I remember Boss (Jami) contacting me for a film in Lahore. Two months later I remember getting a call from the Producer: Mazhar Zaidi. Next, I remember getting a laughter fit in my bedroom as I read the script of Zinda Bhaag written by the directors themselves: Farjad Nabi and Meenu Gaur. That moment onwards I knew this was going to be one crazy joyride at the speed of light! And that is exactly what it was.
Woking initially as a Graphic Artist and then coming on board in the Art Direction Team, I have been closely knit with the film Zinda Bhaag. I let it happily invade every second on my clock, as the crew of Zinda Bhaag worked diligently to magically turn each word on the script into a visual art form.
Before I jump to all the excitement and happenings at the sets of Zinda Bhaag, I must give a moment to explain to you exactly what the “Art Department” is and how it really functions. Let’s begin with all the people present in the Art Department. Firstly, we have the Art Director who visualises the final look of the scene with the directors concerned. This includes the over-all colour palette of the entire film (if any) and all the minor detailing of all the locations. The Assistant Art Director is present to help achieve the vision and to make sure everything is functioning smoothly. Then you have the Set Dresser who looks after all the functioning of the Art Department when the camera is rolling. For example: all the setting up that needs to be done for the scene being shot, is taken care of, by the Set Dresser. The Prop Master as the name suggests looks after and “guards” all the props with his life (in literal words.) Finally we have a Runner for when the director wishes for any last minute additions. It is he who saves the day by arranging them. To be honest, the Runner has the best stories to tell with all the short notice, last minute visits to the markets. That sums up who all is majorly present in the Art Department.
During the shoots, our days were not known as Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday anymore, instead everyday was referred by the scene number that was scheduled for the day! Before I jump to the stories, let me try summarising my job. We begin with initially designing a look, on paper, for the selected location for each scene. This includes all the minor details that further build the character present in that very space: from any poster that goes up on the room wall of a character to the colour of the curtain hanging in the background somewhere – everything is initially designed and then executed by the Art Department. Things get trickier when the Art Department is working on a “set” though instead of an actual location. This means that the entire location is being built in a studio. The set is planned, constructed and further polished to make it look as real as possible. No one would want a mediocre set which looks unreal (unless that is what you are aiming for of course.)
Constructing sets for Zinda Bhaag was when the Art Department had to transform themselves into wizards! When working in a studio you do not have an entire month to put up a set. Because you are dealing with rents, you have very little time (hardly a couple of days) to really create and deliver wonders!
The Art Department folks are the ones with the earliest call time (even before production’s call time which means we fetch our own breakfast), are the last ones to leave after pack-up and are frequently found jumping around locations setting up the scenes for upcoming days. The working props that are specific requirements of the script are also taken care of by the Prop Master, who is also a part of the Art Department. What are working props? Now is the time where I begin sharing the stories from the shoots of Zinda Bhaag.
In one of the scenes, a character is eating a chocolate (working prop) as he converses. For re-takes and continuity purposes, of course, back up chocolates were stocked which were being guarded (literally) by the Art Department. Next, I want you to visualise the Art Department against the eyes of the entire crew of Zinda Bhaag that were set on the chocolates. I won’t lie, they managed to steal 2. Little did we know an even more interesting scene developed on the sets of Zinda Bhaag the day an “ice-cream” was a working prop! I remember the directors making an announcement about not bothering the Art Department because the “props were not to be eaten!” The list of stories is endless: From the shoot getting delayed because the monkey starring in the film slept and refused to wake up to requesting people to lend us the props that we wanted. It has been a rich experience.
Working in the Art Direction team for a feature length film was no joke to be honest. We had around 10-15 different major locations which included constructing sets during the shooting spell and all this had to be juggled simultaneously! The bigger challenge was considering the fact that Zinda Bhaag is a low budget film which meant when, for example, an item was requested by the directors we did not have the cash to bring them 5 different options for them to pick from (which usually is a norm.) Instead, we had to literally hunt for items that were the closest, cheapest and more importantly, just what the one the directors’ wanted. The cash is what lead to the toughest problem for the Art Department of Zinda Bhaag because Art Direction, if you ask me, is greatly a game of money. I think our biggest success was meeting the buget. We had to really put our minds together for cheap workable solutions which provided the best outcome.
Now that I have talked about the directors’ wishes and everything else I could think of… let me share one of the most memorable incident at the sets of Zinda Bhaag. This was when the directors asked the Art Department to arrange “flies” for one of the scenes at 2am. An hour later, 300 flies packed in a plastic bag were presented on location for the shoot. How this was done? Where the flies were found in the middle of the night?! Let’s just leave that to your imagination! Which reminds me that my confusion: if a “fly” is a prop or an extra still remains. The list is endless. I consider myself lucky because I belonged to one of the most “happening” departments of Zinda Bhaag: the “arty party” as some liked to refer to us.
Now that the film Zinda Bhaag is in its post-production phase and the marketing of the film is “legal” as I like to call it – it is with sheer pleasure that I thank everyone for making my experience at Zinda Bhaag one of the most memorable ones. It was a pleasure working with such dedicated professionals and to personally thank every person that so generously contributed to my learning experience, I would surely end up writing another article. So, for now, they’ll just have to take my word on the fact that my experience at Zinda Bhaag will remain my biggest teacher throughout my film making career. See you all at the premiere!
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