Over a decade ago, on the sets of Arunachalam, when the title track Adhandha Idhandha was being shot, Rajinikanth felt that it was in praise of the film’s protagonist — Arunachalam. But it was originally meant to be an ode to lord Shiva, and something had to be changed in the props to get that feel. This was a challenge for art director GK. He took a water pot that the artistes used to drink from, painted it black, smeared three white lines on it and the Shivalingam prop was ready.
GK’s presence of mind was a result of his artistic instinct. Like him, many art directors in the film industry today are practising artists as well, with or without a degree in Fine Arts. They have chosen the lucrative career of art direction, but find it a challenge to keep their creative side alive. Elaborates GK, “Education in arts is definitely a plus point in the industry. I have a diploma in Fine Arts from the Madras College of Arts and Crafts. It was only in 1985 that director Netaji, who was looking out for young faces for Janani, decided to give me an opportunity. And till date, I have done about 200 films as an art director.”
The biggest challenge for an art director, he says, is to recreate what the director visualises. “There are three main creators of a film — the director, music director and art director. Interestingly, an art director is successful only when his work does not get noticed on screen. That’s how realistic it should look,” adds GK. He defines an art director as one who observes his surroundings well and adopts them practically in his work.
Jayakumar too is an artist and an art director. “They are two different commitments,” he says. “Films are a major source of income, but I like doing art for art’s sake. I like being committed to it and nurture the aesthetics of it.” So, what’s his signature style? “The line is my strength and it dominates my canvas too.” Jayakumar is also fascinated by the pattern of stars. It adds a dreamy effect to his works. He refers to these works as Ribbon Rains.
For art director M Prabhaharan, realistic art is an important feature in his paintings. “I passed out in 1991 from the College of Arts and Crafts, and mine was the first batch to pass out with a degree. I always used to argue with the professors who wanted me to focus on modern art. I proved myself in realistic art and reiterated its significance. After I decided to become an art director, I used to satisfy the creator within me by painting the portraits that were required as props in a scene,” he says. Prabaharan became an art director in 1994 and got the Tamilnadu State Government Award for his first feature film Pullakuttikaran, directed by R Parthiban. Some of his noteworthy films have been Anbe Sivam, Virumaandi, Dasavatharam, and Vishwa Thulasi. Recently, he directed his first short film titled Amma, which has been selected for the Cannes International Film Festival 2011.
Art director A Selvakumar, who has most recently worked in the film 180, says, “An artist can survive sheerly with his creative spark. I attended a short film festival in Kerala in 1995 and decided to study the nitty gritties of art direction.” He passed out in 1995 with a BFA degree from the Government College of Fine Arts and started his career as an art director in 1997, with Iyarkai.