Rajjo is a fictional name of a real story: Muneesh Sappel
“Whenever you utter a word kotha, people relate it to Lucknow, Banaras, Calcutta or Lahore. But here, we were telling a tale of Kotha, set in the modern times of Mumbai. Its not like, what we have seen in the earlier films such as Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan,” tells Production designer Muneesh Sappel while talking about the making of his recently released film Rajjo. In an elaborate conversation with Pandolin, this versatile art genius explains to us about the sets he designed for Rajjo, working with director Vishwas Patil and his upcoming film projects.
The writer-director of Rajjo i.e. Vishwas Patil is a well-known name in the literature world. The kind of work he has done has definitely made him an established fine artist. So, whatever he writes, he sees the visual of it at the same time. This film is a story of a girl named Rajjo, which can be a fictional name but almost everything that is shown in the film is real. Now since he wrote something that is quite close to reality, he wanted everything to be as real as possible. Whether it’s the kotha or the lanes or the social setup around it, we have tried to give a realistic look to the overall environment.
The Nagpada, which is the main area where this kotha is happening, is a real place in Mumbai. People who have seen these areas would identify the same things in the film too. We have not replicated or copied Nagpada but have just represented the kind of environment and architecture, which exists there so that our film looks realistic in terms of the whole setup.
So, the director’s brief was that everything should look real because only then the audience will get attached to the story or relate to its characters. However, as a production designer one has to take care of so many other details too because it’s cinema after all. One has to provide facilities for the director, the actors, the cinematographer and the lighting department. And at the same time, the overall feel should be quite real. So, this is what we tried to achieve in terms of the look by stylizing the sets yet keeping the real essence of the places.
What sort of research and preparation went into the designing of the Kothas for this film?
We have taken most of our references from real locations, which exist in Mumbai even today. We met the people there, saw their houses and witnessed their lives. We met their children, their families and observed what happens at night when that lane turns into a magical street. We all went through this research process along with the direction and the camera team so that all get acquainted with their world and understand how to recreate it.
Director, Vishwas Patil once stayed there for a day and recorded all the activities and brought us hundreds of photographs. I would say, it’s solely because of his passion and support that we could do, whatever we needed to. Besides, we were lucky to have Binod Pradhan as our cinematographer. The entire world knows, how fantastic he is and his camera speaks.
What was the kind of references you worked with?
Whenever you utter a word kotha, people relate it to Lucknow, Banaras, Calcutta or Lahore. But here, we were telling a tale of Kotha, set in the modern times of Mumbai. So, that makes a lot of difference, because its not the kotha, which we have seen in the earlier films like Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan. Those films were on different lines but the essence is the same. That’s why we researched on the Kothas of old cities.
Being from Lucknow myself, I have seen those beautiful lanes of Lucknow and Banaras and have been to Calcutta too. For Lahore references, I went through a lot of books and old pictures, which depicted the Lahore kothas. So, we did our little research on these things and since our film is set in Mumbai, we also got into the history of Mumbai kothas and the life of nautch girls in this city.
How much portion of the film has been shot on sets and real locations? Where did the shooting happen and how many days did it take to complete the film?
Almost everything that you see in the film was shot on set, except few portions that were shot on real locations. We shot mostly in Mumbai and the outskirts of Mumbai near Panvel. We took around six months to complete this film but we didn’t shoot it in one stretch.
He is an old friend and I know him since 1990 when I was doing Chanakya, the TV series and he was the director of Film city. It was fun working with him, because whatever I wanted to do, I could do in this film. Also Binod ji knows him since many years as he used to assist him in some of his projects. So, we all were quite comfortable with each other. As a director, he has got passion and his own style, he knows how to say lines and tell a story.
What were the kind of challenges you faced during the shoot?
Challenges begin as soon as you get a new script. In this film, the major challenge turned up from the very fact that you have a story of a kotha, which is not a lavish Lucknow kotha where Rekha ji is dancing. It’s a Mumbai Kotha and all the action is happening in a 10×10 room, where people are sitting and dancing in that little space. It was not easy to design and shoot because when you do a realistic kind of film, there’s always a possibility of going overboard, when things start to seem flat. In this type of circumstances, you always get into discussions with your team, especially the cinematographer and the choreographer. Because, they would then design their respective lighting and dance sequences according to the space restrictions.
I enjoyed working on most of my films and can watch them again and again. I am a painter so I paint all my films and choose to do only one project at a time. I love all my film sets, whether it’s Pinjar or Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, but the desert set shown in the film Paheli was very interesting to create. In fact, many people don’t even know that it was actually a set and not a real desert.
Brief us about your upcoming film projects and the directors you are working with?
Recently, I completed a film titled Sher, which is set in Porbandar, Gujarat and based on the life of Sarman Munja Jadeja. He was the famous don of Porbandar and people used to call him the Robinhood of Gujarat in the 1970s. Santokben was his wife and a film titled Godmother has already been made on her life. But in Sher, we are talking about the real don. The director of this film is Sohum Shah and the main lead includes Sanjay Dutt and Vivek Oberoi. Also, I am working on a film titled Jis Lahore Nahin Dekhya, based on the partition and adapted from a play. Rajkumar Santoshi is directing it and we are in the pre-production stage.