Malayalam film ‘Luca’ projects up-cycling waste

An anamorphic installation of the phoenix made of recycled plastic bottles suspended by strings; black ants made of metal wire; a dream catcher made from used clothes are just some of the eye catching props in Luca. In a first, the film showcases up-cycled art, using scrap, in ways a commercial film seldom does.

Making Luca, the protagonist, a scrap artist was art director Anees Nadodi’s idea, say the film’s creators.

For Anees and Kozhikode-based Kakka Artisans, collective of artists (of which he is a part) it was an opportunity of a lifetime. “It adds more to Luca’s character, who believed that art was more than merely for art’s sake, that it could be functional and have utility. At the time we, at Kakka, were exploring the trash-to-treasure concept, the film aligned with our aesthetics and politics with regard to waste and it’s up-cycling,” he says.

Barely a year into films, Anees’ work has been noticed especially Luca. Anees quit his job as a journalism teacher in a Malappuram college to take up art direction. His first film, as independent art director, was Sudani from Nigeria, the others are Varathan and Thamasha. He assisted art director Mohan Mannarkad in films such as Tiyaan, Adam Joan and Nimir. “The part of films I could be part of was the art department. Drawing and applied arts are my interests, I worked with Muhshin Parari on his music videos and he put me on to Mohan.”

If not for this engagement with art, the production design for Luca would have been like any other. “The art experience makes it different,” he says. Usually in commercial cinema, ‘artist’ usually is the paintbrush and easel kind, Luca was a first.

“A scrap artist recognises the potential of waste, like Tovino Thomas’ Luca says, ‘nothing is waste’. A discarded item had its use once and only the use ceases to be, the material remains.” Anees picks up a teaspoon and says, “bend this slightly, bore a hole through the handle, screw it on the wall - you get a hanger. Everything can be used or reused!” ₹ 3,000 worth engine scrap, cables, metal drums, wire, a discarded bathtub, and dozens of plastics bottles became art.

Pre-production involved eight-odd artists from Kakka Artisans touring scrap yards in Fort Kochi, Kadvanthra, Njarakkal, Vyttila and other areas, ‘sourcing’ usable scrap. Close to two weeks were spent ideating, deciding what to make out of what — “only then could Luca’s schedule be planned.”

Malayalam film ‘Luca’ projects up-cycling waste

From the upholstery in Luca’s vehicle, to the furniture and his art work, everything came out of the pile they collected. “We looked at the material we had and then got into designing props. It works better this way than the other way around, we might not find the material we are looking for. Some just happened, like the black ants made of metal wire by Sasi Memuri, one of our senior artists. He was twisting wire and they ‘became’ ants.”

With every kind of film prop available for hire, the onus was on them to explore the potential of the scrap and interpret it in ways that would connect with the story. The art in the film is the work of around 32 artists, most of which was made in Kochi and the rest in Kozhikode.

It was not just creating Luca’s ecosystem, the team created other spaces, and props for them, such as the faux Biennale venue at Veli Ground and the art in it. Eight days were spent on it – enclosing the space, building a wall around it and ageing it, even the art works. Interestingly Anees worked to a colour palette – the brighter shades of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ for Luca and sombre tones of Rembrandt’s works for the brooding Akbar, “a colour palette raises costs but this team, and the others we have worked with, have been supportive.”

Of designing a set, he says, it shouldn’t feel like a prop. “It should be un-intrusive, not affect the story. For instance in Varathan, the palette was retro-bohemian-vintage. As art director, the set dressing of the house was important - people, with a certain history lived there and that had to reflect. Similarly in Sudani...we had to show the community’s life. Every house/family in Malappuram has a couple of NRIs which reflects in their homes and of their neighbours, we used props to suggest that. Even though only 40% of the effort shows onscreen, there is satisfaction at the end of it.”

Malayalam film ‘Luca’ projects up-cycling waste

Kakka Artisans is a collective of around 15 artists with a shared ideology of art, politics, and aesthetics. They connected with each other at Kamura, an art community in Kozhikode. “We don’t create art for the sake of art, we need to understand the fragility of the environment. We have to remind and be reminded of the ecological impact of our actions,” says Anees. His associate is Arshad Nakoth. Other plans include creating art, up-cycling trash from places in Kozhikode; a pen project for schools, which will involve collecting pens from schools and showing children how much plastic is generated. “A visual has more impact.” Kakka Artisans is involved in interior, event and exhibition designing.

Anees’ favourite from the film is the anamorphic installation of the phoenix, made of recycled plastic bottles suspended from strings. “Eight artists worked on it, at night. Usually such art is usually made and shown in dark rooms. The play of light and darkness adds the drama. We made it outdoors, which is not easy. To get the right perspective we made it at night, printing it on a flex and using lights. If Ahanaa Krishna’s character calls it superlative, the work had to justify the reaction. It conveyed what we wanted to. The phoenix is a metaphor for resurrection - here waste was elevated.” It was created by a team led by Fejin Ali.

Malayalam film ‘Luca’ projects up-cycling waste

“We feel bad that the dream catcher was perceived as having been created for the Guinness Books of World Records. It was not.” While they were working on the film and the dream catcher, the team heard news of India’s largest dream-catcher. They measured theirs and found that theirs was bigger. When the team contacted the Guinness team they were told it had to be made the traditional way, using leather, wood and rope not with old clothes like they had. “The biggest challenge was making a wooden ring. Our carpenters did so by using an interlocking technique. We worked round the clock for four days and hoisted it 65 ft in the air using two cranes.” It had to taken down even before Guinness officials could see it due to permit issues. “It doesn’t exist any more as the phoenix...isn’t it like that with any film set?”

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 5:20:46 PM |

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