Santhanam, the unsung hero of Ayirathil oruvan

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Santhanam Art director

Many worked for Selva’s ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’. But the one who is appreciated by one and all film industry is T Santhanam, art director of the Selvaraghavan’s magnum opus. But not by the general public.

“The role of an art director in films is crucial. He is responsible for overall visual appearance and how the movie communicates visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features, and psychologically appeals to a target audience,” he says.

Referred by his colleagues as ‘Santy’, Santhanam, who made his debut in ‘Sokka Thangam’, says, “I thank Bhagiyaraj sir for giving me a break in film industry.”

Santy came into contact with Selvaraghavan and worked as art director in ‘Pudhupettai’. “Selva’s association changed me a lot. I became more serious about my work. Working for ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’ was no easy task. Since it was a period film intertwined with fiction, we had to do an extensive research. We browsed on the net, visited museums and interacted with historians and scholars before designing the sets,” he says.

“Selva has a nose for details. It was difficult satisfying him. Hard labour for over 150 days to erect such huge sets was a satisfying experience for me. With more freedom and no constraint on budget (thanks to producer Raveendran), I was able to create what I envisioned,” Santhanam adds

In tinselville since 1996, Santhanam says there has been a stark change in the industry’s outlook over the last few years. “Filmmakers now think out-of-the-box, and are willing to spend and willing to take risks. A lot of research and reference goes into a film, as does attention to detail,” says Santhanam, who has films such as Sokka Thangam, Pudhukottayilirundhu Saravanan, Bose, Pudhupettai and Yaaradi Nee Mohini to his credit. On the flip side, however, he says that in an attempt to complete films early, “people rush. This won’t do justice to the end product”.

Santhanam, whose latest is the sleeper hit Thamizh Padam, opines that it does not really matter if a film has a big or small budget. “In fact, a big budget film can be made on a low budget with meticulous planning. What is important is how committed you are. If the pre-production suffers, the movie will too,” he asserts.

With Thoongaa Nagaram and Kalavaani in his kitty, what Santhanam is really excited about is a yet-to-be titled Tamil film. “The film revolves around an incident that occurs one night — the film is shot at night, and it’s challenging to capture the essence of a story in dark. Like I said, I love challenges…”

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