Ananya Drushya: Pushpamala
Cinematographer: Suresh Kumar
Duration: 01:27:41; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 11.456; Saturation: 0.011; Lightness: 0.330; Volume: 0.145; Cuts per Minute: 0.935; Words per Minute: 121.072
Friends, it gives us at Ananya Drushya great pleasure to have this programme of Pushpamala. We're very proud to have her here today. We thought of having this programme earlier also but unfortunately she was travelling a lot from Delhi, Bangalore, like that. Now that she has come back, we thought this was a good opportunity for us to have her programme.
Everybody knows her intimately otherwise also, so there's no necessity for me to give introduction. I will leave Pushpamala to talk about her work - from earlier work to the present one.
Thanks Vasudev for inviting me. I wanted to show my recent work which I have not exhibited over here and talk more about it. But Vasudev said I should show my earlier work as well. So I'm going to give you a very quick [...] talk through it... I will not show you all my work, but it'll be from the early sculptures from when I was an M.A. student which are actually very popular till today. People still ask me why I don't do terracotta sculpture. Down to what I've been recently doing... Basically there are a lot of slides so I won't talk very much but you can ask me questions later on. Because I tend to work in projects and series, so sometimes I've had to select some works from that but each project will have many photographs.
So I'll just start off...
This was when I was an M.A. student in Baroda and I started working with terracotta which was very much inspired by K.G. Subramanyan's terracotta works. But I was also very influenced by Bhupen Khakhar's works. I was using a lot of humour in my work.
I was also influenced by folk sculpture and classical Indian sculpture. I actually was trying to work with a more creative indigenous language at that point.
So quite large - they're all life-size actually.
By the way these pigs are at the NGMA. So next time you go there you can see the actual pigs.
This is a the last work which was actually my M.A. exam work.
So at that point I was dealing with being a young girl and growing up. So you see these little girls have finally become older.
I was working in sculpture for sometime - very figurative sculpture. Then in the early 90s I started moving away from the figure and from- I had mainly worked in terracotta and this set of work called Excavations which I partly did in London where I was on a grant and came back to Bombay - that was the time of Babri, increasing communal tensions - the Babri Masjid demolition and in a way these sculptures deal with fragments and very fragile materials.
I worked with paper similarly to the way I worked with terracotta actually.
I was also using found materials, or casting from found materials, using waste materials a lot. This is an exhibition so you see the scale of the work.
These are of course boras which are covered wih plaster of paris.
Mid 90s there was crisis with my sculpture. But I also started working with photography very playfully and I really liked what I was doing so I started concentrating more and more on it. Though there wasn't a sudden break; there was a kind of overlap. So this is my first work - Phantom Lady or Kismet. I was asked by a Bombay gallery to do a work for one of those anniversaries for cinema - it was for all the artists in Bombay. I was living in Bombay at that time.
I really like this figure of Fearless Nadia. She's not very popular here but she was a major star in the 1930s and 40s in Hindi film. Kind of huge, athletic looking, Australian woman actually. Circus artist.
So I took one costume of hers which was kind of vigilante, sort of Zorro-like costume was there all over India - even MGR(?) played those kinds of roles - stunt roles.
So I just made that costume and thought I'll make one photograph of the show. I asked a friend of mine to shoot - a young photojournalist. The initial material was so interesting that I started developing it. I said how could I develop this into a body of work - I must make a story. So it became what I call a Photoromance - which people say is very filmy - but actually it's very different from a moving image because you don't have to show every second, all the action. So you can jump from one situation to the other and the audience actually makes up the story. And sometimes people come up with very different stories. It just sets the imagination off.
This was shot on real locations in Bombay - very familiar, well known locations, so it was a kind of homage to Bombay. I've always loved detective fiction. So it was this kind of thriller like a detective story. And then I thought how could I make a story from this character, so I said "Ya ofcourse - lost and found!" So she has this lost twin sister who's a vamp, who's with the mafia, so she goes to fight her.
But of course there was no text, nothing was set. So you make up the story. I'll quickly show you... I exhibited from 16 to 25...
They're all friends playing roles and this is Shahrukh Khan's house by the way, he bought it after the show. So now you can't see it.
So I shot in really familiar locations like Irani restaurant, this kind of Bombay Gothic house of my friends', and locations like ... this is the Bombay docks... this is near Flora Fountain.
