Bulbbul set in 1881 in the Bengal Presidency, is a film about a precocious child bride with an appetite for scary stories and her journey from innocence to strength.
Below are hand written notes from Meenal Agarwal the production designer of the film. These give an insight into the thought process behind the design.
The notes give an insight into the inspirations for the design of the film that range from the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma to the architecture of Robert Adams. The details of some of the individual spaces and the challenges in pulling it all together.
The film was shot at Rajbari Bawalli outside of Kolkata and on built sets on studio floors in Mumbai. The study, Bindodini’s room, the corridor and the exteriors of the Haveli were shot at the Rajbari. The spaces in the Bawalli were reworked and redesigned to work for the story
The other spaces were shot on built sets in Mumbai and designed to look like they belong in the same Haveli
Rajbari Barwalli is a Boutique Hotel, “The owner loved his Rajbari and he kept it in the semi ruined state that he found it in. Part of the charm of the place was in its exposed brick pillars and the simplicity of white in its colour palette.
The characters in the film Bulbbul belonged to a Thakur Family, A well to do family in those days. He couldn’t have left his house in such a run down state. They had to clad the pillars; in some shots the pillars were enhanced using VFX.
The story of the film was based on the magic of the night. The white walls of the location would have been impossible for the cinematographer to work with. The challenge was to embellish and clad the structure without destroying it with our own drills and paint and wallpaper.
When the team first visited the location on recce they discovered very strong neo classical influences which worked for the film. They realised right away that they had to remove the Hindu architecture influences.
They incorporated Ionic columns, Faux marble Pillars, beds with crowns, exquisite lace machar danis.
The story was set in late 19th century Bengal. The design was greatly inspired by Raja Ravi Varma and Caravaggio and Botecelli’s Primavera painting. Besides the paintings, the inspiration for the spaces were taken from various sources. The work of architect Robert Adams. A useful reference book was “Architectural Colour in British Interiors 1615-1840” by Ian C Bristow.
Even though the women adorned Indian fabrics and style, the houses were extremely fashionable and inspired by their western counterparts. The idea that everything would be matching was pretty normal at the time. They took the thought and ran with it.
One of the major themes for the Haveli was the concept of letting the forest in.
Bulbbul’s hand fan in the film is inspired by the fan in Raja Ravi Varma’s painting “Ladies in the Moonlight”.
Bulbbul's childhood house
The film starts with the innocence of Bulbbul’s childhood home. Taking inspiration from Robert Adams stately house colours the space is done with the powdery kind of blue and soft pastel colours.
As Bulbbul is married to the Thakur their room would be the biggest and grandest bedroom in the Rajbari. When she becomes part of the forest the forest becomes a part of her space.
The use of the colour of moss in the wallpaper, the decay as a subliminal feeling of her wretchedness
Red and Damask often found in in 19th century décor became the theme for the study that had a singular colour.
The Study was created as a set within a real space. The challenge was to modify an existing space without damaging the original wall. A fake wall was placed in front of the original wall. This was then clad with wallpaper. The shelves were inset into the doorways and dips in the wall. The beautiful lamps with red glass were a lucky find in Calcutta. The leather on the desk was custom dyed and embossed.
The corridor was inspired by Raphael Loggias Hermitage in St Petersburg and by Robert Adams Architecture.
The corridor was shot in the Baradari. In the original corridor the walls and the pillars were white. Which didn’t work for the film. Extensive and careful work was carried out to clad the pillars without damaging them.
The bathroom is also inspired by Raja Ravi Varma and his trees and forests. It is amalgamation of trees from paintings by Jean Honore Fragonard and Jean Baptist Oudrey.
The space is also very much inspired by the frescos in Villa Falconeri, where the paintings cover all the walls and even the windows are not spared.
In Binodini’s room 18th century chintz wallpaper and bed sheets were used. The colours for both had to be adapted for night shoots. Embroidery and lace were used to attribute a more feminine quality to the space to indicate that Binodini is the most dominating character here.
The sheer curtains were embroidered muslin, muslin being a fabric that has been widely produced in Bengal for centuries. ‘
Director. Anvita Dutt
Production Designer. Meenal Agarwal
Set Decorator. Nikita Jain
Cinematographer. Siddharth Diwan