Production Posts: Main aur Charles
Candid conversations with Costume Designer, Salim Asgar Ali, Production Designer, Jitendra Kava and Cinematographer, Anuj Dhawan on the making of Main aur Charles.
Being a film based in the 1970s, you would have had to pay close attention to the clothing of that era. What did your research constitute of? What were your references?
Well, we had to go through a whole lot of material from the 1970s going upto the 1990s, because that’s the span of the film. It kind of outlines his journey from the 70s to the 90s through various cities which include Delhi, Bangkok, Mumbai and his background where he came from. He had his upbringing in Paris, France plus he was born in China somewhere. You see, he had all these influences working on him. Of course its based on the book and the observations of Pramod Kant, who was the investigating officer at that point of time. We had to go through a whole lot of pictures that had an idea of him in that era when he was arrested. There were many magazines in that era which were very specific in the kind of styling that was involved. There was a magazine called The Illustrated Weekly of India, which is discontinued now but at that point of time it was really popular. So it actually gives you a snapshot of how people dressed in those days. We didn’t want to caricaturize anything. We didn’t want to come up with cliches. We wanted the film to have an actual kind of a feel, the canvas to give a feel of that era without getting into a spoofy kind of an effect.
So, those were the kind of things we looked into. Lots of images and pictures were looked at about the man himself and how people were in those days because make-up styles were different. Hairstyles, clothes: basically the whole body structure was different. In those days, the body structures were different from what they are today. So all these small details culminated into the whole look. From simple things like what kind of ties did they wear, what were the shirt collars like, what were the fabrics used: these were things we had to think about. Even in the suitings we opted for fabrics and textures prevalent in that era, like double knits. We don’t get double knits any longer but in those days those were the materials used so we had to actually go and look for double knits and use them in the film.
The lead in the movie is a criminal and a serial killer. How did that influence the mood of the clothing?
It’s interesting because even though he is a killer and a criminal, he is a man of the world. When you are intelligent and your IQ is much higher than the average, you are a genius. It can go two ways: either you can it the right way or the wrong way and when you take it the wrong way, you could end up as a criminal. But you are still a man of the world. Its not necessary that you start dressing up as a thug, which in common language is what we call a gunda. That is not the image that Charles has. He is a very suave man. He is a very stylish guy. Women can fall for him at any point of time. We had to give him an image which is very classy. We didn’t really look into the fact that how would a criminal dress because we didn’t look at him as a criminal. He did commit crimes but he was a very intelligent man which is why he did what he did and got away with it. He just basically dressed him very stylishly and gave him an edge which comes through somewhere in the film.
What was the brief given to you by the director?
Yes. You know, I don’t do too many movies in the sense I don’t do too many costumes for films very often unless I am on the same wavelength with the director because I am very serious about my work. I enjoy it when the director himself is kind of sensitive to the needs of costume and to the relevance of costumes to a film. Prawaal knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted a canvas that gave you the right colours so that nothing appears out of place and it fits in with the era that we are talking about. There’s nothing that should have been jarring because that was one of his briefs. We maintained a colour palette so when you see the film you’ll see colours like sand, sky blues, greens, browns. We haven’t chosen anything that is overtly strong so that the canvas of the film comes correct.
We also agreed on the same point that we did not want to caricaturize anything so we didn’t use things like polka dots, flashy bow ties etc. This was the brief given to us. And as ofcourse we moved from city to city in the film, the look had to change. So if he’s in Goa, then it was a hippy look that we did. When he was in Bangkok, a more stylish look was done with overcoats and stuffs like that. Coming back to India, in the jail scenes, he wasn’t yet convicted. You don’t have to wear the jail uniform unless you are convicted. You can wear your regular outfits in trial. Prawaal wanted him to look very stylish even in jail so we had done that. His inputs were very important, after all he is the director of the film. We had to follow what he had to say! And I think he has done a brilliant job.
Would you like to share one look which is your favourite from the movie?
