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When Sabu Cyril was asked to try art direction by the late director Bharatan in 1989, he said, "I don't know anything about art direction."

But Bharatan was adamant. So, Sabu gave in and helmed the art direction of Pamaram. Fifteen years later, he is recognised as one of the best art directors India has produced, on par with the legendary Thotta Tharani.

Films were never on Sabu Cyril's agenda, though he had a very famous cinematographer uncle in A Vincent. Sabu wanted to be a mechanical engineer because fixing machines was an enjoyable pastime for him then.

But when he learnt that art was a career option, he joined the School of Arts in Chennai, against his family's wishes. "They felt you cannot make a living out of art," Sabu, 42, recalls. "But the funny thing was, I started earning from the first year in art school itself."

By the third year, he was designing advertisements for firms like TVS Lucas and Madura Coats. And by the time he reached the fourth year, he had landed a job at a five-star hotel.

"When I finished my course in 1985," he says, "I was offered a job with a salary of Rs 5,000 by Hindustan Thompson Associates. But I was already earning Rs 8,000 then! So I continued freelancing."

Text: Shobha Warrier
Design: Uday Kuckian

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