New Delhi: Shrinking the 5 feet 9 inches tall Shah Rukh Khan to some 4 feet 6 inches for the screen is no mean task. But to put together Aanand L. Rai’s next film ZERO, in which the star plays a dwarf, Khan’s audacious team at his visual effects company Red Chillies VFX is raring to go. The film slated for release on 21 December is one of the many projects the studio has in its kitty currently, most of which are still under wraps.
There are also plans for a VFX training school to encourage the youth to explore the effects industry, for which the team is in initial stages of negotiation on partners, stakeholders, location and timeline, but hopes to kickstart the project soon. All of this, quite obviously, stems from the desire to build on the appreciation gained for some of Bollywood’s most VFX-heavy films in the recent past.
A life-long dream to produce a slick science fiction or superhero film led Khan to envision a world-class special effects studio 12 years ago in 2006. The Anubhav Sinha-directed Ra.One, which released in 2011, however, came much after Khan’s labour of love, Red Chillies VFX, had already established itself as a force to reckon with in Bollywood, having worked on several projects.
Seven years after Ra.One, Red Chillies VFX has managed to emerge as the industry’s ultimate go-to post-production supervisor for visual effects.
“We are embarking on our 13th year as a VFX division unit. Having started as an eight-member team to having grown to a facility with over 400 employees, our journey has truly been amazing," said Keitan Yadav, chief operating officer/VFX producer, Red Chillies VFX & Color, who has supervised special effects on several visual-heavy films, including blockbuster superhero flick Krissh 3 and psychological thriller Fan.
The journey may have begun with the unprecedented scale and complexities of Ra.One, which won the National Film Award for best special effects among other recognition but soon went beyond the superstar patron’s shadows. Rakesh Roshan’s superhero film Krissh 3 (2013), a 3D VFX-heavy project with over 2500 VFX shots, large-scale building construction and explosion sequences, and Yash Raj Films’ Fan (a 2016 Shah Rukh Khan-starrer) with nearly 1800 VFX shots to achieve facial transformation for Khan who played both a middle-aged superstar and his lookalike fan, have been milestones. More recently, the VFX team has come into its own with work on films like Anushka Sharma-starrers Phillauri and Pari, both of which have won critical appreciation for their effects.
Joining the VFX division in January 2017 was the colour branch that has worked on 22 movies in a span of one year, including superhits like Golmaal Again, Fukrey Returns, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety and Pari, besides National Award-winning short Marathi film Adnyat and multi-lingual documentary Sachin: A Billion Dreams.
“We have always maintained that we look at ourselves as an independent business unit and proof of that is that out of the 37 movies we’ve done, 22 movies are independent of SRK," Yadav said. “However, we do keep taking Mr. Khan’s help whenever required and eventually, it’s the work we have done over a span of 12 years which speaks volumes."
Technical departments like VFX and colour require coordination specifically with the cinematographer and director of a film, which is where Khan’s patronage mostly ends.
“My director of photography (DoP) Andre Menezes wanted to go ahead with Makarand Surte (chief colourist at Red Chillies Color) who had graded my first film too," said Fukrey Returns director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba. “It was a very good experience, there was a good flow of thought and nobody was very rigid about things and even if they were, they had their own reasons."
Lamba, whose team experimented with colours, pointed out that despite Khan’s working relationship with Excel Entertainment, the producer of Fukrey Returns, technical aspects like colour and grading were the DoP’s call. Besides, many of Red Chillies’ latest hits have been with other credible filmmakers and production houses like Excel and Rohit Shetty Films.
“I’m sure even Mr. Khan would want to approach it as a business model. It’s not just about the superstar brand anymore but the fact that it’s the work that’s getting them more clients," Lamba said.
The focus for the company immediately is ZERO, which Haresh Hingorani, chief creative officer/VFX supervisor, Red Chillies VFX & Color, calls a never-done-before project that has taken the team months of research and development.
“If one has to compare the Indian film industry to older times, one can clearly see how organized things have become now. From minimum usage of VFX to using it extensively and efficiently now, the directors as well as actors have realized that effective usage of VFX saves them a lot of time, effort, energy and money," Yadav said. “Clearly, if VFX is used correctly and effectively in the growing competitive market along with the right talent and technicians, it can do wonders. And Bollywood is slowly but surely recognizing that fact and utilizing it to the fullest."