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| Sunday, February 3, 2013 |

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The Palais Royale

Published on 7 February 2013

(From left) Rani Vidya Devi, Maharaj Jai Singh and author Dharmendar Kanwar

The Rambagh Palace in Jaipur owned by the Taj Group is possibly one of India's most awarded hotels and has played host to illustrious personalities like Lord Mountbatten, Jacqueline Kennedy and Prince Charles. It now has a fitting tribute in the form of a coffee-table book titled Rambagh Palace, Jaipur . Authored by journalist and travel-writer Dharmendar Kanwar, the book traces the history of the 177-year-old mansion - once home of the late Rajmata Gayatri Devi. It comes lavishly illustrated with specially commissioned photographs that provide a glimpse into the pomp and splendour of royal living.

The recent launch of the book at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was attended by the country's rich and famous. Doing the honours was Maharaj Jai Singh who shared his memories of the palace. "I lived in Rambagh when it was a royal residence and was personally involved in its conversion into a hotel," he said.

Kanwar - who had been closely associated with the Rajmata and has written two biographies on her - reminisced about how the Rajmata wanted a book on Rambagh. "Here I have traced the historic journey of Rambagh from a small lodge in 1887 to a luxury hotel," she said. A special tribute to Gayatri Devi was made in the form of a curated show of her rare photographs.

The evening crescendoed with a show of limited edition French chiffon saris by Sabyasachi Mukherjee. The launch was attended by Maharaj Jai Singh, his wife Rani Vidya Devi and Rajkumar Vijit Singh. Actor Moon Moon Sen recalled her association with the Rajamata, who was her mashi shashuri or aunt-in-law. While Suhel Seth read excerpts from the book, Rani Vidya Devi reminisced about her long association with Rambagh Palace.

By Sushmita Biswas
Photograph by Gajanan Dudhalkar

A graphic movement

Raseel Gujral’s solo show Illustratti, which was on display at The Gallery on MG (MG 13, New Delhi) from January 7 to January 12, 2012, blazed a trail in modern interior décor. Illustratti is Gujral’s graphic art collection that has at its core an avant-garde philosophy. The line’s tagline, Art by the meter, makes home décor purchase a flexible yet creative affair. It means interior fiends can rifle through the pages of Gujral’s graphic art catalogue - boasting of canvases of varying dimensions named after tracks like Jailhouse Rock and Horse with No Name - and customise them completely.

So, if multinational companies fancy plastering their huge reception areas with artwork, Illustratti can come to their rescue. But there’s also hope for folks who don’t want to scale up dramatically. Quaint corners and smaller nooks may be transformed too with petite offerings from the label.

After the show opened on January 6, where the cultural cognoscenti swung by to walk around canvases that championed free movement, vibrant colours and a tongue-in-cheek vibe, the exhibition pieces were showcased for six days before being carted off to the two Casa Paradox stores in Delhi.

Gujral, top-notch interior stylist and daughter of artist Satish Gujral, has always rooted her inventory in opulent but bold colour tones: fuchsia, gold, aubergine, fluorescent green and marigold. The idea of this fresh project is also to engage the connoisseur with strong colour schemes, wacky forms and prints. For instance, an artwork titled Riders of the Storm features galloping horses with stylised manes splashed generously with fuchsia and lime green. Another called Icarus You’re so Vain has royal children dressed in fuchsia finery placed next to a fish in mid air.

Despite the profusion of images suggesting youth and energy, there’s a functional quality to this graphic art line. The canvas prints are also emblazoned on furniture of all sizes and shapes that can lend an eclectic aura to humdrum spaces. The canvas range is priced upwards of Rs 15,000 while the furniture line will set you back by more than Rs 50,000.

By Susmita Saha
Photograph by Rupinder Sharma

Rhythm divine

"Someone asked me 'when is Lalon Fakir going to sing?' I told him it would be in the wee hours of the morning," laughs Arup Das, a member of the Baul Fakir Utsav Committee. The canvas tent of the eighth edition of the festival, Baul Fakir Utsav, held on January 5 - January 6 in Calcutta would have burst its seams had the organisers not opened it out on one side. The audience-graph included first-timers like the one who inquired about the celebrated 19th century mystic, and also people singing along with the Bauls, obviously well versed with their songs.

