I designed Waris Shah: Ishq da Waaris in four hours – Art director Raashid Rangrez
Posted by Navleen on September 6, 2015 | No Comments
There are innumerable things that audience living in and outside Punjab have loved about recently released Punjabi film Angrej. From beautiful storyline and dialogues written by Amberdeep Singh to the innocence that director Simerjit Singh has effortlessly captured on the screen, childlike Angrej (played by Amrinder Gill) to the impressive leading ladies of the film (Aditi Sharma and Sargun Mehta), soulful music to the small yet important messages that the film gives; Angrej is a breath of fresh air that was loved by one and all.
Beside all these factors, one important thing that won many hearts was the old world charm that this film set in pre-partition India of 1940s gracefully manages to showcase. As each one was smitten by the way we were introduced to the earthly rustic rural landscape and the real Punjab of those times, it is worth knowing the man who recreated the old Punjab that made the older generation nostalgic and gave youngsters a chance to visually experience the times that they have often heard in stories from their grandparents. It is Mumbai based art director and production designer Raashid Rangrez who created this magic that stayed with most of us days after having seen the film. Similar magical experience was witnessed when we saw Manoj Punj’s Waris Shah: Ishq da Waaris featuring Gurdas Maan and Juhi Chawla for which Raashid won a national award for best art direction. Raashid even did a fantastic job for Anurag Singh’s national award winning Punjab 1984 that was appreciated for appropriately showing the frightful days around 1984 Punjab riots.
Knowing his art
Raashid’s work speaks volumes about his talent and so does a dialogue with him that convinces one about his knowledge related to Indian, European, American or Russian history. Name any subject, character or geographical facts from history and this man has everything on his tips. Perhaps that’s why when Anrej came to him, though he was simultaneously shooting for two upcoming films – Hollywood movie The Black Prince and Hindi film Bhaykatha Heer Ranjha Ki, he didn’t face any trouble despite the short span he got to work on it. Raashid recalls, “For Waaris Shah, I got four hours to design the whole film, but for Agnrej I didn’t even get that much time. Angrej ke pehle din wale shoot ke din, mein kabhi set lagwa raha tha aur kabhi costumes banawa raha tha. Further we used to make the costumes overnight for the next day’s shoot. In such times, your old experiences and knowledge helps. Though most of the work in Angrej was instantly done but because it was a period film we had to create everything in a village near Suratgarh in Rajasthan. Only Rajasthan could have shown non green Punjab of those days. Different utensils and props were sourced from Amritsar.”
Another outstanding thing about Angrej was the rooted costumes worn by the entire cast. “We resourced white handmade cotton fabric from Benaras, Rajasthan and Khadi stores. They were deliberately sourced and got it dyed into natural colors. In those days the colors were made naturally from vegetables and natural resources. Had we not taken the white fabric and used whatever available, then the costumes would have been sharp and bright in color.”
Raashid’s rich background and initial education has always played a vital role in his work. Hailing from Saharanpur, he completed his Bachelors in Fine Arts from Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi along with being actively involved in theatre at Shree Ram Centre, Delhi. Remembering those days, he shares, “I shifted to Mumbai in 1992 and started working as an assistant. Later I started my career with Mani Kaul’s films – The Servant Shirt (Naukar Ki Kameez), Burden (Bojh) etc. With Mani Kaul I had a different kind of freedom to work because he had the knowledge of the craft. More than a director he was a teacher. Later I worked on couple of FTII films.”
Besides history and architecture being one of his major subjects in graduation, it was also his interest that often made him passionately read history books. “There is no such period that I haven’t read. I love reading. During my theatre days I had even written and directed plays. In fact reading history in detail is also mandatory for our work. So subjects like Waaris Shah and Bulleh Shah I had read them long time ago.” beams he.
According to Raashid, he has explored and read almost every significant subject of history – most of them have not even been part of the 70mm screen. “Now someone like Tuglaq that I have already read in detail has never been considered for a subject of a film. Tomorrow if a film ever gets planned on him – I already know his history, background, how he got people migrated, how many died while they were shifting, fell sick and how new dishes were introduced. I’m already aware of these minutes details.” says he.
