Shashidhar Adapa, veteran stage and film set designer, talks about designing sets for Mani Ratnam’s latest film Kadal
For decades his art direction in theatre has been legendary. So when Shashidhar Adapa’s works reached Mumbai, they found ready takers. For instance, the opening scene in Reema Kagti’s neo noir Talaash. Adapa’s craft created the backdrop for the sequence where a car crashes on what looks like a beachside road in Mumbai and plunges into the sea.
Adapa and his team created the set in Puducherry. He took over a month to create the beach road set, he says. “Aamir Khan was happy with the final result.” Adapa works with the enthusiasm of a beginner, though he has been in this field for over three decades. This, in the life of a professional, should put him close to retirement, but Adapa says, “There is a long way to go.” And a step in that direction is working with Mani Ratnam in Kadal, scheduled for a January release. Adapa has worked on many films as art director, including Arjun Sajnani’s Agnivarsha K.P. Sasi’s Ek Alag Mausam, Rajiv Menon’s Bus Yun Hi and V.K. Prakash’s Freaky Chakra. He has designed sets for six English films, including Allan A. Goldstein’s Jungle Boy, Fred Glen Ray’s Inferno, Pamela Rooks’ Dance Like A Man and Prakash Belwadi’s Stumble.
Adapa has worked on French films including Frank Apprendrais’ Passeur d’enfants a Pondicherry and Gerard Bitton’s Hypochondriac and two tele-serials directed by Girish Karnad — Antaraal and Swaraj Nama.
Hailing from Mangalore, Adapa is a product of the amateur theatre movement. He has worked as set designer with B.V. Karanth, Shankarnag, Prasanna, M.S. Sathyu, Arjun Sajnani, Vijay Nair, Sulfia Shiekh, Miriam Endorous, R. Nagesh, C.R. Simha, C.G. Krishnaswamy, B. Jayashree, Basavalingaiah, V. Ramamurthy, Prakash Belwadi and other veterans of theatre. He fabricated and executed sets for The Women in Black and Back to Present, directed by Robin Herford and Constanza Macras respectively, for their tour in India.
When we met Adapa at Pratiroopi, his studio , he was engrossed in giving final touches to a drawing for his next venture, Sakkare, directed by Abhay Simha.
Talking about Kadal he said, “Mani sir learnt about my work through Rajiv Menon, with whom I worked earlier. He made me an offer that I immediately accepted because of the importance he attaches to detailing. The volume of his creative demand is huge. His strength lies in compressing the scene and making it more meaningful.”
Adapa created a set of a church measuring 120 by 60 feet at Manappad, 44 km from the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. His experience in Mangalore came in handy in creating what was in the director’s mind.
“We used industrial cranes to fix the top of the church and created a wooden floor to make it more period authentic. Mani sir is a man of few words. A creative art director has to understand his mind through his suggestions.”
Greatly appreciative of cinematographer Rajiv Menon, Adapa who is also a skilled puppet maker and has conducted many puppetry workshops in India and abroad said: “Rajiv inspired me in many ways. While giving finishing touches and creating the interiors of the church, his suggestions helped me cross the line of my own creativity at times.”
“Mani sir never compromises on quality,” says Adapa, the favourite art director of auteurs such as T.S. Nagabharana, Girish Karnad, Kavitha Lankesh, T.N. Seetaram, Girish Kasaravalli and Yogaraj Bhat. Having worked on more than 45 Kannada films, Adapa has won the Chamanlal Bajaj award for his outstanding contribution to stagecraft and thrice won the Karnataka State Film award, for his work in Nagamandala, Kanooru Heggadati and Singaravva.
Adipa, who has directed six documentaries, is all praise for Ratnam’s style of working. “He is all for experimentation and he provides time to think and create sets to meet demands of his film. We created a huge water tripper to experiment with the possibilities of showing gigantic waves in the sea. I cannot forget the way he shot the church festival. Another church set was erected and he conducted a rehearsal of the scene with the background song keeping time. Once he was satisfied, he shot the scene using six cameras in just 45 minutes. Any other director would have taken at least four days to shoot that scene.”
Adapa finds that he stretches his capacity greatly when working with Ratnam. “Had I met Mani sir 10 years ago, my career would have gone elsewhere by this time.”