Political dissidence, armed insurrection, the burgeoning celebrity culture, quirky scenes from public spaces are some of the themes that are explored by Anindya Chattopadhyay in his exhibition of photographs that was hosted by the Centre For People’s Photography in collaboration with the Harrington Street Arts Centre (The Invisible India, Aug 13-24). There is very little novelty in the ideas being explored: most of the subjects are staple themes in photojournalism. The challenge, hence, was to present the images in a manner that would evoke interest. Chattopadhyay is moderately successful in this respect.
The success can be partially explained by the insertion of visual metaphors that lend depth and meaning to the images. For instance, there is a frontal shot of a Tibetan dissident, a woman, peering through an iron grille (Free Tibet I In fetters). The grille, designed intricately, resembles the proverbial wall that separates her from her homeland. In another photograph, we see two young tribal women in Chhattisgarh sitting inside their broken home (Of what remained..., picture). They are one of the many who are caught in the brutal crossfire between State and dissidents. A large earthen pot, its lid a gaping hole, lies upturned in front of the two women. The broken lid is like a window to another world: a once pristine realm now being torn apart by violence.
It isn’t as if Chattopadhyay is unwilling to take a position on some of the crucial questions that confront India. But he chooses to communicate his ire at India’s discrimination between the privileged and the underclass or the criminal neglect of its environment by employing doses of black humour, which remains the other redeeming feature of this exhibition. A boy bathing in a pool of sludge that goes by the name of Yamuna; Amitabh Bachchan endorsing yet another shining four-wheeler with his trademark saccharine smile; a model with impossibly dead eyes sitting on a gleaming two-wheeler at a crowded Auto-Expo. On another wall, we come across the photograph of a tribal man on a cot, a drip attached to his arm, lying under a thatched roof that is a government hospital (Most unhealthy). Elsewhere, in Patna, a father drops his daughter to school wielding a gun.
This state of siege is not limited to India’s forgotten corners. In one photograph, we see a policeman lit up by shards of light in the capital city. It is indeed Diwali, but the light beams emanate not from exploding crackers but from a security drill.
The title of the exhibition is a misnomer as the India that Chattopadhyay brings to life is certainly not invisible to photojournalists, artists, and other citizens. Nonetheless, he must be thanked for disturbing the conscience of a nation that is only too glad to ignore its warts.