The Anguished Heart
Shot in Raina Haveli, Chandni Chowk, Delhi
Concept, direction, performance: Pushpamala N
Photography: Hani el Gowily
Hand painted by and Pushpamala N
Cast: Akbar Zaidi, Sheila Makhijani, Qamar Hashmi, Pushpamala N
11 hand painted black and white photographshttp://www.pushpamala.com/projects/dard-e-dil-2002/
So this is another Photoromance that I did - I'm not showing you all my work, but just examples. I'm very interested in the history of photography, so I look at it very differently from a photographer. I'm not a photographer myself, I work with photographers, different kinds of photographers - sometimes photo studios - sometimes its like friends, sometimes its professional photographers.
So this one I did actually during a kind of a workshop residency in Delhi. It was shot near Chandni Chowk - Chawri Bazaar actually. Again this whole haweli
belonged to a friend of mine - actually Gargi Raina the artist family - an old Kashmiri family.
And earlier I remembered her talking about it - in fact her brother was a theatre person who kind of lived there and had shows there - and asked their permission and... What I did was I went for a week and I used my small camera like a sketch-book sometimes, so I go to the location and a lot of times the story comes form the location.
So according to the location I make up the story.
So also as I said I like working with different kinds of genres. So this is a love story. Tragic love story - or it could not be tragic. Again, sometimes if you mix up the photographs then you get a different story.
So this is like Muslim socials, you know. So there's this kind of...
And these are large hand painted photographs.
I don't know how good the reproduction.... is not so gaudy. They're vey delicate actually.
From "Dard-e-Dil", fiction series shot in the Raina house, Chawri Bazaar, Delhi.
Then there are all these happy accidents when this caretaker's pomeranian dogs kept coming into the frame, so I included that as a character.
So again, they're all friends and again I saw this was a very interesting architecture - there are two courtyards and two terraces. So if you see the photographs, they're like terrace to terrace, courtyard to courtyard.... I've used the architecture - and then there are these entrances...
The old lady by the way - the mother, the invalid mother - is Safdar Hashmi's mother.
So its this whole kind of atmosphere of Urdu poetry which I wanted to use.
Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs (2000-2004)
Pushpamala N in collaboration with Clare Arni
- consists of 4 series of images and exhibited in its entirety as an installation based on the concept of a film or theatre museum.
The Native Types
“A Series of Photographs Illustrating the Scenery and the Mode of Life of the Women of South India”
(In which archetypal images of women from oil paintings, calendar art, votive art, anthropometric photographs, police photographs and film stills were recreated in tableau form and photographed.)
The Ethnographic Series
“In which the original Native Types characters perform as ethnographic objects”
The Popular Series
“An Album of Picturesque Scenes of Native Beauties”
The Process Series
“A Complete Record of the Procedures and Systems used for Study”http://www.pushpamala.com/projects/native-women-of-south-india-manners-and-customs-2000-2004/
This is a very long project - four year project - called Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs. I got the IFA grant for this and it was a collaboration with Claire Arni who is a photographer. Actually it started off not very ambitiously - in the sense I've wanted to work - I'm very interested in the studio photograph, which actually people have lost interest in and thought was not a very 'high' form of photography. And also because since the 50s a certain kind of photography has been more popular where they use ambient light and black and white - there's a kind of puritanism about photography.
So I'm sort of interested in the history, so I'm interested in all these other histories which maybe professional photographers don't - had not been interested at that point.
So again as I said - painted photographs. And here my entire project was to set up a kind of fake photo studio and use painted backdrops where I would work with hoarding painters and recreate well-known images of South Indian women.
So again when we discussing it - what to do and all that - this was something I'd never done and wanted to do and needed some funding to do. Claire again was interested in that. So it started with doing that, but while we started working actually, we started shooting more and more and then finally it became a huge project with four different series. I won't show you all the series, but I'll be showing you the main series which is called The Native Types.
So it was actually all about looking at the camera as an ethnographic tool. So one history of photography is that it has been used extensively - the camera - from the very beginning. In fact I think the first photographs in India were probably police photographs.
But also to... you might have heard about the Peoples of India project, which was a huge project by the British to document all the different communities of India, and that's when people were called criminal tribes and so on - which goes on till today.
So it was not only a kind of looking at the colonial eye and critiquing it, it was also looking at the present day, and how we look on that whole colonial idea of - and look at ourselves as sort of epic(?) types.
A Four year project which creates an inventory of images of South Indian women, recreating, examining and overturning familiar images using masquerade and humour.
The project has more than 200 images in 4 series. The photo studio is seen as a site for fantasy, with elaborate sets, costumes and props.
So this was the first shoot. So as I said I was trying - I wanted to create well known images or familiar images. And they also became archetypal images of women, or South Indian women.
