Bollywood art director Sukant Panigrahy's story is an inspirational one. He tells Neeraja Murthy about his dreams and how he worked hard to make them come true

There have been many heroes in the past whose aspirations, dreams and a will to succeed against all odds have helped many others to shape their lives. Art director Sukant Panigrahy's story is one such inspirational one and he says he has been guided by his dreams and a determination to make them true. Sukant was in the city to display his symbol of peace as part of One Love - Love for Humanity, an international exhibition at State Art Gallery in Madhapur.

Sukant is Bollywood's first rate art director with movies like Gangaajal, Chak De, Dev D and No one Killed Jessica (a production designer)to his credit amongst others.

His life began in a small village in Aska in Orissa. “I come from an educated family with many relatives as doctors. As a student I enjoyed only the Botony class as I loved to draw,” he recalls.

Sukant admits he never wanted to finish his studies as he was scared he would end up like his graduate brother and sister who were only attending job interviews. “I told my brother and mother that my interest was art.”

Mumbai bound

He discontinued his standard XII and ran away from home to go to Bhubaneswar. “The city was like a new place for me. Imagine a teenager, who has never even seen an aeroplane or a helicopter in his life,” he says.

After doing a few menial jobs, Sukant landed in Bombay without a single penny in hand. “I was determined that I would not return to my village as I would be made fun of like my other friends, who came back when they ran out of money.” In Mumbai, a chance encounter with TV director Ajit Patnaik helped him join the team as an assistant. “I swept floors, cleaned the toilets and never said ‘no' to any work which came by. I think I was also guarded by angels who saved me from getting caught with wrong people,” he says. With a fascination for cinema, he began working for art director Sharmistha Roy and began by doing some drawings for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. After working as an assistant for seven years, he got his first opportunity to work independently with Gangaajal. “I was 25 and made a debut with the film,” he says.

Hungry for more

His Bollywood career graph rose slowly and Sukant says he was hungry for more. He began his directorial venture Atlas with Satish Kaushik but the movie was not completed due to lack of funds.

With a nine-year-old son Saujas, Sukant says he understands their world and conducts a lot of workshops for them.

“I hope to see a change in the prevailing education system. The kind of competitiveness spreading among our kids has to be curtailed. Parents and teachers have to change their attitude,” he says. Another thing which disturbs Sukant (his wife Helen Jones is an Australian) is the ‘hate west' mindset prevalent among Indians. “It's true that we were ruled by the English. But we seem to carry that attitude even now as if the whole world ruled us. Anything west is bad for us and we call westerners as Yeh toh phirang hai. The computers have come from them and there are so many things we can learn from them.”

Sukant calls himself a storyteller. “I have never completed a book in my life. I am enamoured by the power of visual media.” He signs off with a thought, “Have a dream and have a vision to work towards it. Otherwise, you will be a scatterbrain with only dreams.”

Movie zone

Sukant has worked in films like Gangaajal, Chak De, Dev D and No one Killed Jessica (as a production designer).

His future projects include two biggies — Salman Khan's Ek Tha Tiger and Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine