KGF Art Director Shivakumar J explains how he used his artistic background to create the dark world of Narachi: “We did an in-depth study of mining documentaries and saw how people lived there, working quarters, all
Hours after watching KGF2, and once the adrenaline of the movie Prashanth Neel, starring Yash, wears off, some things remain. Chief among them is the art direction of Shivakumar J. If the first part, someone could create the fictional city of Narachi from scratch and present the sub-human lives led by the working-class community, the second part of the movie, which released last week to a thunderous response, shows you a town with slightly better living conditions.
There’s a mansion in white with dark, almost gothic-inspired interiors, a bridge that’s the scene of the action, alleys and alleys that lead to workers’ settlements and mines, and by the time you’re done with film, some of these routes are etched in your head. You are almost able to trick a character into moving to a particular exit to escape.
Shivakumar, whose ancestors were carvers, grew up in Bangalore, where his grandfather Kumbalingam moved from Kumbakonam. His father Jyotilingam was also an artist, as was his brother. Art was a very important part of his life, and Shivakumar went on to graduate from Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath College of Fine Arts in Bangalore in 2000. Since 2004, he has been creating interesting and unique sets that blend with the theme of the film. His very first film Aham Premasmi (2005, directed by V Ravichandran, which brought Shivakumar into film) won him the State Award for Best Art Director. While he worked on many great projects, it took a KGF for the world to see what Shivakumar was capable of.
And it was a very organic popularity that came from the people. A few years ago, when Shivakumar was attending an event at his daughter’s school, he sat anonymously among other parents. And then someone announced that the artistic director of KGF was in their midst. Suddenly there was applause and boos. “I received calls from many people praising my work, but that day that applause was very special. It showed me firsthand the KGF effect,” says Shivakumar.
To create the KGF universe, Shivakumar and his team (four assistants and an on-set department of 15, other than hired labor and artists) decided to remove all prior cinematic references. “What you see now is what Prashanth Neel told me. We did a deep study of the mining documentaries and saw how the people lived there, the working-class neighborhoods, everything. In this film, KGF is not a government mine, but something an individual makes, mostly under the carpet. The workers are treated like slaves before being freed from the clutches of Garuda. It is not a place with facilities, it’s not a place with joy. And the art of the film had to convey that dark, dark vibe,” says Shivakumar.
The team started by eliminating the materials they didn’t want to use for the sets. Plastic was the first to come out. “It didn’t suit the period, and we wanted to be environmentally friendly,” Shivakumar informs. The team sourced old camp tarps and created rustic sets that matched Prashanth’s vision. After lots of trial and error, they fixed the final look. “I used a lot of tin foil, burlap and the only new material I opted for was aluminum for some portions,” he reveals.
Most of the first part was shot at Cyanide Hill in KGF, a 28-acre landfill where piles of rubbish were left. “We shot over almost all of this terrain, building different sets through it – the Narachi gate, the bridge, the graveyard, the well and the tunnel are set up here,” Shivakumar explains.
Even though the mansion looked pristine white amidst a sea of dark tones, inside the mood is equally somber. “We used the chiaroscuro technique which Rembrandt used”, explains the artistic director. This technique uses a beam of lighting as a spotlight to create a dramatic and theatrical effect. There are many shadows in the film, and stories hidden within those shadows. “We basically went for a monochromatic feel without it being monochromatic,” says Shivakumar, who has been traveling with the film for seven years now, creating sets in locations such as Hyderabad, Ballari, Mysuru and KGF.
Chapter Two was a progression from Chapter 1 in terms of Narachi details. “People’s lives there were sordid in Chapter 1, but in Chapter 2 they saw changes. The sets had to reflect that. With Chapter 3 there will be more changes,” says Shivakumar, who is expecting to create the sets for part 3. He is now working on Salar, again with Prashanth Neel, who goes to Telugu and teams up with Prabhas.
If the sets of KGF spoke is also because the director, cinematographer (Bhuvan Gowda) and stunt choreographers (AnbAriv) and Shivakumar had regular discussions before the art team created the sketches. “These discussions brought a lot of clarity,” he says.
KGF, says Shivakumar, is an exciting project for everyone involved. “We worked against many obstacles, including inclement weather, to create the sets. We had to raise huge structures, but the mountains of rubbish couldn’t support the weight. It looked solid as a rock on the surface, but two feet down was soft dust. When it rains, the surface would literally melt. We had to think outside the box to hold structures on this type of base, especially because we shot during both the summer and the monsoon.
Among the things that Shivakumar is particularly happy about is the statue of the female divine that he created. She dominates Narachi, and people admire her and are afraid of her. “I chose to create it in the folk style, and the finish was rustic. It created a sense of unease, which the script justified,” he says.
For now, as he revels in the kind words he has received for KGF2Shivakumar the art director is already mentally hard at work seeing how he can improve his art to help tell the story of KGF3 better.
Subha J Rao is a consultant writer and editor based in Mangaluru, Karnataka. There, she maintains her love for cinema through languages. You can find her on Twitter @subhajrao.