There are just a handful of husband-wife pairs actively working in the South Indian film industry currently. Most are either actors or directors, like Mani Ratnam – Suhasini, Suriya – Jyothika, Dhanush – Aishwarya Dhanush, Pushkar – Gayatri, Ponvannan – Saranya Ponvannan, to name a few. Standing out from this lot, Ramakrishna – Monika are production designers who are carving a niche for themselves in Telugu films. Since 2012, they have had notable films like Andala Rakshasi, Sahasam, Subramanyam for Sale, Bhale Manchi Roju, Anando Brahma and Ram Charan's upcoming Rangasthalam to their credit. Going forward, they have projects like Savyasachi, the NTR biopic and Sankalp Reddy – Varun Tej's space film in hand.
Rangasthalam is set in the year 1985 and has been shot in remote village locations. Lead pair Ram Charan and Samantha look far-removed from their usual glamorous selves. The crew has been calling it an authentic, vintage 'Telugu film' which will be rich in nativity and incite nostalgia among viewers. Ramakrishna and Monika, take us through the experience of working on the movie.
How do you keep the husband – wife partnership going strong in this highly demanding film industry? Who's the more dominant partner when it comes to your team's professional decisions?
While working, both of us are very professional and focused on delivering our best. We understand each other and are perfectly in sync; this keeps us going in the film industry. There is no dominant partner in our decision making processes. We complete each other – while one of us is stronger aesthetically, the other is stronger technically.
Is Rangasthalam your most challenging project? Are period films exciting for art directors / production designers?
Yes, Rangasthalam is one of our most challenging projects and it was a tough process. Every project poses some challenge, small or big, and we enjoy taking up these challenges. Yes, the period genre is definitely very exciting but at the same time, there are other exciting genres too. We would love to take up contemporary, futuristic films as well.
Speak a little about shooting in remote village locations. The logistics and transport must have been really demanding.
Yes, we struggled a lot! In remote village locations, we didn't get any mobile / internet connectivity. Transportation and accommodation facilities were hard to come by. We had to create a camp to accommodate the entire team. And, since we were shooting in Rajahmundry during peak summer, it was quite an ordeal.
What was the total crew size that worked with you for Rangasthalam? What's the most prominent aspect of your set work?
When the village set was being put up in full swing, there were approximately 300 workers who worked daily for close to 60 days. The entire village and town setup will be the most noticeable aspect of our work. Almost 80% of Rangasthalam was shot on our sets. While we were shooting, our work received genuine appreciation from the crew. The media and other industry folks have also added to the positive talk. We've used many interesting props which you'll experience while seeing the film.
How was the process of working with stalwarts like director Sukumar and cinematographer Rathnavelu. Was the creative process very democratic and free-flowing?
Sukumar sir is very talented and we learnt a lot from him. He came out with a superb script which was rich in detailing. The script gave us a lot of scope to work and he utilized our potential completely. It was a fabulous experience working with him.
It was great working with Rathnavelu sir as well. He has taken the film to another level with his craft and knowledge of lighting, lensing etc. Since Enthiran, it has been our dream to work with him; I (Ramakrishna) had worked as an assistant art director in Enthiran. I feel very happy that through Rangasthalam, we've worked with him as production designers.
It was a very democratic and free-flowing creative process. They were very open to ideas and the execution part was pulled off very well through the pre-production phase and making of the film.
Tell us about the financial support from your producers.
The producers, Mythri Movie Makers are one of the best production houses that we have associated with. Their support has been priceless. We started off with the idea of shooting the film in live locations but later realized that a village set would serve the purpose better. Our budget worked out to about Rs 5 crores but they didn't object to it. Of course, we wouldn't have been able to deliver without the support of line producer Cherry sir.
Tell us about working with Ram Charan whose character has a hearing impairment. Samantha too took us by surprise with her village girl costumes.
Both of them are fabulous actors and their acting style is very natural. During the shoots, they used to be humble, easy-going and didn't throw any 'big star' tantrums. It is highly appreciable that superstars of their stature have taken on roles like these. When Ram Charan garu first entered the village set, he got really excited about our work. He made a collage of pictures of our set work and posted it on social media. From then on, our work for Rangasthlam started to get the spotlight.
Samantha garu looked exactly like a desi village girl; she carried the look so naturally all through the process of shooting. Actors always have this pressure to look their best when they are around cameras. Since the Rangasthalam look and feel was so natural, Samantha was relieved of any such pressures. She didn't bother much about her hair and costumes.
Among your upcoming projects, Sankalp Reddy – Varun Tej's space film sounds very exciting. Has the ground work started? Are you in touch with the team of Tamil space film, Tik Tik Tik on how they pulled it off?
There are many films that we are working on – the NTR garu biopic, Varun Tej's space film, etc. Yes, our ground work for the space film has already started. This film is not at all related to Tik Tik Tik; it'll be completely different. We are approaching it in a fresh perspective.