As for the atmosphere, it was electric. The line-up included heavyweights like Kartik Das Baul, the late Gour Khyapa, Bangladesh's Tuntun Fakir and Debdas Baul (who, along with the visually impaired Kanai Das, William Dalrymple wrote about in Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India). From Bauls taking the stage dressed in their saffron or patchwork jobbas, singing and dancing, while simultaneously playing the ektara, tabla and even keeping rhythm with the ghungrus tied on their ankles, to the Fakir Heera playing on his violin, the minstrels beautifully blended their philosophy with music.

Joining the group of Fakirs and Bauls squatting in the middle of the tent, surrounded by a small group of listeners during an informal session on the first afternoon, was Nadia's dreadlocked Tinkori Chakraborty. Legendary for his mastery over the dubki, which has taken him to England, France, Poland and Italy, and even had him play with Peter Gabriel, the Baul was felicitated at the festival.

"That's Gour Khyapa who acted in Goutam Ghose's Moner Manush," an audience member informed his mother as the famous Baul sang on the 6th, holding his small tanpura. Gour Khyapa's spirited rendition was backed by equally enthusiastic minstrels playing their instruments. Sadly, it turned out to be one of his last performances.

Apart from artists from the across the border who participated in the festival, there was Qawwal Haji Mohammed Ahmed Warsi of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, whose father used to perform at the court of the Nawab of Rampur. "When the states merged and nawabi ended, our patronage waned. We then began singing for radio stations and touring as well," says Warsi, adding that he's been to most mulks you can name. The blue-eyed qawwal informs you that he has sung for everyone - from General J.S. Aurora to Saddam Hussain. Dressed in their dark achkans, he and his group— the Warsi Brothers— were one of the highlights of the Utsav.

The festival was born out of an adda between friends who wanted to bring Baul and Fakir music to the urban space, and it has grown over the years. "We have a fixed audience of about 700 and a floating one of 1,000. This year, we have 60-70 artists," says Das. And judging by the crowd on Sunday night, the number is sure to swell next year.

By Shreya Shukla
Photograph by Anindya Dey

Through the lens

A solemn Indian woman, somewhat indistinct, stands surrounded by spectre-like figures against a smoky background. This metaportrait - a photograph that has several images fused into one - has been shot by Ken Kitano, a celebrated Japanese photographer. It consists of separate images of 23 Hindu pilgrims watching the sun rise at Cape Comorin in Kanyakumari.

Kitano uses long exposures to shoot his subjects, and then prints each picture on a single sheet of photographic paper to create a metaportrait. Piling images on top of one another lends a blurred effect to the final photograph.

This piece was among the 30 photographs displayed recently at Hikari, an exhibition of contemporary photography from Japan at Seagull Foundation for the Arts, Calcutta. Hikari means light in Japanese and that was the central theme of the exhibition. Brought together by Tasveer Arts and Luxure Louise Philippe, it displayed the works of five Japanese photographers - Kitano, Shiho Kito, Yuji Obata, Kimiko Yoshida and Tokihiro Sato.

Hikari is travelling to Ahmedabad in February and Bangalore in April.

This is the first exhibition of contemporary Japanese photography in India. "Japan has always been leading the way in creative photography, but there was a distinct absence of knowledge about Japanese photography in India," says Nathaniel Gaskell, curator, Tasveer Arts.

Sato’s black-and-white photographs - a flight of stairs or a snowy forest dotted with tiny light specks or streaks of light - are surreal. Obata on the other hand lends a magical touch to winter. His photographs of falling snowflakes are incredibly detailed and very beautiful - one can actually almost discern the shape of each flake.

On the other hand, the self-portraits by Yoshida - some in monochrome and some in colour - are a symbol of protest against stereotypes women are subjected to. Check out the shoes that the photographer wears as headgear and haute couture dresses that replace hats!

Kito's photographs on the other hand celebrate the vibrant colours of India. Whether it's a view of the Dariyapur Darwaja in Ahmedabad or a scene from the Bogmalo Church in Goa, the photographs are resplendent. "In Ahmedabad, all lights, even a tiny sparkle from a firecracker, melted into one single photograph through my camera's lens," says Kito, who is also co-curating the display.

Happy time for shutterbugs!

By Yashodeep Sengupta
Photograph by Kimiko Yoshida/Tasveer