Commercials for the Asian Paints company have the tagline “Har ghar kuch kehta hai.” Every house has a story. This sentiment also applies to the primary location of the web series Gullak.

The SonyLIV show charts the fortunes and misfortunes of the Mishras, a middle-class family comprising government employee Santosh, his wife Shanti, and his sons Annu and Aman. The fifth family member is surely the house itself, with its deeply familiar clutter, furniture as modest as the Mishras, and emotional quality of refuge from life’s unending curveballs.

The TVF production comprises 15 episodes spread over three seasons, the last of which was released on April 7. The opening images of the very first episode from 2019 are not of the characters but of their ground-storeyed residence, which includes a courtyard.

Gullak season 1 (2019). Courtesy TVF/SonyLIV.

Within the walls of this house in an unnamed city somewhere in North India (but actually located in Bhopal), the Mishras worry about their precarious finances, bicker as well as banter and even come to blows before eventually rallying around. The titular piggy bank, which is anthropomorphised through a voiceover by Shivankit Singh Parihar, has a pride of place in the household and the series itself.

Created by Shreyansh Pandey, Gullak has reeled in viewers since its first (and best) season on the strength of strong writing and excellent performances by lead actors Jameel Khan, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vaibhav Raj Gupta and Harsh Mayar. As in other TVF shows, the production design of Gullak is as crucial as the script and characterisation in providing a close approximation of middle-class life.

Gullak season 1 (2019). Courtesy TVF/SonyLIV.

While the first, tone-setting season was handled by Viveka Rachel Banja, Mayur Tripathi took over as production designer for the second and third seasons. Banja was recruited mere days before the shoot commenced in 2019, she told Scroll.in.

Production designers can be called upon to create anything from period to fantasy, but the biggest challenge is to reflect reality, Banja said. “What I love the most is when people walk into a set-up and think it’s real.”

Gullak’s script (the first season was written by Nikhil Vijay) provided the blueprint for Banja’s team. “The script and characters were so beautiful that we could derive a lot from it,” Banja said. “The first time you hear a narration is when the first line on a production designer’s canvas gets drawn. Production designers are the first to go in to create the vision on behalf of the crew. Everything else falls in place after that, so it’s very important to be just right.”

Gullak season 1 (2019). Courtesy TVF/SonyLIV.

In Gullak, the emphasis was on giving the house in Bhopal a lived-in quality, down to the marks left by oiled heads on the wall behind the sofa. “We didn’t want to get in anything fake,” Banja said. The location had to be stripped of its existing furniture and imagined anew – as a ramshackle extension of the crumpled lives of the always harried Mishras.

The detailing includes electronic goods that appear to be as old as the family members, from a clattering washing machine to a cathode-ray tube television. The mud piggy bank was purchased from Mumbai’s Dharavi neighbourhood. Ten piggy banks were used for the first season, Banja said.

The mud piggy banks from season 1 (left) and season 3. Courtesy TVF/SonyLIV.

Most of the props were sourced from Bhopal itself. The design crew’s efforts ranged from piling up books in corners and aging bits of the location to show that it had occupied for years. The original flooring was tiled, which was papered over and given a rough finish to reflect the Mishras’ middle-income status, Banja said.

Among her favourite zones is the Mishra couple’s bedroom, which has a crammed and rough-and-tumble quality. The courtyard, where the Mishras have most of their arguments and agreements, was also a crucial location.

“There were doors connecting all the rooms – the architecture of the original house was pretty nice,” Banja said. “You could see a depth of sorts, with the space beautifully defined.”

When the actors first visited the set, they were “awestruck” and “kept picking up things”, Banja recalled, adding. “Gullak will always, always be a special show for me.”

Mayur Tripathi took over for the second and third seasons. Keen Gullak viewers will notice the subtle changes in the set design. Most of the familiar props are still in place, but the mess has been replaced by a semblance of order. The piggy bank itself is different – it has decorative lines rather than being plain.

Gullak season 2 (2021). Courtesy TVF/SonyLIV.

“I had to change a few things that didn’t fit into my scheme,” Tripathi explained. “For instance, my team and I added a terracotta element to the skirting and pillars to give a different colour tone.”

The bedroom of the Mishra couple is also a bright rather than a barely visible blue, perhaps to reflect a development from the first season in which the family agonises over repairing the house.

Gullak season 3 (2022). Courtesy TVF/SonyLIV.

Among the tweaks was ensuring that the tulsi plant, considered sacred for Hindi families, was taken out of its plastic container from the first season and properly potted. “Also, we cleaned up the house a bit. There could be seepage, but the house didn’t have to be dirty. The walls are almost the same colour, but a bit cleaner. The kitchen too is much neater.”

The third season largely extends the look of the second, Tripathi added. “I keep getting praise for the show,” he said. “There are very few works that you are so proud of. My parents keep waiting for the show and are now asking me when the fourth season will be out.”

Gullak season 3 (2022). Courtesy TVF/SonyLIV.

Tripathi credited his team, including his chief assistant Fagun Parikh, as well as TVF for creating the groundwork for Gullak’s success. “TVF shows are all about observation – they are grounded and rooted in their stories,” he said.

That’s why the piggy bank is made from mud, as the voiceover in Gullak comments – it has sprung from the same soil as the quarrelsome but lovable Mishras, who might remind us of our own families.

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Gullak season 3 (2022).

Also read:

In TVF web series ‘Gullak’, a bickering family, a crumbling house and lots of heart

‘Gullak’ season 2 review: The Mishras are back, but their handlers have changed