Declassifying Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 2
Perfecting Guerrilla Intentions: Wasiq Khan on getting Gangs of Wasseypur off its feet
What is production design? How significant is it to the making of films? Are production designers an integral part of the process of filmmaking? How is it to design the production of a film that is trying to make it new? How do production designers contribute to the creation of new cinematic language? What is their role between the director and the cinematographer? Are they intermediaries that facilitate the process of production or do they take important decisions even as they manage communication in a team? We spoke to production designer, Wasiq Khan, whose dedication, precision and excellent coordination with all the other pillars of production recently led to Gangs of Wasseypur turning Indian cinema on its head. In the hindsight, it would be fair to say that Wasseypur’s success can fairly be attributed to Wasiq’s acumen and rigourous application. Here’s an interactive account in which he bares how he managed this superlative guerrilla venture in Indian filmmaking.
What was your role as a production designer in Gangs of Wasseypur? How difficult was it and why?
As a production designer you need to know the director well as a script changes with its director. As I have done all of Anurag and Rajeev’s films, communicating with them is easy. When Anurag gives me a script or delivers a narration, I know what he means. If you understand your director’s taste, you understand it all. Wasseypurwas quite difficult to design because of more than three hundred locations and multiple characters. As a production designer, I had to find and design every location. The time period from the 1940s to the 2000s was important as it spanned a great length of history. As most of the scenes in the Shahid Khan sequences in Part 1 had to be shot at night in a village-like atmosphere, it was tough on Rajeev too. Because of limited budget, we had tube lights and Chinese bulbs as light sources, but that also helped us get a more realistic look. It was a complicated process.
Did you use sets to shoot GOW?
Yes, there were sets, but you couldn’t tell. Faisal Khan’s haveli, which was a ruin before I revamped it into a mansion, was almost a set. Even the village, its burning huts, the train, the hotel room, Shahid Khan’s house, the hospital scene and the climax were similar improvised sets. To evoke a strong sense of realism, we went minimalist with sets. As it was a period film, we paid a lot of attention upon dress.
How much of the film was shot in Mumbai? Which other places did you shoot in?
We shot very little in Mumbai. The train sequence, some parts of the hospital scene and the climax were the only ones that were shot here. Almost everything else was shot around Banaras because we didn’t feel we could shoot in Dhanbad.
Therefore, we had to cheat by using locations in Banaras in ways that didn’t convey that it was Banaras.
How did you manage the material required for the shoot? Did you encounter any problems during the shoot?
Things like phasers, film cleaners, etc. were available in Banaras. We carried most of our stuff from Mumbai though. The major problems in shooting in Banaras were the many hoardings and billboards of mobile phones, sim-card companies, cars, etc. that were there. As neither these things, not their ads were there in most of the historical time that Wasseypur documents, there was a danger that they would stick out unrealistically. No matter where we kept the camera, we had something or the other popping in, interfering with our shoot. To make matters worse, we couldn’t remove them. We, therefore, carried drapes and old films’ posters to cover them. We carefully decided which of these were insignificant and could be let into our frames and what we needed to avoid. Cinematographically, we kept the one we let in, in the distance in our shots so that they merged with the blur in the background, became unclear and went out of focus.
This required foolproof coordination between the technicians, the DOP and the production designer, as we couldn’t pre-plan it. While working on Black Friday, we faced similar problems. Also, the crowds made the lack of time we had tougher to manage.
What were your biggest challenges while shooting Wasseypur?
First of all, we didn’t go for a proper reccee. A film like Wasseypur needs at least two to three months of pre-production time. While we reached our location four to five days before the shoot, Anurag came a mere two days in advance. We searched for more locations as the production went along. If you remember, most of the locations in the film are fleeting. We were constantly on the move discovering new locations, creating new scenes.
Secondly, finding locations that were apt was immensely challenging because they had to look their time and their part. For example, the scene of the local gun making shop is there hardly for a minute. In the next one-minute scene, Manoj Bajpai cannot fire with the exploding, misfiring gun, and growls, “Ye kya banaya hai?” To get this sequence going, we had to find a shop where we could do it. I had to think about its lighting, its realistic props, where the vehicles would be parked, where the vanity vans would be, in short, whether the sequence was feasible for production.
Weren’t there any stable locations in the film?
Hardly, three of four! Faizal Khan’s house was one of them. We found and used our locations guerrilla style, i.e. we kept running around and finding them so that the shoot could proceed from one day to the next.
Are Anurag’s films generally on a tight budget and schedule?
Yes, a lack of time and a lack of funds are usually what we work around.
How did you manage in such tight situations?
If you have your director’s trust, if he is comfortable with whatever you design, and if the communication between the director, the DP and the production designer is immaculate, everything works. Things which otherwise would seem off-line, suddenly seem better than desired when this three-way communication takes place effectively and uses those elements immaculately. For Wasseypur, Anurag, in his fashion, just gave me the script and asked me to take care of it. I knew that Rajeev and Anurag would like what I’d design. Also, as always, my principal coordinator for Wasseypur was the DP, Rajeev Ravi, because once I understood what Anurag wanted, it was Rajeev who had to make it with what I gave him. For filmmaking to flow, it’s important for the director, the DP and the production designer to have intentions and ideas that are in sync.
Technically, a film like Wasseypur cannot be planned on paper as it is a guerrilla film shot on war footing. That’s how Anurag makes his cinema. For No Smoking too, Anurag just gave me the script a few days before the shoot and said, “Design it.” I fussed over how I would design the scenes of the underworld as I had no idea, but eventually just went ahead and designed it my way. For That Girl in Yellow Boots too, Anurag called me two days before the shoot and Rajeev Ravi, a day earlier. The three of us just took it from there and shot Yello Boots in 13 days flat.
How long did you take for filming Gangs of Wasseypur?
Around 120 to 130 days with hardly any break in between.
Which was your most memorable shot in GOW and why?
Technically, my most important shot, one which I knew couldn’t be reshot if things went wrong, was the opening one in the film. It was an extremely long shot of about 8 or 9 minutes in which the attackers get off a car, reach Faisal Khan’s mansion, and attack it with grenades and ammunition. It was a six or seven camera set-up. You couldn’t reshoot it because after taking the blows, the mansion would have suffered damage beyond repair. Also, thirty men firing and blasting a mansion is a very technical and careful deal. Our action director, Shyam Kaushal, and I had to be sure of everything before communicating with our technicians and actors on location how and where to start, which door to blow up first, how to break things, etc. Otherwise, it could have proved a disaster.
Also, whenever a grenade was thrown in the film, someone on the set had to connect the wires so that the explosives went off and produced the effect of a grenade detonating. Excellent coordination was required for that. I had to weed out everything, which could have spoilt or exacerbated the blast sequence. As we had to blow-up a huge, heavy door, I oversaw the process and ensured that proper and appropriate amount of explosives was used. This was an expensive set and had been worked on for fifteen to twenty days. Its pillars, windows, etc. had the required impressions of bomb-blasts and firing. Had we erred, we would’ve had to remake it and no one had such money or time. Therefore, we planned for the opening shot all night, arranged for 130 people, and made sure that we were precise.