War Chhod Na Yaar is a Stellar Production: Angelica Monica Bhowmick
“Having an army background myself, there was an inherent understanding of what the look should be like. However, in case of doubt, time and again, I would make urgent calls to my father,” says Angelica Monica Bhowmick, an award-winning and internationally known production designer, while talking about the making of film, War Chhod Na Yaar. In an exclusive interview with Pandolin, she opens up about her childhood, her passion for painting and art, her working experience on various Indian and foreign films and the challenges faced while shooting in Bikaner for her recently released project.
Lets start with your childhood and educational background. Where did you grow up and study? When and how did you enter into art direction?
As my father says, I went to about 21 schools but “studied” in none. I am a fauji kid and thus got a chance to travel all over the countryside with my parents. For me, school years were more about living in the outskirts of remote townships, often on the Indo Pak border, traveling on an average 30km to school in an army truck, watching loads of Pakistan TV and going out for night safaris with my father. In general, I was quite the spoilt brat being taken care of by all the fauji bhaiyas when parents were otherwise occupied. Being an ammunition man, my father’s profession demanded that we almost always lived away from the towns and cities.
By the time, I stepped into college, life changed rapidly. As a child, I was always inclined towards painting but later realized that one could even be formally trained in painting, sculpture etc. So I went on to do my Bachelors in Painting followed by Masters in Filmmaking from the Mass Communication and Research Centre in Jamia Millia Islamia.
How and when did you come on board for this project and what are the things that you really liked about the script of War Chhod Na Yaar?
Faraz has been a friend since 2006 and I remember one of the first serious readings of the script happened at my place over a khichddi lunch back in 2010. Since then I have been a witness to the various stages of development of the script. One of the reasons that I really wanted to be on this film was that I was impressed with the kind of maturity and patience I saw in Faraz. Having known him for such a long time and having watched him struggle, I had developed a deep respect for him. And it is imperative to respect the director and have confidence in him if one is to work on the project. On a lighter note, what gets me cracked up even today is a sequence in the film that involves a goat. When you see it, you will know- it’s a real scream.
What was the overall look and setup of the film envisioned by the director Faraz Haider and how did you both plan to achieve it?
Faraz was very clear from the word go about how he saw the film in his head. He wanted a completely realistic film and precisely knew his shots and angles. Beyond that he left it to me and my team to take forward his vision. We had series of discussions on several issues like how far one post could be from the other, how the formation of the tents would be, what would be our prime sources of light since a major portion of the film has been shot at night. Once the director gave us parameters to function within, he never tried to curb or control our concepts and designs. In that sense, we functioned like a team in the true sense of the word.
What kind of research went into creating the sets and arranging props for the film? Did you face any major problem while sourcing the weapons and defense equipment for this war comedy?
Comedy is actually serious business, particularly when you are dealing with the army and trying to drive home a point. Having an army background myself, there was an inherent understanding of what the look should be like. In case of doubt, time and again we would find ourselves making urgent calls to my father asking him, how deep a trench should be, what kind of training do our troops undergo or how far the bunkers can be etc. As far as the weapons are concerned, we researched extensively on what kind of rifles, guns, bombs etc., the Indian Army uses. Some of these, we sourced and some we simply built. In that sense, the prop workshop would at times look like an ammunition dump of sorts. We had land mines, grenades, rocket bombs and many such things lying about the place.
What was the kind of locations you were looking at and where did the shooting happen finally? How much portion of the film has been shot in real areas and what were their challenges?
At the very outset, it was decided that we wanted to shoot in the dunes so naturally we were looking for places in Rajasthan. For logistical convenience and connectivity we needed to be close to either a railhead or an airport. Jaisalmer was the first choice but it seemed too remote to risk shooting a full film. After a bit of struggle, our location team managed to come up with this location in Bikaner and we shot 90% of the film there.
Location shoots of such a nature are full of challenges and come with a great sense of adventure to say the least. On location our greatest challenge was dealing with the heat, scorching sun overhead, hot sand in ours shoes no matter what kind of boots we wore. More than once, we would arrive on location to find that the trenches had filled in, the bunkers has collapsed, the tents were torn to smithereens and all our props could be found lying around anywhere within a radius of two kilometers. The sand storms there were constantly testing the weather resistance of our sets and props. But hats off to the construction boys, as each and every time they just got the set back in order and the team would be ready to roll as per schedule.
You have worked on various Indian and international projects ranging from documentaries to corporate films. What do you enjoy the most and why? Also, have you felt any difference in the working style of Indian and foreign teams?
Well, there are two sides to every coin. When I work with international crew, what strikes me the most is their sense of professionalism, eye for detail, emphasis on research plus documentation and a work culture that is very conducive to creativity. In that, German, Canadian, British and American crew score high. Also, it is always refreshing to understand the aesthetics that these people come up with. The French and the crews from the Orient tend to redefine design in a very interesting and engaging manner. There is also this odd occasion when foreign crews come to India looking for the “mystical and spiritual” feel and get easily excited by the snake charmers and slum dwellers. It seems like they are on a constant look out for the “Maharaja on his elephant”. Much convincing and debating follows thereafter and scripts are revised to a large extent to present contemporary India in a more appropriate manner.
Indian crews on the other hand are best dealt with, at an emotional level. Once the director stands convinced that the project in hand is as much his baby as yours, it is easy to take forward the designs and fabrication. The director, the cinematographer and the production designer, held in unison by the producer, carry forth the film on their shoulders. Once these three are on the same plane, a stellar production is ensured, as was the case with War Chhod Na Yaar.
For your film Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, you received Filmfare award for the Best Art Direction in 2009. How did it feel like when you got nominated against the established production designer Nitin Desai and ultimately went on to win?
It was a great honor indeed! Jodhaa Akbar was a big film and Nitin Desai, by way of sheer seniority is a name to reckon with. Incidentally during the premier of Mangal Pandey someone had introduced me to Nitin Desai saying he could consider hiring me to do props for Jodhaa Akbar. I never got around to following up on the meeting but on the day of the award ceremony, I found myself thinking how things can take an unexpected turn.
Can you please share any memorable experience from the past when you worked with directors like Dibakar Banerjee and Imtiaz Ali? How was your association with both of them?
They are both directors, I would like to collaborate with again. Imtiaz Ali is a complete gentleman and has a deep understanding of human nature. He is very easy to communicate with and one finds him placing a lot of trust in his crew members. Dibakar Banerjee, in my opinion, is one of the sharpest directors in the industry today. Having done two films with him and also having known him as a person, I would say, he in a way has redefined contemporary Indian mainstream cinema and paved the way for many filmmakers to come.
I was associated with the script Oye Lucky Lucky Oye since 2005 and even before the screenplay had begun we had been researching the story. He actually made sure that every court proceeding of Bunty that was happening in Delhi was reported to him. We actually spent our days with the Delhi Police and in Patiala house, researching on Bunty. Happily, in the end it all paid off.
Being an artist, what is the most inspiring aspect of your life that motivates you and keeps you passionate about your work and craft?
The desire to do something new or to undertake what has been done several times earlier but to transform it completely and do it like its never been done before, keeps me going and passionate about my art.
Right After War Chhod Na Yaar, I worked on a film called “The Bastard Child” i.e. a very dark, political and historical film. It is currently in postproduction and we are expecting its release sometime in November. Apart from that, there are projects in the pipeline post Diwali. Lets see how it goes.