Mumbai: It was K Asif`s passion for cinema that drove him to create the `Sheesh Mahal` just for a song in epic film `Mughal-e-Azam`.
It is said that Asif ordered special Belgian glasses and hired several workers from Firozabad to create the intricate design, which cost a fortune at that time. The rest is part of Hindi cinema lore.
Grand sets provided the much needed backdrop to many films till the 70s and early 80s but with filmmakers opting for more real stories over the make-believe world of Bollywood, resplendent sets are becoming a thing of past.
Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal says the tradition of building sets came from the old Indian theatres where it was important to have a picture story.
"That was an influence of old theatre. When films started to be shot in India the technology was really poor.
"Shooting the film outdoor was a risky job so they used to make sets inside the studio where everything used to be controlled by the filmmaker," says director Shyam Benegal.
Now, only a handful filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ashutosh Gowarikar have stuck to the grandeur of the sets to create a visual vista onscreen. Largely, glittering sets are getting confined to item numbers in Bollywood.
Long gone are the palatial homes of the hero and the tricky hide-outs of the villains, Bollywood now opts for foreign locations instead of putting money in creating a set.
Ace filmmaker Govind Nihalani feels that raunchy item numbers are making the quality of sets poorer day by day.
"Most of these films are basically low budget and become hit due to their highly publicised item numbers, there is no scope of building lavish sets. Filmmakers focus more on the lyrics of the songs rather than the ambience, thereby making the sets poorer," Nihalani says. Benegal, who is known for contributing some of the greatest gems to Indian cinema, says that the slow demise of such theatrical sets may be because they suspended reality.
"The theatrical sets never concentrated to make it life-like because there is always a suspension of disbelief in the theatrical plots and they gave importance only to the acting part."
Another problem is that we have started enjoying the kitsch in the name of sets now, says Benegal, who shot `Welcome to Sajjanpur` and `Well done Abba` on sets but ensured that they were close to reality.
"There was a certain charm to those magnificent sets but now we are enjoying it because of the kitsch quality. You have taken the inspiration and there is a cut out moon and reflection in the water," says Benegal.
`Taj Mahal` director Akbar Khan feels that the advent of special effects has contributed a lot to the decline of sets in cinema.
He cited the example of `Gladiator`, saying it is difficult to find out the difference that only a portion of the stadium is built and the rest were computer graphics.
Whereas in `Ben-Hur`, the chariot race in the film was real and continues to be one of the best scenes in cinema.
"Real sets leave a lingering effect on the audience`s mind. But technology restricts the camera movement and in a way it does not feel real," says Khan.
Khan says Bollywood directors are also using computers to replicate the image of famous monuments.
"Graphics in a way serve the purpose for a short duration but will never be able to create a lasting effect on the audience`s mind," Khan adds.
Filmmaker Aziz Mirza still prefers sets because it is easy to control production there. Mirza says, "It is flexible and gives you a lot of freedom to design your shots without any external disturbances into it."