By the way, this is Jayalalitha in an early role, like a kind of under-valued role.
... The production used to take 3 months actually to do because I got the hoarding painters to do the painted backdrop, then I had to run around - and very interesting stories of making different parts of the costume. In fact I was asked 'why do you have to try and recreate something exactly?' - which I was trying to do.
So what is interesting is all that detailing, because that makes the image. And while making those details, you learn about image. So its a kind of deconstructing the image while constructing the image. So in a sense its like analyzing the image by creating it.
What was interesting was that I landed up working with all the kind of creators of popular culture in the city, I would say. From background painters to - by the way my hoarding guy also designed the Raja Rajeshree Nagar gate, where I live. He designs temples and ashrams also. ... And the autorikshaw rexine cover makers, tailors, carpenters, carvers - all kinds of people, you know.
From the titles you can see what the original pictures are. And what is interesting is that - ofcourse I was not copying from the original picture, it was a copy, bad copy in some book - so it was also the interesting thing of the copy of a copy of a copy.
And also what was interesting is that I've done a few Ravi Varma works. Ravi Varma used to set up a whole - its been found that he used to setup - in the studio he used to setup a whole tableau, where he would get - you know he worked in theatre also - so he would get a painted backdrop and he would ask sometimes his niece or he had these models - he had a favourite Maharashtrian model and he had one Parsi lady and all that - to wear the costume and stand over there.
And actually recently this couple - these writers have found all those photographs. I've seen one or two, but (T)here Comes Papa - in fact that was published in a booklet - he's got his niece carrying a child and he's taken several photographs. So its very funny that this painting comes out of a photograph, and then I create a photograph out of that painting.
So they were from different kinds of sources. This was in fact one [...] the hoarding painter,... he gave this picture and he said, 'oh its an old Kannada film', I don't remember the title - he said 'I did the set design for that'. So I recreated [...]
So its different images of women. The one on the left is a very famous study - British study of - ethnographic study. And its a very key work in the whole thing because its an Andamanese islander, and they used to carry around this - its called this er... its a form of measure - its how they used to measure - measure the body - because each check - the square - was 2 inch by 2 inch. So just by looking at the photograph you could make out - you could measure out all the dimensions of the body.
And this again, very interesting doing the production. In fact, Balan helped me with this - by drawing a scale model of the stand which I couldn't figure out from the original thing. I took about 3 months making the actual stand because I went to a carver first who made it like a temple pillar in the beginning. Then I had to go to another carpenter who understood the... you know, what it was and carved it again.
So this is from a newspaper photograph. And these are kind of very old colonial remnants - they've actually banned it now - but this is from the 19th century, these photographs where people are holding slates giving their details.
And of course there's this wonderful Indian thing called 'chain snatching' which is not there anywhere else. So.
This is a famous painting of Ravi Varma's - Lady in Moonlight. It was one of the most difficult to do because it was not realistic, you know, so its very stylized. So to actually try and get that - I used wires to hold up the dupatta.
Here we started sort of going away from the original a bit. This is - Mary Ellen Mark did a lot of photographs of Indian circuses.
Actually at the end I got tired of being the character. So... (laughs) ... Claire also wanted to be in the scene. So Claire and I are angels. And the backdrop becomes the movie figure.
After that, I was so tired after the native women thing - that I made 2 short films - the first short film Rashtriy Kheer & Desiy Salad was actually based on material I found in family notebooks.
Then the second one Paris Autumn was actually made from still photographs and I made it like a thriller - something like Phantom Lady - but actually deals with French history. I shot it actually, when I was in Paris.
Then this is a recent project which I've been on and off working from say 2005,... where again I'm trying to do this large overarching project like Native Women of South India. I'm very interested in the nation, and ideas of the nation and the modern and so on, you know. And I sort of go back to history - its not nostalgia. I mean sometimes people have accused me of nostalgia, saying why do I have to do these things from the past. But I'm looking at them very critically. I'm not sentimental. And sort of in a sense,... bringing out certain things by using maybe like earlier images or earlier techniques.
I think around this time I started working with digital camera. Which actually I mean people ask me about it, but I basically use it like more or less like - I've just recently started doing some montages, but its basically used like a dark room camera... I find in fact that still, for black and white I really like... you know... the manual camera and the film camera. But of course its very difficult to get paper and so, and most of the studios are folded up. While for colour actually I think the digital print is much better.
So again I set up this photo studio kind of thing and have these different images I'm trying to... its not yet complete, this project, I'm just showing you some things. Working with different images of Mother India.
