Behind the dreamy romantic sequence of Bollywood movie Fanaa or the scary gruesome murder scene in No one killed Jessica, the creative genius of Odia boy Sukant Panigrahy stands out. Recipient of many national and international awards for his superb art direction in designing brilliant sets, this man has his feet on the ground and does not sport any airs and graces.
His portfolio boasts of popular movies like Gangajal , Chak de India, Aaja Nach le, D-Day ,Fitoor, Ek tha Tiger, Chillar Party, Tashan, Bheja Fry 2, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Dil Bole Hadippa!, Badmaash Company , No One Killed Jessica, Heroine and the list is unending. ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’ that deals with the Bhopal gas tragedy is one of his favourite projects.
Working with big banners like Yash Raj films, UTV spotboy, Nadiawala Grandson Entertainment and others has not made him forget that all this came with a lot of sacrifices. Sukant has walked on fire, slept on ice and lived a cur’s life to break free from the shackles that tied him down, to emerge as one of the most renowned production designer and art director of Bollywood.
Growing up in Aska in the Ganjam district of Odisha, life was very ordinary. His parents Rajnikanta and Uma Devi wanted him to complete his education but he submitted empty papers in his board exams and fled to Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha to pursue his dreams. Sukant used to walk almost six kilometers everyday from Baramunda bus stand to Sur Sangam a small audio shop, near the railway station where he worked for a measly salary of Rs 300. The day he got his first salary it was stolen and in utter frustration he boarded the Konark Express without a penny in his pocket.Hiding from the ticket collector for two and a half days and surviving on the charity tea and biscuits that co-passengers gave him, he reached Mumbai.
The first one month was a living hell. With much difficulty he managed to do menial jobs at Shapoor restaurant at Dadar. Surviving on leftover foods and sleeping on a broken bench in the night and abused by the police he did not let go of his fragile faith. His only possession was a pair of trousers and a shirt in which he lived for days together and looked like a beggar. One day he came across the name plate of an Odia doctor and knocked for help but the door was promptly slammed on his face. Sitting outside the gate he was found by the doctor’s younger brother Biswa Ranjan who luckily turned out to be his friend and gave him food, clothes and a bed to sleep.
Ajit Patnaik who was a top art director for tele-serials like Tipu Sultan and CID during that time took him in and from being an assistant to sweeping floors and cleaning toilets Sukant did all . After a year he left the job due to some misunderstandings but epiphany struck and he knew his career was going to be art direction.
“My meeting Sarmistha Roy the award winning art director of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaenge was the turning point and we developed a great rapport,” said a smiling Sukant. “I assisted her for seven years and it was like a training school. I was paid well, respected, admired for my exceptional work and my dignity was restored,” he reminisces.
Mentored by legendary art direction guru Sudhendu Roy his career spiked up. After watching Jurassic Park his interest in the digital world perked up. While working in Kabhi Khushi kabhi Gam he quit and went to Chennai to learn the intricacies of animation in Penta Media. Returning to Mumbai he joined Subhash Ghai‘s Mukta Art for a year. His first independent art direction at the age of 25 came from the movie Gangajal by Prakash Jha.
Sukant is a great crusader of the environment and makes short films like “A life less ordinary,” which showcases the different aspects of how pollution endangers our lives. He is also the co-founder of M.A.F.I.A. an institution that organises art-based events. His NGO Muskaan supports underprivileged children in remote villages of Maharashtra and he also supports “Bring your own film Festival,” (BYOFF) an event held in Puri annually.
Humility and simplicity are Sukant’s USP’s but his creative madness has taken a toll on his marital relationship. His fascination with nature makes him respect animals, birds, reptiles and bugs. His latest work in the Bollywood film “Dishoom,” a Nadiawala Grandson Entertainment movie, starring John Abraham and Jacqueline Fernandez is in post productions and is ready to hit the screens this year.