Exclusive : Latha Naidu Interview

Latha Naidu is a familiar name in the industry circles. As an art director and production designer, she made her debut with Pelli Chupulu and has been upgrading her skill with every film. She is a team player, soft spoken but firm in her decisions and believes in giving a long rope to her co-workers. She hasn’t only grown in the past few years creatively, she has evolved as a person.. and now takes pride in roping in young, talented girls who have a flair for design and is grooming them professionally to suit the technical and creative needs of the film industry. Basking in the success of Ante Sundaraniki, Latha Naidu speaks a few things to Klapboardpost.com about her art and her career in Telugu films. Okkate Aasha is the project that Latha is currently working on. Her previous works are Ee Nagaraniki Yemaindhi and a web series with Vyjayanthi starring Nitya Menon.

About the content of the web series, Latha says “They took the story from a story book, a novel and was developed by Srinivas Avasarala. The girl is very independent and her ambition is to capture the ancestral house that doesn’t belong to her or her family anymore; how she goes about achieving what a millennial would do forms the crux. The exterior part of it was done in Rajahmundry and the interiors was done in Hyderabad in Ramoji Film City. The other part, which is a bar, was set up in the Aluminium Factory. What was expected from her? The description given to me was …the girl, her sister and her family grew up in the house and she is very sentimental about it. We did the color pallette, the propping,fill up, the characters etc. We see the same house in many films but we made it look different according to the story requirement.”

After a concept is established the production designer sets the style and visual structure for the film. Here Latha prefers the word art director because people get to relate to it more. She adds, “Yes, all this with the help of the director and DoP. I usually do sketches that are basic, rough sketches and once they approve it we go ahead. I do have the say in the location and I can sort it by distinguishing what might look posh or vintage and if it fits in or not. Here I don’t have much of a say because I am an art director only, not the production designer. If there is no budget constraint and we ( me and the director) stretch it a bit, I do take a call on the locations, look and feel of the film in a basic manner. Lot of money matters get involved when you are deciding the location. For U Turn, Pelli Chupulu, Ee Nagarainiki and Ante Sundaraniki I was the production designer.”

When did Latha decide to be a production designer? “My mum has a very good aesthetic taste and whatever is available, old sarees and other fabrics, she makes curtains and other interior stuff. She would cut them and make frames and I picked up all this from her. I come from a film background. We own a film studio in Bangalore and my father and grandfather are producers. My grandfather introduced a bunch of actors to the industry, and I grew up amidst art, costumes etc. My father was not appreciative about me joining films but now he is supportive. I would design and do small advertisements in Bangalore and help cousins with their interiors. Pelli Chupulu cinematographer Nagesh pushed me into doing art. From art to production design, it started with Pelli Chupulu. I got a lot of help from art assistants and union people. I haven’t done any study and it was mostly online. Ravinder Reddy, cinematographer was the first to use the title production design for his work in Telugu films. As a production designer, you play a major role in everything. Lot of people don’t understand the difference between the two, they only know what art direction is all about. They think a production designer is a line producer. The industry folks for sure know the difference but for an outsider it is only art. Production design is a very Hollywood term”, she explains.

Level of success?
Latha says she has a long way to go, she quips, “I don’t think i’m successful at all. What drives me to do more films is the appreciation I get, the kind of directors who approach me. Also my team is an all girls internship in my projects. It is so cool that the set is filled with ten girls these days. The directors and producers are so friendly and there are so many female art directors in the industry. There are two architects with me, some are just graduates and some just out of NIFT and Annapurna Studios. They genuinely want to work hard and be in this business. The frame..where I see them put in so hard work is so encouraging and satisfying. Some call me mam, some Latha etc..it is a little tribe that is growing every day.

Latha follows a humane approach and terms it as a way of life. “I ask my girls if their parents are okay going home late. I tell them to give my numbers and I let them crash at my house when it is late. Women have more aesthetic sense and also the craftsmen in the sets take commands from these girls. I tell them to talk to all of them with a lot of respect, they are all experienced and age wise too they are seniors. They all have pet names and nicknames. I have no complaints from these people about my girls. I train the girls to respect the co-workers and stress they aren’t working for us, we are all working for the film. There is no scope for disrespecting. In OTT we already have 6 female art directors and 8 women from the Union.”

Does she draw inspiration from her seniors and is her work influenced by different directors? The first thing is,they approach me because they like my tone..which means my problem is solved. These people cinematographers are so kind and tell me what they want beforehand. With experience you learn a lot and read a person. Everything is sorted in pre production. Vivek Aathreya is very good and Niketh has been super supportive. I have my team but craftsmen you don’t get them all of a sudden. If they are available they’ll definitely come and work. There are plenty of people and after Covid there is a lot of work and people are happy.

Ante Sundaraniki was lively. The brief given was it is an inter religion inter ideology film to her. “The trailer looks colourful but story wise it is a flashback to present. We have to pull the crowd in with promos but the characters in the house are different, each character is different. I don’t multitask and focus on one film only. For Anthey there were two lockdowns but this film was definitely worth it. I am not there yet for multi-tasking and also I don’t have the skill which comes with experience and age but right now i can say I am a micro management person. It would be nice to be in that space but as of now I am able to focus and give my best possibility”.

Finally we ask Latha what kind of house she would design for herself and she says, “I want a simple Portugal style, a small house and more space around to grow veggies and fruits and flowers. I do have a house in Bangalore but some day I will like having one of my own.”…Y.Sunita Chowdhary

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