I like the look where he is wearing a check suit with a blue tie. And I like that look more so, because it is my dad’s tie! He wore it in the 70s so it really looks real!
Main Aur Charles is a period film. What was the kind of brief given to you by the director?
I have been working with Prawaal since Darna Zaroori Hai. He is always very clear about the visuals of the film. He will mention basic visuals in his script for a production designer to understand the kind of look and feel a film needs. Main Aur Charles is based on the famous 1986 Jail break and hence, Prawaal wanted the film’s visuals to be from the late 70s and 80s period as per the script and also, in various locations.
To a common man, art direction and production design is the same thing. Can you differentiate between the two jobs?
Production Designer is responsible for the overall look and feel of a film. He designs the visuals and styles it to visually tell a story of its own. He creates and develops the overall look, atmosphere and emotion that kind of moves the story. He has a key creative role in film making, working directly with the Director, Director of Photography , Costume Director and Producer.
An art director basically works directly under the supervision of the production designer. Art directors technically develop the design concepts of production designers into practical sets, managing the process and schedule. The Art Department’s administrative aspects are taken care of by the art director. They are the ones responsible for assigning tasks to personnel such as Set Constructor, Setting Department etc.
What is the process of working on the design once you take on a project?
Once I take up a project, my first step is to read the script and make a list of locations. Then I start working on the design, visual references and styling of the film which I eventually propose to the director. After finalising the looks with the director and the team, location scout is done. Once the location has been finalised, I start working on the final designs as per the location and then after that the set is executed as per the film’s schedule. I ensure I am always present/avaialble on set at the time of shooting as there could be last minute stylings required to set the final frame.
How was it to work with the team of Main aur Charles? Share one special memory or incident you shall cherish!
It was a wonderful experience and I had great fun working with the team of Main Aur Charles. For me, the entire film making of Main Aur Charles was special!
Main aur Charles is a period film set in the 70s. What were the artistic choices and requirements that were imposed by your Director on you to do justice to the era?
We had discussed the styling of the characters, the hair, the costume and the whole colour palette which is very pastel through out the film was one of the major things. But technically speaking, we used Cooke S5i because I feel it had a softer look which helped create that era because we didn’t want a sharper image. We had a very soft looking image with pastel colours and the kind of styling we did with Randeep and the cast came along. And of course, art direction and production design was done by Jeetu (Jitendra Kava) and he had done a wonderful job. The way the shot was timed, there wasn’t too much movement. The way we lit the scenes was realistic yet stylish.
What kind of camera did you use for the film? What was your camera set up like?
We were using Red Epic with Cooke S5i lenses. Since we had already decided there wasn’t much movement in the shots, we didn’t need a lot in grip section. Even if the camera moved there was a very strong motivation for it to move otherwise it was pretty much static. I used Red Epic because I liked the image it gave me and the contrast image I was playing with. It was a little more edgy and I really liked the way it was behaving to my lighting schemes.
The movie has been shot in various places and projects a serial criminal. How did you decide on the lighting?
There are different aspects of Charles in the film. We would decide on a lighting scheme depending on what we were shooting at that point of time. There were a couple scenes were we had to switch lights off and on so that you would see his silhouette. So, lighting really helped and uplifted the whole movie especially when we were shooting over dramatic scenes with Charles.
Tell us something about your team.
I was not working with a big team. I had my gaffer, John and my focus Puller, R.M. Rajan. We were actually just the three of us working throughout the film because the set ups weren’t very huge. When you are shooting a period cinema, the basic limitation is that you cannot go wider with lensing very easily because the moment you do that, you are in today’s gauge. You have to be very restrictive towards your composition so that you don’t show more than what is supposed to be shown.
How was it like working with Prawal?
He is a lovely guy. We recently shot another film together in London. So he is more of a friend to me than a director to work with. He totally understands what I am thinking. He had certain images in mind which he wanted me to replicate which I thought were apt for the film. Also, he’s totally open to new ideas.
– Shivangi Lahoty