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Setting new highs

The grandeur of the Madurai Meenakshi temple recreated. — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

The grandeur of the Madurai Meenakshi temple recreated. — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu  

WALK INTO the `Meenakshi temple' and you will find it replete with a gopuram, the sacred tank, the sanctum sanctorum. The mammoth film set recreated for the Telugu film Arjun at Gandipet is the handiwork of well-known art director Thota Tharani. According to the film's director Gunasekhar (who also directed Okkadu) it is the second largest set after the palace set of Bollywood's Devdas. The Madurai temple set has created ripples of excitement and curiosity ever since it came to limelight. "It is almost the same size as the original temple - perhaps just about 25 feet less to make it suitable for the film. It measures approximately 350 feet by 200 feet," says Tharani. While the construction of the temple at Madurai spanned hundreds of years, the set was constructed in six months and cost about Rs. four crore.

It took Tharani (the only art director awarded with a Padma Shri) about a fortnight to work on the drawing plan. "I was not given permission to photograph but I made several sketches," says Tharani. The art maestro crafted this set , a labour of love, after considerable research. "It's by the grace of God that I could do it," says Tharani who relates an interesting anecdote. "About a year and a half ago somebody predicted I would build a temple and I didn't believe it. I was perhaps destined to build this temple." And Tharani's conceptualisation is authentic with every inch being built with great care.

Sets are not new to cinema. Many aesthetic ones stand out and belie the fact that they are sets to be dismantled once the movie is completed. Tharani's hallmark is realism - be it the Nayakan set where Dharavi was recreated, or the apartment complex of Anjali and the Kolkata street in the Telugu film Choodalani Vundi. The Charminar set of Okkadu built by Ashok was almost on the same scale as the historic landmark of the city.

Increasing red tapism in securing permission to shoot in archaeological, historical and religious structures, has forced most directors to recreate sets. "It is not just permission, at times one faces other constraints. Crowd control is difficult in outdoor shoots particularly in religious structures. It is convenient to shoot on a set as we have the time and freedom to shoot the way we want," says director Gunasekhar . "While shooting for Okkadu people were not permitted to climb to the top (subsequently permission was granted) so we decided to make a set," says Gunasekhar who adds "mere construction of an edifice is the not the only thing. Creating the right atmosphere by looking at minute details imparts the authenticity and puts the story in a realistic perspective." "It's not just the temple but there are plans to put up a street as well. In fact one can see a vibrant, bustling temple complex in all its fervour and festivity. About 40 per cent of the film will be shot in this set," he informs.

Period films may not be the trend in the Telugu film industry as compared to Bollywood but here historical/monumental sets are increasingly gaining credibility thanks to the scripts. "The set forms an important backdrop to my stories. ," states Gunasekhar.

Whatever be the story and budget, the visualisation is crucial while conceptualising a set. "One has to work within certain parameters," says Tharani, who has recreated the grandeur of the Madurai temple.

The Minakshi temple set looks so good and real and has become a living temple today.

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