“They are unreal but real,” said Rajat Poddar, the production designer of Jagga Jasoos about the sets and props used in Anurag Basu’s July 14 release.
This is not the first time that one has heard the Ranbir Kapoor-Katrina Kaif starrer being described in this way. Actor Saswata Chatterjee, who stars in the film, had used the words surreal and real in the same sentence while talking about the visuals, separated by the word “but” again.
What does this really mean? “See, we have not actually created anything that is not real,” said Poddar, who collaborated with his brother Raja on the movie. “But the unreality of it all is felt through the many situations in the film. In real life, you may not venture into a clock tower every now and then. You may go inside a luggage compartment but what if there is a cheetah in it? These are fictitious situations which are very aspirational in nature. Most of us would want to be in these situations.”
Kapoor plays the titular detective who hunts for his mentor and father figure Bagchi, played by Chatterjee. Jagga is accompanied by Katrina Kaif’s character Shruti, and their adventures take them on a madcap adventure across several countries and wondrous landscapes. A part of the movie’s dreamy nature can be attributed to the fact that the film is co-produced by Disney India, Poddar said.
“A lot of the ideas for the visuals and the set design also came from the story itself,” he said. “The film contains some really strange premises. A clock tower is one, and then there are these really strange boats, animals... All sorts of things. The base word or the root word in my mind while designing was romance. The story compels you to create beauty and romance in every frame. Even in the weirdest of situations, we felt it should also be nice, beautiful and romantic.”
Poddar, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts from Khairagarh University in Jabalpur has designed several Hindi films, including Saaya (2003), Aashiqui 2 (2013), Grand Masti (2013) and Gunday (2014). His association with Anurag Basu dates back to the 1990s, when both of them were working in the television industry. Poddar worked on Basu’s Life in a Metro (2007) and Kites (2010), but it was the comedy Barfi! (2012) that garnered acclaim for its quirky design.
“Anurag and I have been working for a very long time with each other,” Poddar said. “I always try to catch up with him because he is someone who has new ideas every minute of the day. I now know his likes and dislikes, the colours he likes. So based on that, I manipulate and make designs according to that.”
Based on the trailer and the song videos, Jagga Jasoos is already being compared to a Wes Anderson movie by the way of Herge’s Tintin comics. In an interview to India Today, Basu said that the similarity between Kapoor’s look – especially the upright tuft of hair – is a pure coincidence.
“We are talking about the Tintin comparison now, after the film, but it wasn’t given to us as a reference for Ranbir’s look,” Poddar said. “Maybe it was in Basu’s mind in terms of the genre of filmmaking that he wanted to attempt. But the comic book wasn’t a part of our approach from the design point of view except that perhaps, the colour palettes of the comic books we studied were somewhere stuck in our minds.”
While the Herge comics were among the books consulted, the production design team also studied Italian films that had textures similar to what Basu wanted. “But all of these were vague ideas that helped us do our own thing,” Poddar said. “The overall look is based on our real life experiences. Ranbir’s character, since his childhood, keeps twirling a part of his hair while being engrossed in something. It’s one of those funny quirks. That’s how the hairdo came to be.”
In his interview to Scroll.in, cinematographer Ravi Varman had also brought up the films of Wes Anderson as a reference. “I like Wes Anderson’s films, and that kind of old-world look has never been attempted in Indian cinema,” Varman had said. “I wanted to try that kind of look in India and make it relevant to our culture and skin tone.”
Anderson’s highly controlled quirky aesthetic has also served as a reference point for Jagga Jasoos, but only to an extent. “In terms of a scheme be it lighting or set design, we haven’t followed anything in particular,” Poddar said. “It is the overall feel that is inspired from a range of references. You absorb that and like I said, you do your own thing.”
Production on Jagga Jasoos was stretched over four years and across multiple locations, which greatly increased Poddar’s responsibility. “The story is vast both in terms of the time span covered as well as geographical locations,” Poddar explained. “We first did the Africa schedule, then Thailand, Darjeeling and then Mumbai. Most of the film is shot in Mumbai. Generally, we’d go to a location, say Africa and then come back to Mumbai and complete the Africa stuff here.”
Basu’s well-known tendency for on-set improvisation created many inspired moments. “People are usually scared of last-minute changes on their sets, but Anurag is the opposite,” Poddar said. “Generally the changes he recommends result in an upliftment of the overall product.”
For any project, Poddar and his brother Raja collaborate on the conceptualisation. “Once we get the director’s brief, we come up with a basic production design,” he explained. “That is then passed on to the rest of the team, which comprises a whole range of people from mural artists to those who gather references.”
Yet, no amount of planning can account for the fleetness required on the sets. “A film like Jagga Jasoos was full of crazy events even off camera,” Poddar said. “There was a sequence in which the actors sit on ostriches. Now, sitting on real birds is impossible if you are familiar with their shifty nature. So we made ostriches. We brought three bags of ostrich feathers from Africa and created contraptions out of iron and wire mesh. When we’d carry these things around, everyone would look bewildered. The sets of Jagga Jasoos had all kinds of things moving around.”
Poddar’s other recent credits include Munna Michael, the dance-themed movie starring Tiger Shroff and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. “I’m working on a television production on Star TV which is on the lines of Baahubali, and has written by the writer of the franchise,” he said. “It has been such a fabulous experience to recreate a bygone era. Simultaneously, I got a chance to work on a modern musical like Munna Michael. Filmmaking is not monotonous anymore.”