Designing shrinking spaces

Designing shrinking spaces

National Award winning filmmaker Omung Kumar, who is also a masters in production design has designed the sets for the ongoing reality show on MTV,...

National Award-winning filmmaker Omung Kumar, who is also a master’s in production design has designed the sets for the ongoing reality show on MTV, ‘Ace of Space’. The man who has weaved magic on the big screen with films like ‘Mary Kom’ and ‘Sarabjit’ ventures into niche reality TV with a show like ‘Ace of Space’ for the first time. 18 contestants are fighting it out in 6 rooms to win the most basic means of existence - space!

Excerpts from an interview

When you first heard the concept of 'Ace of Space', what did you feel about it?
I felt that the show had a lot of scope for set designing. I have watched the earlier show on MTV titled ‘Crunch’. The idea was to alienate from that and create something unique. Here, there are six rooms and every room had to have different qualities. The engineering framework was quite complicated. You had to start with 18ft by 18ft rooms which would gradually shrink to 6 ft. by 4 ft. So, it called for a very interesting way of designing. I loved the concept and immediately said yes to it. I knew I had to be crazier and quirkier in my ideas, compared to ‘Bigg Boss’.

The next thought on my mind was how Vikas Gupta, a mastermind’s house would look like. It had to reflect his personality and traits. In this house, there’s a bedroom, there is a living room, then there’s a bathroom, a gymnasium, a kids’ room and a servant’s room and every room will shrink progressively during the course of the show. Since the walls will shrink, elements would need to be removed with every episode. A lot of minute detailing went into deciding the décor - on what to be put on the wall and the floor.

For instance, we have a bathroom here with a bathtub, a shower, a pot, etc. The catch here is that it is a non-functional one. It’s like a normal room where the contestants will sleep on the huge bathtub or the floor mat. Same goes for the gym where the people will have to sleep on the Yoga mats. Every room is supposed to play with the contestants ‘mind. I put in a lot of sayings on the walls which, when you’re doing nothing, you’re compelled to read that and re-analyse yourself.

What creative difficulties did you face while designing the house?
There weren’t many creative challenges, but the difficulty was to come to terms with how the rooms would be like. We had made many sketches and quirkier designs but when we sat with the production team, the brief was to make the design more understandable to common people. The audience had to connect with the concept and the production design. So, we altered our plans and started re-sketching. This was the first time I was designing a house like this, which had shrinking walls. To make that happen and yet keep the setting simple made it a little complicated. In ‘Ace of Space’, designing the rooms was rather easy, coming to the concept was tough. Once we devised how to get the walls to shrink, rest fell into place.

How different is it designing for TV in comparison to Films?
I have designed a lot of TV show sets across genres. They come with a different pattern and premise. For films, the sets are way more real. They have to be authentic and really close to the original. Also, for films, there are multiple sets. We move from one set to another within a single schedule so those have to be made in quick timelines. That’s another reason why they are also kept real. But for TV, we generally go overboard with the set design. Especially, shows which are louder and aspirational often have crazier sets. That’s the difference according to me. But every set that I design has to have a charm of its own.

In terms of designing, what is your preference—TV or film?
There is no preference as such. I love taking on projects that are challenging and ‘Ace of Space’ was one. I love designing crazy stuff. Also, I am competing with myself. Almost all channels have my set designs on shows that air on primetime, so it’s my task to make every location look different from the other. With every other project, I challenge and compete with myself and try to make a better set. So, for me, that new benchmark always excites me. Once a show ends, my wife Vanita and I sit and ideate on how to do things differently next year. We plan on what we shouldn’t repeat or innovate on for the next season.

As for films, set design is eventual of the script. It depends on what kind of a setting, real or larger than life is the demand of the story. Sometimes, we do not have a reference like in case of epic and historical sagas. For instance, for my show ‘Salim Anarkali’, we do not know how exactly Akbar’s palace and kingdom looked. That calls for a lot of thinking and finalising on how we want to structure it and yet make it relevant to the script. I always look forward to the next phase of my life.

Do you have any plans to foray into the digital medium?
I haven’t received any offers as of now. The current focus will be on the line-up of two-three films which are going to happen. Digital is the future and I would love to explore the medium.

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