On MissMalini Star Squad today we have a squad member who dictates everything you see on your screen, well other than the star itself. As a Production Designer, Saini S Johray takes us through what goes on behind the scenes of all the beautiful and intricate sets you see on screen, the lessons this profession has taught him and if you are an aspiring Production Designer, he has also got some advice for you. Some of his works include the upcoming show The Night Manager 2, The Family Man, Tooth Pari, Inside Edge and more. Read on to find out more about his journey…

How would you describe your journey in the industry so far?

It’s been a thrilling journey, as well as a deeply fulfilling one. I didn’t know I would come this far when I first arrived in Mumbai. I had a Master’s degree in Art Direction and Production Design from FTII, Pune. As a young technician navigating the world of Hindi cinema, I did not have much contacts or knowledge about the inner workings of the industry. But other artists, and filmmakers, accepted me and my craft. Production design is a painstaking and intricate process. There are also projects where very little research material is available about a particular time. In such cases, I have to use my imagination in a pragmatic and believable way to design the look and feel of a film. There is a lot of attention to detail required in my craft which I thoroughly enjoy. As I said, the satisfaction of this journey has been unparalleled.

From Family Man to Night Manager, what are some life lessons these projects have taught you?

The lesson learnt is that no matter what the situation, the conditions, or the budgets are, no matter where you are shooting, the show must not stop. Keep figuring out till you find a way & don’t give up and learn from the challenges. In Family Man, for example, I had a different set of challenges. We had to shoot at different places where sometimes either language was a barrier or the budget was a barrier. Sometimes there came situations where you were to make the visual sets in a very short period of time. So each day one learns, faces a different challenge and learns something new out of it.

Saini S Johray on the sets of The Family Man S2 with Samantha Ruth Prabhu

How important is Production Design in the process of filmmaking according to you?

Production design is so much more than just building and decorating sets for a film. A production designer gives physical form to a filmmaker’s vision. You can write a film set in a particular world but without the physical and visual manifestation of that world you cannot begin realizing it. A production designer is attached to a project from its very conception. Genres like science fiction or fantasy, for instance, cannot be visualized without Production Design. There are situations where you cannot shoot on real locations. So you need production design to recreate them in perfect detail. A production designer works closely with other HODs like the Director of Photography, costume designer, and VFX supervisor. In the modern context, with filmmakers focusing on the visual immersion and grandeur of their stories, production design is absolutely integral to the process.

From the sets of The Night Manager

What’s one memory from your previous projects that you hold close to your heart?

It’s hard to just pick and choose one such memory because there is so much to take away from each project. But my most recent favourite memory of mine goes back to during the shoot of The Night Manager. It was being shot in Sri Lanka, and I came on board just a week before the shoot was to begin. I hadn’t prepped, no Recce, anything. I straight away landed in Sri Lanka a week before the shoot, saw the location and there was an enormous amount of work needed to be done and hardly any time, it seemed impossible to pull it off but the Director of the show had a lot of faith in us that we would somehow work it out. And because of the then ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka, the budgets were skyrocketing. Everything there was three times more expensive than the normal price. I had time constraints, I had budget constraints and the director was hopeful that could deliver something at least. And then we were working relentlessly, for 3-4 days and nights with no sleep we just pulled it off and were ready to shoot at the decided date. When the director and producer finally came to see the set they just couldn’t believe what we pulled off and thought it to be unreal. They were extremely happy to see what we made. We made Mr Rungta’s (Anil Kapoor Sir’s character in the show ) villa in the show. It was a resort which we converted into a private villa and a lot of work had gone into that. The director was so much in awe and said “I thought we would just about manage something but this is way beyond my expectation.” Even Anil Kapoor Sir came and said that it looked so beautiful. That was such a special memory for me as a production designer. When you give your heart and soul into what you’re doing & it pays off, everyone’s happy with the final product, it is such a fulfilling feeling. This is one such memory that’ll always stay with me.

We know you worked on ‘Unpaused’ and it was one of the few films that was shot during the Pandemic. What were the challenges you faced working on that?

Yeah, we shot Unpaused during the Pandemic. Raj & DK always have their own unique & quirky ideas and they generally don’t compromise on their visual grammar. Pandemic or no pandemic, they want things in a certain way and want the whole visual to be in a particular manner. And of course, the Pandemic limits you. You cannot work with a bigger crew and then there are budgets. For instance, if I have a team of 50 people, I could finish the set in 5 days but if I’m limited to making a set only with 10 people but the location is available only for 5 days so then that’s a challenge. Even with a lesser number of people you have to make the film in the same given days and have to execute within those limited number of days. That was indeed a challenge for me during the pandemic time.

What are some of your upcoming projects?

Two of my shows have just been released. The Night Manager Part 1 & Tooth Pari. On 30th June The Night Manager Part 2 releases. Immediately after that, a show called Gaanth, directed by Kanishk Varma will be out soon. Then a show very close to my heart called Gulkanda Tales will be coming. Currently, I’m working on a film with Abhishek Kapoor, the title of which I’m not allowed to disclose right now. And a couple more projects in the pipeline.

And lastly, what advice would you give to people new to this field or are thinking of getting into Production Design?

One, you are born with aesthetics. Two, you need to polish your aesthetics. Three, there is absolutely no shortcut to success, you have to work very hard and prove yourself every day. No matter how many projects you’ve worked on, how good you are with your work, how successful you are, each time when you start a new project with a new director, you have to prove to them that your work is good and that they can trust you. The only key to your success is your sincere hard work.

I cannot wait to watch the magic that he unravels on the big screen, with his upcoming projects. I am personally very excited about The Immortal Ashwatthama.