Its a very popular calendar image from some decades ago where Bhagat Singh is shown offering his head. And that's Umesh (Madanahalli) who is Bhagat Singh, but (laughs) I don't think anyone else would want to have his head chopped off, even in a photograph. So its not very easy finding people to act in my... of course a lot of my friends want to act roles now in my work - but they don't realise its a lot of hard work, and its also very boring, because you go and on shooting the same thing. And sometimes it goes on for hours till late into the night. And setting up the lights and the cameras and all that takes a long time. And so you know... you have to have... you have to be very patient.
And also wearing those costumes and all that - in fact last time a friend of mine was in this costume, he was playing Dasaratha, and he was so embarrassed (laughs) at being sort of bare chested that he was shaking like a leaf (laughs) while wearing a dhoti. So in fact my photographer - I'm working with a photographer called Clay Kelton said 'how can I take a photograph! This man is shaking like this!' So there are all these very funny - the process is really interesting and enjoyable actually.
This is a photomontage which I did in Baroda. Because I did it in kind of a very short workshop, and I had scans of these photographs of these - these are Ram Leela backdrops which I bought in Delhi. And that's me playing the role. But... its a cut and paste with - I think I got the lion from one of my other friends at the workshop, he had this image.
So what I'm doing with this Mother India thing is that rather than working in like one medium like photography, I'm trying to expand and work in different media. This is my first live performance, which I did as a collaboration with Mamta Sagar. And this was done for Samuha - you might have known that Suresh Kumar had this wonderful artist project space called Samuha, opposite... on top of the ADA building, opposite Ravindra Kalakshetra.
Okay. Artist Pushpamala and poet Mamta Sagar explore the idea of freedom and captivity through the work of the first Kannada woman writer and Nationalist, Nanjangud Thirumalamba.
So... I had this like you know... I'd got this space in Samuha and I was wondering, I was feeling lazy and then I said 'ya, why don't I do something I've never done before because its going to be just us - you know, its an artist audience - and its not really public - so public.
I'm very nervous about live performance. Because... you know... kind of acting in front of the camera - performing in front of the camera is very structured, and I also edit - if I don't like something, I shoot a lot and whatever I don't like, I don't use. While with a live performance its a very raw kind of connection with the audience - and I'm not at all com... actually I'm shy. This is very funny. But I don't like being stared at by lots of people. And you know this thing of - you know... where you can't edit and you can't control the situation really... sort of scares me, you know.
So anyway I said let me just plunge into it, and of course in the beginning I had all sorts of ideas, but then I said why don't I extend what I'm doing in my photographic work into the live performance. So I said let me make it stagey - almost like theatre, but actually in between theatre and performance. So I thought of having this elaborate box set like an old company theatre stage or something like that.
In fact this thing is a readymade set - again a Ram Leela set which I got from Delhi. And I had this idea of knitting - I'v been wanting to use this image of knitting for a long time. So then I said why don't I dress up like this popular kind of Bharatmata figure and, knit.
So then I said it'd be interesting to have a collaboration. So I had this idea of ringing up - from Delhi I rang up Mamta Sagar, who's my neighbour actually, she's a very well known Kannada poet. So I said look I have this idea of myself dressed up as Mother India knitting, so can you respond to it - you know with your own, some kind of Nationalist poetry about the nation, either your own or someone else's?
So she said Oh this is very interesting and all that, and she said i'll use... we'll work with... the first Kannada woman writer called Nanjangud Thirumalamba - she's done her PhD on early Kannada women writers - who has a very interesting history, who is extremely well-known, she was a child widow and she educated herself and she started these journals. So she had a printing press in her home and then she used to print out 2 or 3 journals - she was an editor, she was a journalist, she was a novelist, she used to write poetry, she used to write plays, apparently even detective novels - but which I didn't find. Most of it is missing actually now because she was - at some point she got lost to the history because... apparently I think Masti Venkatesha Iyengar or one of the major Kannada writers - I think it was Masti - who just dismissed her. He said in the 50s or 60s or somehing he said - 'This woman is not a writer, she is not a good writer, she doesn't know how to write.'
Because her works were actually - I've read bit of them - they're something like Bernard Shaws or something, they're very tangling, they're all ideas, they're to do with ideas and arguments. So each character represents and idea and they argue about it. And she was talking about women's reform and things like that but in a conservative way.
