Sometimes, it takes a death to remember the living. So it is with Samir Chanda’s sudden death last week. Obituaries highlighted his achievements, with a special mention of his work in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar, Dil Se.., Guru and Raavanan/Raavan. Some articles bemoaned the anonymity that governs the contributions of production designers like Chanda, who create the world within which movie plots unfold, but who often don’t get recognized for it.

The truth is that at least in recent years, greater attention has been paid to the processes that go into making a film. The spotlight has swung beyond the star’s shoulder to cinematographers, art directors, costume designers and sound recordists. In comparison, you will be hard-pressed to find a proper interview with film technicians from the past. Sudhendhu Roy created the definite Indian aesthetic for several landmark movies. He imagined rural India in Bandini, captured working-class Mumbai in Bluffmaster and created Bond-inspired fantasy spaces in the original Don. Yet, it’s difficult to find a decent interview with Roy or a discussion on how his work influenced the way the movies were received.

It isn’t that journalists and writers haven’t tried. Writing about popular cinema has caught on, and it’s only a matter of time before star biographies and books about landmark movies give way to accounts of behind-the-scenes players. But researchers will find this tough. History can only be as good as the available material. Indians in general don’t write things down and don’t file away anecdotes in their memory bank. They’re slippery on dates and hazy on details. Or they will indulge in the great Indian sin of self-aggrandizement.

Gritty: Wasiq Khan is the art director of That?Girl in?Yellow?Boots.

Among the art directors working today, the creations of Sabu Cyril and Wasiq Khan deserve greater attention. Cyril is a master of the make-believe, while Khan is the go-to man for gritty realism for directors like Anurag Kashyap. Khan’s contributions to Kashyap’s upcoming That Girl in Yellow Boots (releasing on 2 September) are on a par with the director and actors of that movie, as is the lovely work by cinematographer Rajeev Ravi. Not many films being made in Mumbai these days merit a second look, but for the ones that do, it would be nice if somebody maintained a diary or took notes—or at least remained alert.

Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).

Write to Nandini at stallorder@livemint.com

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