From Canvas to Cinema: Pravalya Duddupudi’s Journey in Designing ‘Gaami’ Sets

“I was confident that I could count on my painting skills,” recounts Pravalya Duddupudi amid a candid chat at a cafe nestled in the heart of Hyderabad. Amidst a challenging period in her career when freelance work became a necessity, it was these skills that provided her both solace and sustenance. The Hyderabad-based multi-disciplinary artist, whose mastery encompasses calligraphy, painting, sculpture, and interior design, drew the attention of both cinema-goers and the industry with her compelling production design for the Telugu film ‘Gaami’. However, her involvement wasn’t limited to just designing nearly a dozen sets for the film; she also conceived the title logo, suggestive of the cyclical nature of existence through a yin and yang motif, and crafted the illustrative calligraphy for textual snippets such as ‘14 days to malapatra (magic mushrooms)’ in the movie.

Now 28, Pravalya stands out in the Telugu film industry as one of the few female production designers marking their territory. ‘Gaami’ was her debut project, although the time it took to bring the film to fruition meant that other projects she joined later, such as ‘Ashoka Vanamlo Arjuna Kalyanam’ and ‘Ustaad’, premiered first. Her path to the realm of artistic creation was paved early on, inheriting her grandfather’s passion for painting and her father’s flair for calligraphy. Despite a childhood spent relocating across cities due to her father’s military service and a brief flirting with the idea of pursuing MBBS, it was her discovery of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) that set her artistic trajectory in motion.

Pravalya’s first brush with movie set design materialized shortly after graduating from NIFT Hyderabad in 2019. Intrigued by a friend’s mention of a film unit in need of a set designer, she stepped in and, to the producer’s amazement, conjured up a club’s interior on a shoestring budget within three days—an endeavor that opened the door to her collaboration with ‘Gaami’. Humble about her unfamiliarity with the industry and cautious in navigating its male-dominated spaces, Pravalya’s turning point came when she offered to replace an incongruous printed map in the film with a handcrafted, aged counterpart, demonstrating her artistic prowess and catching the filmmakers’ eyes for her potential.

While based in Hyderabad, Pravalya balanced her day job at an interior design firm and the late-night commitment to ‘Gaami’, driven by a combination of financial necessity and an adrenaline fueled creative pursuit. In the nascent stages of ‘Gaami’, which initially began as a crowdfunded independent film, she found herself amidst the core team designing a monastery set—a collaboration that solidified her resolve and dedication to the project. Her challenges were manifold, from devising a 30×15-foot frozen waterfall to simulating the dreary interiors of an illegal medical facility, all underscored by meticulous attention to artistic detail and resourcefulness in the face of financial constraints.

The onset of the 2020 lockdown triggered a shift in her career when her salary was halved, prompting her departure from the design firm. Yet, this cloud had a silver lining, as it led to new freelancing opportunities and art workshops facilitated through Instagram. During her time with ‘Gaami’, she mastered the art of repurposing materials to slash costs. Whether blending diverse paint shades to achieve a dilapidated wall appearance or sculpting a claustrophobic corridor to encapsulate the imposing presence of a character, her touch is unmistakable.

Revered by her peers for her artistic set designs and unassumingly commanding presence, Pravalya harbors grand plans, including someday creating a public installation to serve as her legacy. Despite the skepticism her soft-spoken demeanor sometimes garners, her work on ‘Gaami’ stands as testimony to her ability to leave an indelible mark on the canvas of Telugu cinema.

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