A still from the film ;Take Off'. (Youtube Screengrab)
When production designer Santhosh Raman stepped into an unused godown at Kochi, he felt depressed. The floor was littered with small pieces of paper and leaves, apart from a layer of dust. Paint was peeling off from the walls and below the asbestos roof, on a bar, hung two sheets of canvas.
This was the place that had to be revamped into a hospital for the shoot of Malayalam film Take Off. But time was running out, as the initial designer had moved away. And producer Anto Joseph had approached Santhosh, who had just 20 days for completing the pre-production work.
Since a major portion of the story is based on the incidents happening in a hospital in Tikrit, Iraq, the designer needed to recreate it. The unused hospitals that he had visited in Kerala turned out to be unsuitable. “So, I decided to go ahead in transforming the godown,” says Santhosh, who has worked in 40 films so far. He had seen hospitals during some of his tours to West Asia. So, he had an idea about their structure. Also, director Mahesh Narayanan had shared his research material.
In the end, when Take Off was released, viewers assumed that the hospital scenes were shot in an actual building in Iraq because it looked so realistic. “It was only when I posted photos of the godown, along with the hospital images on social media that people realised that I had done a remarkable transformation,” says Santhosh.
And he won the Best Production Design award, along with a cash prize of Rs 50,000, for the film at the 65th National Film Awards presented recently. “The last time Mollywood won in the same category was 22 years ago when Sabu Cyril took the award for Kaalapani. So I am happy to be the first in the 21st century,” says Santhosh, who grew up in Thalassery, and did his bachelor’s degree from the College of Fine Arts, Thrissur, before he drifted into films.
But director Mahesh is not surprised. “Santhosh has a good sense of aesthetics and he worked well with cinematographer Sanu John Varghese.”
In fact, he has just completed the Lucknow schedule for an untitled film starring the current heartthrob Tovino Thomas and veteran actress Urvashi. Two other films— Balachandran Menon’s Ennalum Sarath, and Mammootty’s Abrahaminte Santhathikal—on which he has worked will release in June.
The Kozhikode-based technician says, “For me, the focus has always been art. I was influenced by the films of Bharathan (1946-98). And the National Award is an inspiration to push the bar even higher.”