May 24, 2018

Bollywood is known for its colourful and elaborate sets which play an essential role in setting the mood of the story - the glamorous Ajanta theatre from Aaja Nachle, or the sinister Delhi nightlife from No one killed Jessica. The credit for these stunning productions and art design goes to one of Bollywood’s pivotal art directors, Sukant Panigrahy.

Sukant Panigrahy. An artist by profession and activist at heart, he has dedicated his life to using his art to making a change, in both reel and real life.

Hailing from a small village in Ganjam district of Odisha, Panigrahy remains rooted to nature and simplicity and is passionate about making a change in society.

In Bengaluru to join Speak Out (SPEAK OUT - A Campaign Against Bullying and Sexual Abuse), a campaign against bullying and sexual abuse, he spoke to The Good City about his motivation to support such causes, “If we create a collective awareness, more people may find their voice and not suppress that feeling and anger that creates trauma”. Read more about the campaign: It’s time to Speak Out!

Panigrahy is an active participant and organiser of many social campaigns which cover an array of issues faced by India today. Some well known campaigns of his include, Beauty and the Beach, a beach clean up in Juhu. Along with a group of volunteers and the general public, the group collected all the waste accumulated and created an installation of a world map out of it. Welcome to the jungle was his way of showing concern about the present generation not being in touch with nature. An artificial jungle was created to give the kids in Andheri a jungle book experience. From marches in Lokhandwala for women's safety to other issues, he is always ready to join in. He has founded an NGO called ‘Muskaan’ in Maharashtra for underprivileged children as well.

Panigrahy with the kids from Muskaan

His desire to speak through art pushed him to create the ‘Musicians Artists Filmmakers Interesting log Aa jao’ or MAFIA. It is a platform where people from various fields of art and other professions come together and talk about their work. Explaining about MAFIA he says, “It was a platform we started sometime ago and we meet for 3 to 4 days in an isolated location and speak about our work”. His platform has giving way for many people to express their art and ideas, and a lot of collaborations take place he says. “It creates a certain social impact and lot of young talent have found their voice here”, he says with pride.


He finds art an effective way to campaign. He says it is what he is good at and feels that in the long run such varied forms of art help in reaching out and having a more permanent impact on the viewers. “Somehow we carry a certain memory of it (art) with us. Like you read poetry or some short story, it connects to you sometimes in later parts of your life”, he says.

With films like No one killed Jessica and Bhopal: A prayer for rain, he has worked on many movies which bring out social issues in India. He points out that the surrounding in which the movie is filmed is very important, and that the right setting can amplify the effect of the storyline on the viewers. In this way Panigrahy’s work has made the country aware of issues through movies as well.

Chak de India, Dev D, No one killed Jessica, Aaja Nachle and Gangaajal are a few of the many prominent movies Panigrahy has worked on.

Talking about the film industry he says, “It is very much under Western influence now. We are losing our indigenous work and originality”. He points to many beautiful films from Kerala, West Bengal and the Northeast which have not been able to hit the limelight despite their catching storylines. “They are not so commercially viable, so producers don’t encourage them”, he reasons. Expressing his distress at the plight of the smaller filmmakers he comments, “I see a lot of independent filmmakers struggle”. He talks about how these small filmmakers have to sell their homes or land and work with friends to make their films. He calls this hijack of culture and heritage within the stories worse than being ruled by the Britishers.

His love for films and story telling made him leave the village of Aska and move to the hustle bustle of Mumbai. Working in a small restaurants to make ends meet, Sukant worked his way to the glamor of Bollywood. Mentored by guru Sudhendu Roy, his creativity and outlook was a fresh new change that Bollywood gladly embraced. When asked about his decision on becoming an art director, he says, “From childhood I was always interested in story telling. When TV came, it was magical for me to see so much of content from different parts of the world. I wanted to get into that, to learn the craft, so that I can tell stories from my side and tell stories that I grew up with. I thought the best way to learn is working in the industry (Bollywood), so that is how I got into it”.

His drive to tell stories made him one of Bollywood's most prominent art director, and has won him the Best Art Director at the Filmfare awards and the Asia Pacific Film Festival consecutively in 2009.


By Minnal Paranan