View Full Version : Gladiator: Rebuilding Rome, the Indian way

March 26th, 2001, 09:49 AM
This is something to pat our backs eCharchans!

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NEW DELHI: A Rome built with props from Jodhpuri chests and Hyderabadi saris, Gladiator winner of five Oscars, including best costume design, is riddled with India.

The Indian influence in the film lies in the dried flowers floating into the Colosseum, the obelisks in the arena, the curly bearded busts, the statues at every corner, the fountain in the town square, the Jodhpuri chests, the shields and the braces of brass lamps smoking light and shadow. And what of the saris? They're in every other frame in different avatars, but the most telltale one is a scene where Lucilla, the emperor's sister, wears silk robes with paisleys on them. From Hyderabad, of course.

From the might of the Colosseum to the last phallic obelisk, the Gladiator recreates ancient Rome in all her majesty. Film critics have been going nuts about the perfect atmospherics and the dazzling sets. Large chunks of these sets are not from Dreamwork's fancy Hollywood studio, but right here in India. In what turned to be an accidental designing coup, a Mumbai-based art-decorator firm, Nitish Roy Associates, was hired to design portions of the sets for this recreation of the Roman empire, circa 180 AD.

The offer to prop up the 'Gladiator' came like a bolt from the blue; Roy and his partner Sunil Pillai got a call in January 1999 from an old friend Crispan Sallis, who had been hired as art decorator for 'Gladiator' to replace the existing one who had made a hash of things and run through most of the budget.

Earlier in an interview to The Times of India, Pillai recalled, ``Crispan called us and said, ``I have no time and almost no money. You have to help me.'' It was an order they couldn't refuse. Also, one does not refuse a Ridley Scott film.

Sallis put down the phone and took the next flight to Mumbai. Then, the fun started. ``We didn't build Rome in a day, but we certainly built chunks of it in six weeks,'' says Pillai. ``Getting the sets ready was only one part, we had to also ship the stuff to Malta and Morocco where the film was being shot. Believe me, we went mad.''

Sallis spent 12 whirlwind days in India and took 30 flights around the country. Pillai and he first went to Timmapur outside Hyderabad, where the company's workshop is located. Sallis bought 100-odd books on the Roman Empire for the artists to copy from. He drew rapid sketches and placed even more rapid-fire orders for Ionic columns, urns, obelisks, vases, shields, a massive bed for Emperor Commodus, thrones, marble busts, statues, fountains, shop fronts - the whole imperial caboodle.

While the artists sweated it out to meet the impossible deadline, Sallis went on a crazy shopping spree in Hyderabad.

``He wanted to buy saris for the sets,'' says Pillai, ``to use for the tents and curtains and robes. So, we went to a sari shop and he asked the owner, how many saris in your shop?''

``About 700,''said the shopkeeper.

Crispan bought the whole shop.

Then he went and bought up four more sari shops. The shopkeepers were in shock. Finally, they concluded that this was just another mad foreigner.

To the delight of Hyderabadis, the mad foreigner did not stop at saris. He bought two tonnes of dried flowers and leaves (confirming local opinion that he was loco), about a hundred charpoys and sackfuls of jute.

Next stop, Jaipur, where truckloads of furniture, chests and brass lamps were snapped up.

Ditto in Jodhpur. In Delhi, the drapery was organised, massive bolts of muslin and satin were bought, tailors hired and the cloth stitched into billowy curtains and robes and pennants. Almost all the drapery, and large parts of the wardrobe in the film, can be traced to some Delhi gully.

After Delhi, Sallis (by now a zombie) flew home. For one week there was no news from him, and Pillai, who had spent Rs 55 lakh on the shopping was getting frantic. Finally, Sallis secretary called to say that he was in hospital suffering from exhaustion and that he was mumbling deliriously about paying for the saris. Altogether, with the sets, shipping and shopping, it came to Rs 3 crore.

The sets were shipped to Malta, but again, there was no word from Sallis. Many distraught phone-calls later, they traced him: he was back in hospital, this time with a broken pelvis after tumbling off the sets.

Sallis was in so much pain that they didn't have the heart to ask him what he thought of their sets. But weeks after the production was over, Roy and Pillai were still dying to know how their creative efforts had been received. Did the urns have the right curves? Were the Ionic proportions right? So one more call to Sallis, who this time was

playing football.

``Oh, your work was really appreciated,'' he said. ``You don't believe me? Go and check Ridley Scott's L.A. home. He liked the stuff so much that he took it back to decorate his house.''

For Roy and Pillai, both potty about Scott (they have a company called Blade Runner, after Scott's film), it was an epic compliment.

More at: http://www.timesofindia.com/today/26indu8.htm