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Recreating a temple town

Posted April 28th, 2022, 11:29 AM IST

Recreating a temple town

Having worked for big ticket Bollywood films like Hrithik Roshan-starrers such as Krrish, Agneepath and Brothers, Suresh Selvarajan has become a name to reckon with when it comes to art work in cinema.

His latest project is the Chiranjeevi-starrer Acharya. While the film has around 10 sets, the most talked about one is Dharmasthali, a fictional town.

Suresh says when director Koratala Siva narrated the script, he saw the need for a temple town. They did a recce for about three months but couldn’t find an appropriate locale. “Also, it is difficult to shoot outdoors with such big stars as Chiranjeevi and Ram Charan — there’ll be a huge crowd. So we decided to build a temple town set,” he shares.

It took four months of pre-production work to design the set. A lot of research and detailing went into it. Suresh personally visited around 60 temples in South India to get the background information before he started sketching. “When you recreate a town on such a massive canvass where every square foot is being utilised, the level of detailing has to be comprehensive,” he says.

“After making the basic sketches I came up with a model, and later started constructing the set,” he explains.

Around 20 acres of land was needed to build the set. Since Chiranjeevi owns land in Kokapet on the outskirts of Hyderabad city, they made use of it. It took around 1000 workers three months to build the Dharmasthali set.

“The temple town set has South Indian architectural styles. I travelled through the whole of the South and realised that most of the gopurams are similar (except those in Mahabalipuram, Tirupati and Thanjavur),” he says, adding that he came up with a new idea for a gopuram.

Suresh had earlier worked with Koratala Siva in Bharat Ane Nenu, a political thriller. “We had replicas of Assembly, etc for that film, but for this film, I needed to create a town which shouldn’t look like a set to the theatre audience,” says Suresh, describing the challenge.

He used iron, fibre, Plaster of Paris, plywood and cement to build the sets. “The magnitude of the scale was very challenging,” he notes.

The Dharmasthali temple town set comprises a gurukulam, a goshala, a hospital, a weavers’ area, police station, bazaar, streets, an agraharam, even a city centre. It is one of the largest single sets, says Suresh, adding that the 18-ft statue of Goddess Mahakali was one of the major attractions.

“This set work wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Chiranjeevi Sir and Ram Charan. They encouraged me to come up with out-of-the-box ideas,” says Suresh.

“There’s another set — a hamlet named Paada Ghattam. We have constructed this set at Maredumilli (near Rajamundry),” he adds.

The script demanded scenes in thick forest. However, since such a forest setting could not be located, and there were restrictions to entering forests during the pandemic, a set for this had to be made too. “We took around 15 trees made of metal and fibre from Hyderabad to Maredumilli,” reveals Suresh.

Suresh is a South Indian settled in Mumbai. He initially had a south Indian bent of mind when it came to building sets. “But gradually I have learnt to adapt to various styles. My vast experience tells me that no matter what the language is, content is universal and emotional,” he smiles, signing off.