Raashid came across Punjabi film director Manoj Punj when both of them were working with Ram Gopal Verma for some film. “Manoj had seen my work in Shaheed-E-Azam and offered me a film called Des Hoya Pardes. I was also impressed by his Punjabi film Boota Singh. Mutually we liked each other’s work. And Waris Shah was a subject that I had already read long ago. Moreover there wasn’t any film on him till date. So I knew that everything I’ll think and create will be fresh and would touch the hearts. But that’s only possible if your work is convincing enough.”
While designing for such periodic films there are many details that one has to keep in mind. About which he replies saying, “Our country is geographically divided into many parts therefore a lot depends on what geographic part the character belongs to. Waris Shah, belonged to North Punjab which wasn’t divided at that time. After knowing about the background of the character, you move onto things such as the design, art, costumes and the entire look of the film. Now during Waaris Shah’s time it was Mughal dynasty and the architecture was indigenous. Post these details, one starts thinking of resources for making the material. Depending on the era, we choose between cement, bricks, stones etc. Then you move to other things such as costumes, jewellery etc.”
Raashid in a very honest tone even describes what kind of liberties the production designing department ends up taking in such periodic films. He says, “In periodic films, the facts have to be authentic. But in the process of bringing them on screen one has to take some kind of cinematic liberties for the purpose of creating interest in those facts. While shooting for a film like Waris Shah – a character which in known worldwide, the biggest challenge was to think of the surrounding he had stayed while he was writing Heer. Waris Shah especially went to a different village and stayed there to complete Heer. What all should that village have which would inspire him day and night and create a different ambiance? In such a case, we thought a water body is a must but we were unable to find one anywhere. So we created it and made an entire village around it. It took us two months to construct the set in a place near Chandigarh.”
Waris Shah got four national awards out of which one was grabbed by Rashid. But getting recognition has always been secondary for this man. “When such subjects are attempted, three things matter the most – the strength of the subject, intention of producer and your honesty towards work. I worked in Waris Shah: Ishq Da Waaris with utmost honesty. The set that you have seen in the film was designed in four hours on paper – this is only possible when you have already read them long back in detail. That day Maan Sahib was writing a song simultaneously.” says the art director who has worked with Gurdas Maan in other Punjabi films such as Sukhmani and Dil Vil Pyar Vyar.
According to Raashid, who has been part of the industry for two decades now, feels that the process art direction and production designing have changed over the years. “Many changes have happened – from the style of working to the upgraded materials available. The assistants and their temperaments are different from previous times. Earlier our working style used to be different. Books were our reference points. But now you get almost entire information on internet whereas then we had to visit libraries and trace books for information. Things were difficult in previous days.”
Films to watch out for
Raashid is one of those rare people, who enjoy the process of working rather than the result. For instance, he hardly remembers the films he has done so far and struggles recalling the names when you ask him about the list. Luckily the list of his upcoming films is somehow fresh in his mind. Sharing more about them he says, “There is a very important film called Bhaykatha Heer Ranjha Ki that I’m part of. It is directed by Paresh Mokashi (Harishchandrachi Factory fame). This black comedy which is shot at Wagah Border, is a satirical take on how politics affect lives of common people living near the borders and about people who unknowningly tresspass on enemy land and end up in a prison. Based on Sarabjit Singh’s case it talks about how these people are treated like terrorists for no fault with just simple love story as backdrop. For The Black Prince, a film on Maharaja Dalip Singh, I was looking after the entire India shoot which happened in Bikaner.”
Though Punjab is known for it’s rich history but it seems that Punjab cinema is still not interested in exploring historic projects. In Raashid’s opinion, “There is lack of educated directors in Punjab. Since they don’t read therefore they struggle to find good subjects. If they read history, they wouldn’t have to look for subjects anywhere else. After that second challenge is getting a producer who has the same conviction followed by equal honesty from your end. Period films need huge budget. It is only these factors that have made films like Mughal-e-Azam or Bahubali do well.”