During the shoot of the film,Adwaitham (1991), at Kozhikode, by director Priyadarshan, art designer Sabu Cyril had to construct a temple similar to the Lord Krishna temple at Guruyayur. When the set was ready, an assistant director (AD) led Srividya to the set. The moment she stood outside, she immediately took off her slippers. “The AD told Srividya that it is a set and there was no need to remove the footwear,” says art designer Sabu Cyril. “Srividya could not believe it. She said, ‘It looks like a real temple’.”
Inside the temple there was a collection box, which was used as a prop. When the shoot was taking place, many onlookers would come to watch. “They also thought that it was a real temple and would put money in the box,” says Sabu. “At the end of the day, the crew would open the box, take the money out and share it among themselves.”
During the shoot of TK Rajeev Kumar’s Pavithram (1994), Mohanlal, who played the hero, Unni, was feeling anxious. The next day, he had to shoot an emotional scene. Mohanlal’s mother in the film, Devakiamma (played by Srividya) became pregnant at an older age and is about to give birth. However, during childbirth Devikyamma dies and Unni takes responsibility of the baby girl.
When Mohanlal came to know that the hospital was being set up in an area in Tripunithara where weddings take place, he told Rajeev, “I have shot there. It is not an ideal place for a hospital. It is an important scene. Unless the set is authentic, it will lose its impact. Tell Sabu he should look for another place.”
But Rajeev reposed his faith in Sabu. The next day, after the hospital was set up, Sabu moved towards the next location. He only returned in the evening. When Mohanlal saw him, there was a wide smile on his face. “Sabu, it felt so much like a hospital,” said Mohanlal. “So what did you do?”
Sabu said, “This is fourth-degree art direction.”Mohanlal said, “What do you mean?”
“I just sprinkled Phenyl and Dettol all over the place and that gave the impression it is a hospital,” said Sabu. “We have been going to hospitals since our childhood and know these smells well. So I decided to trigger that feeling.”
Mohanlal smiled in appreciation.
In the Tamil film, Anniyan (2005), directed by S Shankar, with Vikram as the hero, Ramanujam, and Sadha as heroine, Nandini, Sabu was told to recreate the famous Tyagaraja Aradhana music festival which is held every year at Thiruvaiyaru in Tamil Nadu. In the film, Ramanujam proposes marriage to Nandini during the festival.
Sabu found a location near Mahabalipuram, on Chennai’s East Coast road. Along with his team, he worked through several days and nights to put up the structure.
On the morning of the shoot, Sabu went back to his Chennai home to have a bath. “When I returned in the afternoon, one of the assistant directors told me that Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan [a renowned classical violinist] was searching for me,” says Sabu. So Sabu rushed to his room. There, Kunnakudi placed his palm on Sabu’s head and said, “Brahma [The God of creation] is with you. It is a magnificent work.”
But when he asked Sabu whether he could do a puja in front of Thyagaraja’s statue, Sabu said, “Sir, we will be dismantling it very soon. There is no need.”