and benefit the whole film, when all the scenes come together.
Which is your preferred software to edit films? Was Sultan edited on the same?
I have been editing on Avid Media Composer from the time I started my career. I find it to be stable, especially while editing feature films, since they have longer timelines. It is an editor-friendly software designed by keeping the editor’s way of working in mind. Sultan was also edited on the Avid Media Composer Version 8.
What were the challenges you faced while editing this film?
I would say one of the challenges on this film was to achieve the deadline of the film’s Eid release. Sultan is the fourth film in my filmography, which has been executed within an extremely tight schedule. Six months of edit time is too less for such a big scale film which has so many action sequences.
While on the edit table, what was the core objective you had in mind for this film?
After I got the narration from Director Ali Abbas Zafar, we decided that we should edit the action sequences in such a way that they look more raw and real, hence avoiding high speed shots in the edit was considered. The biggest challenge was to edit the action sequences which were shot with a multiple camera setup with a total footage of 8 to 10 hours for each action sequence. In all, we had four major action sequences, which had 90% Visual Effects and hence had to be edited first so that the VFX could be executed and deadlines could be met. So we decided to edit them as they were shot and scheduled the shoot right at the beginning.
Also setting up the edit machines and putting up my edit team in a hotel close to ND studios, was the only solution. Editing Indian and free style wrestling in a way that it looks interesting and gripping was the toughest and most time consuming part.
How long did it take to edit Sultan? Can you talk about the assistants/ team that work under you?
On this film I had a great team working non-stop for six months on the editing side.
My 1st Assistant editor Raghavendra managed the entire film’s rushes and me! He created assemblies and did the lineup. Ejaz Gulam Shaikh was my associate editor on the action sequences during the shoot. Another helping hand was film editor Ritesh Soni who even edited a few songs. Without them it would have been impossible to meet this deadline.