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Lingaa Special

Designer Sabu Cyril and Cameraman Randy Speaks about Lingaa


 I Built a Whole Dam For Lingaa - Sabu Cyril


He’s a four-time National Award winner, yet Sabu Cyril is still his easy-going, charming self. His unruffled demeanour, doesn’t reveal he’s recently completed working on a mammoth film like Lingaa, in record time. Being the production designer of Endhiran earlier, this is his second film with Rajnikanth. In a chat with CE, he talks about the special sets of the film, and observing up close, the evergreen magic of the superstar.

“Completing a partly period film of Rajnikanth in just six months, was a high pressure task. But hats off to K S Ravikumar for putting together a hi-tech team and pulling it off! For me, it meant that normally a set that would take a month to execute, I had to complete in 10 days! I had to create a huge dam set and also a pre-independence train, complete with a station, the two key pivot points. I’ve done period films like Hey Ram and currently Baahubali. But Lingaa was completely different and had many firsts for me,” recalls Sabu.

Sabu created a train set for Tees Maar Khan, but Lingaa’s train was a challenge, “It’s a train of the British period which doesn’t exist now. So I had to research a lot and set up a whole train with the help of a mechanical engineer. I also had to create an entire station, in over 20 acres of land outside Ramoji film city in Hyderabad.” Sabu clears apprehensions about Computer Graphics, “People may think everything is CG when they see giant sets on screen. But it’s not so. The physically interactive areas of the actors, have to be real. CG can only extend the set. For instance, we created an entire train. With CG we only added four bogies, to extend it.”

In another career first, Sabu created an entire dam, in 30 acres, “A normal dam is around 150 feet high. I created a dam 50 feet high, running for 300 feet! We made the whole dam around a rainwater catchment area I found during a recce in Hyderabad. We shot the film in reverse order because in the short time, we couldn’t build the dam bit by bit and shoot. So, we shot reverse sequences and dismantled a little every time.”

Sabu has also recreated the interiors of a Palace for Lingaa and for the Mona Gasolina song, he made a ship. Ask him what the title of production designer means and he clarifies, “My task is to recce for set locations and conceptualise the set design. I also have to coordinate the mood, lighting, colors, costumes and shooting time schedules with the cameraman and director.”

Ask him about working with Rajini twice and Sabu recounts, “There’s a magic about Rajini, that’s inexplicable! I’ve learnt how to handle things now, after watching him at work. He remains unruffled despite any pressure and lets things happen. And somehow things fall into place just for him. His energy levels are amazing. Its no wonder that Amitabh Bachchan has called him a phenomenon. He’s so humble and doesn’t have any outward trappings of a superstar of his stature. To be Rajinikanth and be normal is extremely difficult, but he manages to do it so effortlessly. He’s a phenomenon beyond science,” he signs off.



Lingaa through Randy’s lens



Lingaa (releasing December 12) is probably the shortest schedule in Rathnavelu’s career. As someone who has worked with directors (in)famous for protracted shoots such as Bala (Sethu and Nandha), Gautham Vasudev Menon (Vaaranam Aayiram) and Shankar (Enthiran), he says Lingaa was a short but stressful affair. The filming was wrapped up in less than five months, but there were many tense moments. “A chunk of the shoot happened in Karnataka where we had to grapple with fickle weather and natural light. There were far too many intangibles — heavy rain, dark clouds, sometimes blazing sunlight, all on a single day. Shooting near a dam in bad weather wasn’t easy. In one of the schedules that lasted 31 days, it rained non-stop for 17 days. The dam was about to breach and the electrical connections would give us shocks, but we went ahead. It was a nightmare — bad weather, crowded location, over a thousand junior artists and crew. But the silver lining was director K. S. Ravikumar, who had a clear vision of what he wanted.”

The effort shows in the trailer launched recently. The story, which spans two eras, has a distinct visual language. “I wanted to steer clear of clichés. So you will not see typical black-and-white, sepia or de-saturated looks for the pre-Independence scenes. In Lingaa, there’s so much positivity about this time in history. So I’ve kept it visually vibrant. When the film swings to the present, the sets turn slick, Rajini is robust, and his look reminiscent of his 1990s hits. The introductory song is visually stunning; we shot in Macau and at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi.”

Like most cinematographers, Rathnavelu too has turned director and had started work on his film when he got a call from the superstar. “I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Rajini, so I set aside my film for Lingaa. The man’s humility moves me. He will not step out of the frame till he gets a proper okay. He will behave as if it’s his first film. He is willing to learn and trusts the director and technicians totally. Sadly, this quality is missing in some established actors and even in the newbies.”

Rathnavelu talks of how cinematographers must keep abreast with the latest in technology. “Before working on Enthiran, I read a lot about animatronics and the making of Jurassic Park because we had to create a 100 Rajini clones. In Enthiran, we made a 1,600-page booklet enumerating all the angles from which to shoot the two Rajinis. In Lingaa, we have used technology to visually extend a dam and multiply the crowd.”

But this tech buff still misses the good old reels. “I can smell the negatives; they continue to charm me. It took a long time for me to accept digital photography. But today, even interns bring CDs or ask us to check out their short films online,” he smiles.

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