CHENNAI: 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.