This Shimla girl stunned Bollywood by recreating Pan Am Boeing 747 from scratch
SHIMLA- Aparna Sud, a girl from queen of hills – Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, who has been behind the look of diverse films including ‘Nishabd’, ‘ABCD: Any Body Can Dance’ and ‘Tevar’, has stunned Bollywood after she recreated identical ill-fated Pan Am Boeing 747 aircraft for movie Neerja. The movie, based on true story of Neerja Bhanot, who had sacrificed her life to save passengers on a hijacked aircraft in 1986, is receiving warm response from audience. So, Aparna shares the credit for it.
Aparna (38) had left Simla for Mumbai to pursue her professional ambitions, starting out as an interior designer in 2001. However, she gradually paved her way into Bollywood. But ‘Neerja’ is her biggest breakthrough as a production designer so far. Other than Neerja, she has also completed an international project for a Hollywood film, Heartbeats, which is directed by Duane Adler.
A set designer is often the “invisible” talent on a production team. But his/her presence is seen in how the spaces that inhabit a director’s imagination come to life. Production designer Aparna Sud is among those artists and her latest accomplishment is the film Neerja, for which she designed a set that resembled the ill-fated Pan Am flight 73 which was hijacked on September 5, 1986, while on the ground at Karachi, Pakistan, by four armed Palestinian men of the Abu Nidal Organization.
When production designer Aparna Sud signed up for Ram Madhvani’s Neerja, rather than getting nervous, she decided to take it up as a challenge. “This is going to be interesting,” she told herself before heading to the drawing board.
A lot of research went into making the aircraft. She elaborates,
It was almost like going back to school. I had to take into consideration a lot of references. I started with the layout, drawings and made some 3D models. I referred to every resource available online, including a website that was set up by the ex-employees of Pan Am (Pan American World Airways). I also went through technical manuals of Boeing 747, consulted pilots who have flown the aircraft and also met aeronautical engineers and flight attendants.
Constructed in 48 days at a site in Mumbai, the aircraft was painstakingly put together by a floating team of 250 per day, working 12 hours a day and then 24, as the deadline for filming approached. Research was intensive – from poring over actual images of the plane, as well as pictures from the day of the hijack, to going through all documented references and even Pinterest. What really helped was snagging a copy of a manual of a Boeing 747 “meant only for staff”, and scouring a Pan Am employees’ website for “every little thing, from the switches to the button you press to recline your seat – and the way all of that works”, Sud says.
She is happy that her effort has paid off and the film has won rave reviews for the precision and detailing involved. Aparna, who started out as an interior designer, worked with an architect for almost six years before she shifted base to Mumbai. W
hen I came to the city in 2002, my sister asked me if I would like to assist a production designer. I agreed, and that’s how my journey in Bollywood began,
On Aparna’s wish list is a chance to recreate the Mughal dynasty from scratch, for the screen. A period film aficionado, she says,
I would love to work on a period film. Mughal-e-Azam is among my favourite films, and it is quite a challenge to recreate that era.