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Shanoo Muralidharan: On Art, Theatre and Misogyny in the Industry

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“We do not have a difference between a production designer and art director over here. It all comes under the same bracket,” says 25-year-old production designer Shanoo Muralidharan.

This art director who recently worked on actor Akshara Hassan’s upcoming venture Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu, says that the two are profusely different.

Elaborating, she says: “A production designer works closely with the costume designer and camera persons to see how the angles are to understand the mood of the film. An art director’s work is more of building and executing the production designer’s decisions.”

Speaking to Silverscreen India, Shanoo speaks about working in the industry and executing a role which only a few women have taken up before.

Origin

Originally from Cuddalore, Shanoo completed her high school in Tiruchi. When she moved to Chennai in 2012 to study electronic media in college, it did not take her long to adapt to the city. Considering her time at the Tiruchi boarding school, which she terms as a “jail”, Chennai allowed her to expand her horizons.

Having shown an interest in art from a young age, it was only natural for her to be drawn towards production design. “From a young age, I have been into art and things like DIY, painting and that also helped me get into cinema,” she says.

Her need to stay busy and proactive led to an eventual career in the film industry.

In college, she was quick to take up multiple internships and work with theatre and production companies, such as Stray Factory.

She started working on their theatre productions for theatre festivals and gradually began to contribute to art and design for their YouTube channel Ennada Rascalas. This culminated in her working for the YouTube web series called Black Sheep (2016).

Her first feature film was Katheyondu Shuruvagide, starring Pooja Devariya. Being only 23-years-old, the movie’s diverse team allowed her to understand and learn how production works on a big scale.  “Every single time you learn something new. It is always a nice learning curve for me when a film transforms from something small to an actual full-length feature,” she says.

Terming cinema as a “powerful medium that can impact people’s lives”, she notes that there are several differences between production design for theatre and movies. Having to make props from scratch and ideate by herself, she credits her work in theatre productions for teaching her about creativity.

“Films are completely different because there are more people and I have to get a lot done. There is a lot happening constantly,” she says.

Despite being drawn to both film and theatre, Shanoo prefers doing design for theatrical productions.

Sexism in the industry

Shanoo’s experience of working on the sets of Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu was vastly different from other productions, she says. The number of women on the set was significantly higher and this made it easier for her to interact and get work done, she adds.

“In a department like art, there are not a lot of women. Most of the men that you work with are all far older and it is difficult to get them to take you seriously,” she says.

She adds that her young age has also been an impediment in the past but she has learned to work around it.

Poster of upcoming movie Achchham Madam Naanam Payirppu

According to her, the sets of this film had a washroom that said ‘women only’ and that by itself is a big deal.

“Usually on set, even if there are one or two women, we cannot use the caravan and such things are never taken into consideration,” she adds.

Having had an unpleasant experience working on the set of a big-budget film, she considered quitting the film industry and pursuing psychology instead. However, it was not long before she decided that she could not give up on what she wanted to do.

“Now I make a conscious decision to work with people that I like and feel comfortable with. That helps me a lot,” says Shanoo.

Way forward

Despite being around in the industry for almost six years now, Shanoo also spends a considerable amount of time designing furniture. Passionate about recycling, she is currently in the process of building her own brand for the same.

While she has not taken up any more projects, she is very clear about her future goals.

“I would love to work in Malayalam films. The understanding and aesthetics are just great and that is something that I would love to work on,” she says.

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