Vikrant Rona’s (2022) director Anup Bhandari knew his team had put in tremendous effort in the art direction and VFX side, but no one really spoke about it before release. It took the press premiere in Mumbai for him to breathe a sigh of relief — no one asked a single question relating to the sets or VFX. Most presumed the film was shot on location.“Long before release, I’d told my team that if no one mentioned the art direction and VFX teams, that is your biggest success,” said Bhandari.
The film was three years in the making and was shot in Mahabaleshwar and Malshej ghat, Bengaluru, Ramoji Film City and Kerala. Proper planning ensured that they didn’t need reshoots and could wrap up filming in 130 days. “Everything was planned to the last detail. From Rangitaranga (Bhandari’s 2015 film), I’ve had a production plan where I code everything — from the scene number to the actors to costumes and props and special equipment. I handle this myself and break down every scene to fit into this code. And so, everyone on set knows what a scene needs,” said Bhandari.
In some parts, art director Shivakumar J took inspiration from the location, like when they were shooting in Mahabaleshwar. “I loved the location and had planned to put up a hut. But, then, I saw the huts around and decided to create something totally different to blend with existing homes. It was very fulfilling,” he said.
Shooting in Mahabaleshwar proved to be a challenge for the crew. “We were completely at Nature’s mercy, and it would rain every 10 minutes,” recalled Bhandari. “At that time, we were shooting this in three languages. We then knew it would be impossible to do that without overshooting our budget and time. We decided to stick to one language and dub.”
Because the film was non-linear, in the initial days, the team found it difficult to swing between the fictional locations. “I first had to get the geography right in my mind. And so, we did a collage with drawings and reference photos so that the overall picture was clear and there would be no gaps in topography. This also helped us as a team to ensure near-seamless merging when what we shot and what we created through VFX came together,’’ Bhandari added.
Cinematographer William David, for his part, had a system in place for the lighting and had marked it on the floor, so that everyone would know what goes where. A team member said his team used so many frames for the seven layers of filters that one of the officials at Ramoji Film City — where many big budget films have been shot — said Vikrant Rona was the first time they’d run out of frames. For one of the scenes, David even slid down a well and had to be hoisted up on a crane!
Among the biggest takeaways from Vikrant Rona is that with patience and focus, it is possible to achieve near-perfection when it comes to technology. In an interview, Bhandari, art director Shivakumar J (who also worked in the KGF movies) and cinematographer David broke down four significant scenes from Vikrant Rona.
The single-take scene takes place inside what is a lookalike of a multi-storey Cambodian temple. The set was big, but it had to look 10 times bigger on screen. VFX was used to create the facade, and Shivakumar’s team handled the rest.
Bhandari: When I wrote this scene, I knew it had to look grand. A real temple might have 10-15 floors, but we could not possibly build that. We decided to make a smaller set but made it look rich. This scene has some pathos, anger and the final revenge playing out, so there were many emotions involved.
Shivakumar: In art, we can create something that is not really big, but looks massive to the mind — the audience perceives it thus. That is what we did for this entire film, including the forest set and the climax. Every block had to look unique, and fit in with the live location shots too. The temple was a stone structure, with roots snaking in and out. We created the whole thing using metal, mesh and fibreglass. The flooring had hard foam because people were being thrown all over in the fight, and we did not want anyone to get injured.
David: I’ve never done as much homework as I have for this film. This was a single shot scene and we had everything on paper — from how the camera would move, because it was a very heavy camera, and the night lighting. And when Kichcha Sudeep looked into the camera, I had goosebumps, because the entire setting created that kind of effect.
This was shot in a set where many films have been shot earlier, but no one really guessed the location, says Bhandari. There’s a space in Ramoji Film City which is called Small Town and it played home to the stunt sequence that featured both rain and fire. The scene was shot at night.
Bhandari: My biggest challenge was logistics and safety, because we were working with gas fire. We dumped the idea of using real fire, because it would be difficult to control its intensity. Although shot in the rain, the sword had to be on fire, and that took some effort. This sequence took us 10 days to shoot. One day, there was a real thunderstorm and I thought it would be more real to shoot, but we could not even stand there — the wind was that strong.
When I write a scene, I tend to write big, and then adjust it later according to the budget. Here, we had to scale up, and the issue was how do we do it. Fortunately, I had Shivu (Shivakumar) and William (David) who knew how to tide over the practical issues and get us what we wanted.
Shivakumar: This was one movie where every frame was challenging, at different levels. What helped us was that we had total clarity due to the time we had to prep before shooting. That freed us up to think out of the box, and fill in extra details. That was how I was able to create the effect of real moss, and ‘age’ the set.
This set, Bhandari says, was a big challenge because they were also considering converting the film into 3D in post-production and therefore had to create something near-flawless.
Bhandari: One of the first things we did was to study previous films that featured forests and see where the flaws were. The biggest was that most went with a flat forest floor — this is unlike what a forest looks like. We needed a floor that dips and swells and I knew that if anyone could pull it off, it would be Shivu. The other thing we noticed was the lack of texture in the greenery and the variations in green. We brought those in. Since it was a set, I was not sure if we could use the Jimmy Jib or the Panther Dolly, and so I kept a steady cam ready. But, Shivu worked so beautifully with the space that we were able to move the Jib and Dolly.
I confess, when they began work, it was not easy to watch, because they were standing on uneven platforms to create the forest floor. I wanted everyone to stay safe. Also, because of what Shivu created, the VFX guys (Nirmal of Radiance VFX in Bengaluru) could fill in the details beautifully in the scene where the camera pans from the forest floor and through foliage to Sudeep, who’s on a tree.
William’s beautiful play of light and shade made you feel you were in the forest. And, he managed this despite severe time restrictions. We shot this during the pandemic and my only target was that we should finish as fast as we can before anyone falls sick.
Shivakumar: With architecture, you have a ground plan in place. You know what something must look like. Here, we were mimicking Nature. So, my blue print of sorts detailed the topography — water body, roots, moss, foliage, tree trunks and the like. And, we had drawn up measurements for these, so the execution was not very difficult.
There’s a scene on a ship in which some people are taken hostage and one person is about to be killed when Vikrant Rona arrives. This was shot entirely on an 80 ft by 40 ft set, which was built to a height of 30 ft. “At any time, we were 30 ft above the ground and I was always cognisant of the fact that we could not afford to slip up,” said Bhandari.
Bhandari: Every time the Jimmy Jib had to move, it was a challenge. I got in touch with a gaming company and got a pre-visualisation done for this scene. While shooting, it was slightly different, but this allowed us to plan.
I wanted some mist because this was the sea, after all, but this mist posed an issue for the VFX team, which struggled to track the characters. But, how can a monsoon sea be without mist? We finally overcame that. Nirmal, our VFX person, and I lived five minutes from each other and we would be in each other’s studios or homes all the time.
Shivakumar: This set allowed me to innovate. We wanted some movement on the ship, and we looked at a hydraulic system, but that was very expensive. And so I came up with a manual system to sway it off and on to create the effect of being on water. If I’d got the mechanical device, I would have stopped thinking (laughs). Later, I used this technique for some other films too.