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Casting a spell


Sunil Babu mesmerises viewers with his ability to create reel sets that make his films a real experience for cine buffs.

A scene from `Ghajini.'

The wizard Digambaran makes his way into the manthrikappura. He is in the process of transmigration. The tall pillars, ponds and a huge ennathoni add to the mysterious ambience. As Santosh Sivan's camera creates magic, Sunil Babu watches the action on a monitor with a satisfied smile.

Rave reviews

Sunil, art director of `Ananthabhadram,' has reason to smile. His work in the film has been receiving rave reviews. Sunil, who began his career as an assistant to art director Sabu Cyril, has blossomed into one of the best art directors in South India, with films such as `Lakshya,' `Iqbal,' `Ghajini,' `Durgi' and `The Police' to his credit. However, it was the settings of `Ananthabhadram' that has made viewers in Kerala notice his creativity, which, perhaps, films with bigger budgets did not fetch for him.

The shadowy manthrikappura and the song sequences wherein some of Raja Ravi Varma's paintings were recreated on celluloid by Kavya Madhavan and Prithviraj mesmerise viewers with their attention to detail and superb lighting effects.

It was his fascination for painting that took Sunil from Changanasherry to the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts in Mysore where he completed his graduation in fine arts. "I had seen these huge portraits in my mother's house and had fallen in love with colours as a child. Perhaps, a colour box that my uncle gave me was the most treasured gift during my childhood," he recalls.

Soon after his graduation, he met Suresh Balaji who introduced him to Sabu Cyril. He started assisting him for the Miss World pageant in 1996 and then for a number of films, which includes `Major Saab,' `Hey Ram,' `Kannathil Muthamittal,' `Kilichundan Mambazham,' `Lesa Lesa' and `Main Hoon Na.'

Sunil is grateful to Sabu for "giving me the confidence, as I needed it badly especially during those years when I was a beginner. He is never hesitant to give you more responsibilities and is an amazing person to work with."

Sunil became an independent art director with Rajesh Touch River's `In the name of Buddha.'

And soon he was working with directors in Bollywood. How was it working with Farhan Akhtar in `Lakshya'? "He is very focussed and very strict on the sets. We had recreated Ladakh inside Film City for the film," he says.

Recounting his experience with directors he has worked with he adds, "In `The Police,' directed by V.K. Prakash, with whom I have done numerous ad films, the whole unit was like a big family."

Perhaps, this gifted artist treats each film like a canvas that he fills in with colours, shades and tones. Each film is a challenge as he tries to meet the director's requirements.


"For instance, `Ghajini' would have been a challenge for any art director as it had shots that showed the flat where Surya lives, which was created for the movie," he says.

In Nagesh Kukunoor's recent hit `Iqbal,' "everything had to look realistic. I made around six to seven cricket pitches for the film." Sunil believes that an imaginative cinematographer is essential to make the best of an art director's craft.

"I feel lucky to have worked with the best in the business so early in my life," he says.

Budgets not a constraint

He dispels the notion that only big budget films can afford sumptuous sets that are a visual treat for cine buffs.

Though Malayalam films have much smaller budgets when compared to films in Hindi and Tamil, he emphasises that huge sums of money are not mandatory for making a good film.

"It's the story and the way it is narrated that is more important than the budget. Although the opulence is less in Malayalam films when compared to other languages, we do make quality films here."

Now, he is getting ready for Santosh Sivan's next film, a story set in the 1930s, which is being made in English.

Is he planning to become a director himself?

"It's a dream and I hope it becomes a reality soon."

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