‘My fake slum toilet made people puke’

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In New Bollywood, the gritty look is everything. Enter Wasiq Khan and his incredible quiver of tricks. Sunaina Kumar reports

Sketch city Wasiq Khan and the set of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl
Sketch city Wasiq Khan and the set of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl

IT WASN’T easy noticing anything other than Goliath like Salman Khan in Dabangg. However, production designer Wasiq Khan pulled off the improbable. One had to appreciate the sepia tints, the rustic colours and the stylised yet authentic sets of the film.

In Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots, he works with claustrophobia. The frames are tight, shot in a cramped apartment with peeling walls, a crummy massage parlour and a BEST bus. Khan had two days to prepare. However, he is used to Kashyap’s ways. “Working with him reminds me of why I do what I do. The budgets are low, but there is no limit to the imagination,” he says.

Khan, 38, earned his stripes in gritty, realistic cinema (Kashyap’s Paanch, Black Friday, Gulaal,and Raj Kumar Gupta’s Aamir). Yet, he is slowly getting used to commercial films, a domain dominated by that other genius of production design, Sabu Cyril. Where Cyril delves in the larger-than-life fantasy of RaOne, Khan’s forte lies in the grime and sweat of reality. “It is certainly the work I find most challenging and rewarding. It is also the toughest to shoot,” he says.

He gives an example from Aamir. “There was a scene where Rajeev Khandelwal had to enter a filthy slum toilet. He puked on the sets and I had to reassure him that this is only a set and nothing is real. In Black Friday, for the bomb blast sequence, instead of junior artists, I got disfigured beggars from Haji Ali, and got them fitted with artificial limbs for the before-and-after scenes.”

After graduating from Jamia Millia Islamia, Khan began as assistant art director to maverick production designer Samir Chanda in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar. “Nobody had heard of art and production designing then. My engineer father was naturally reticent about my career choice. Movies were only a Saturday indulgence.” After assisting Chanda in Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam films, he struck out on his own with Anurag Kashyap’s short film Last Train to Mahakali.

WANTED CHANGED everything. He reluctantly found himself doing more commercial work. “I was not comfortable with the idea of commercial cinema at first, but it is like driving in another gear and it can be interesting. For example, Sanjay Dutt-starrer Lamhaa was shot entirely in Mumbai, and I had to create Kashmir in Film City. We got two truckloads of chinar leaves from Kashmir. Most Kashmiris cannot tell that it has been shot in Mumbai.” For the upcoming Yash Raj film Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl and the Akshay Kumar-starrer Rowdy Rathore, he is working with a vibrant, glossy palette.

An avid painter, he painstakingly sketches every frame by hand. For Dabangg, he created over 100 sketches. “I am old-fashioned in a way. I never use design software for my work. I feel that every frame I create in a movie is a painting, even though it is visible for only a few seconds.” His one constant reference has been the rich world of Peruvian painter Boris Vallejo. “It contains everything, realism, surrealism, and colours playing against each other. I never look at other movies. He has been the only inspiration since college,” he says.

Sunaina Kumar is a Senior Correspondent, Mumbai with Tehelka.
sunaina@tehelka.com

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