So she disappeared from history, and in the 80s the Kannada feminist writers were looking for her and then apparently C.N. Mangala went to Madras because somebody said that her relative lives there who is a film producer - her nephew or something - so apparently she knocked on the door and this old lady opened the door - she was 92 or something - and C.N. Mangala said 'I'm looking for this lady, Thirumalamba' and she said 'Oh, she died long ago' and she banged the door. Then later on she found out that it was her but she was so bitter about this whole history where she just shut herself away from literature and public life. So then they rescued her and celebrated her and all that.
But anyway - its a half hour performance which you know why it has something to do with the nation is first she... she was the first one to write Nationalist poetry apparently. But also the women's question was very central to the Nationalist movement. Women's reform. Like widow remarriage and women's education - and there were a lot of debates about it which was very interesting. And this whole thing of why this woman is representing the nation - the Bharatmata figure herself. So it actually starts with going around talking about the Bharatmata figure, and then this whole history of this writer Thirumalamba. And then Mysore which had the first assembly had these several debates in the late 19th century about women's education - women who come out and - some of them came and argued you know in public about... there were many views and so on.
And then finally ends with why do we need this kind of Nehru's quotation that why do we need this aristocratic queenly figure to represent this country, which is a country of you know... struggling labourers and work men.
So basically I'll just talk a little bit about it because I can't show it. My whole idea was that myself and the background would be extremely stylized. In fact I said nothing. I just sat over there and all I did was knit. Actually in the first performance I was taking out knots, and I had this red wool.
Here she's bring me - Mamta's bringing me in. Anyway I'll bless the people - and I've got very few pictures of that - bless the people and she seats me on this - I had no volition - she seats me on this chair. Then she actually goes out and gets a basket of red wool which she gives me. And she puts on my glasses. So the funny thing was that I can't knit without my glasses. So I said let's include it into the performance. So she very ceremoniously puts it on my face, which became a big hit - because the Mother India vamp is wearing glasses and all that.<.br>
I had these 2 arms over here - fake arms, holding a flag and all of that.
So basically I was extremely stylized and all I did was sit on the chair and just knit. While she was very - she was the modern, lively person who walked around and kept speaking for half an hour. So I don't respond to her at all, I'm just sitting there... and I'm like an image.
And at the end she sort of leads me away. The name is Cast and crew.
Then later on I was asked to be part of this show on museums and archives. I decided to do this - again, try and bring in sculpture into my work, but using kind of similar language of this theatrical language. So I extended this - I used the same set which I used for the performance. I made a tableau using mannequins.
Its very huge actually - its about 22 by 11 feet wide.
So its almost like a group photograph or a renaissance protrait because there are all these characters dressed in different historical costumes of Mother India. Because the cow was used as a Nationalist image, Kali was used. This is all very early history. Then there's Abanindranath Tagore's Bharatmata figure with the mendicant. And then I have various objects there - there's a portable charkha, an hourglass, a globe - which are very typical things that you see in western oil painting portraits - historical portraits.
This is very recent work. 2012. So ever since the first Phantom Lady various people have been asking me when is the sequel. In fact I wanted to do a sequel because when you create his kind of character which became extremely popular. It begs for a sequel.
Phantom Lady was a very historical work because it just changed some ideas about photography in the country. This whole way of using photography for fiction. Anyway I was thinking of what to do because it had to be an extremely strong work. I'd been trying to do something for years now but suddenly I got - 2 years ago I was asked by Majlis who was having this big project called Cinema City - they commissioned me to do the work.
Then they said they would help me with the production and all that, which was also good because not living in Bombay, to suddenly go there and try and look for locations and things is very difficult. You need some kind of local help. Madhushree Dutta who runs Majlis is very familiar with a lot of locations because she's made films where they've worked with various sorts of spaces.
So I sort of was trying to - anyway - one idea I had was that this time - the earlier Phantom Lady was in a sense about the self and about the alter ego and the mirror image and so on. So there these 2 characters who are twins, like... whatever... lost at birth. So I couldn't obviously - I'd bumped off the first vamp - the sister - so I couldn't use her again in the sequel.
So what kind of plot could I have? And again, its this kind of thriller. But here I left you a young girl, like a school girl - I'd been very interested in using this kind of young girl around 10 or 11 years old in my work. And in fact my friend's daughter - she also acts, so it was really good. She acts as the girl.
But you have a series of adventures in Bombay, again set in cinematic locales. They helped me get permissions for some of them. Very interesting locations.
There's some........ mix up.
This is another work.... anyway, I think I have it later on...
Its okay I'll show... maybe it comes on later. I'll just see how it goes.
So anyway the Centre Pompidou is having a big show of India Art in 2011 so they invited me to be part of the show. In fact they were commissioning us to do works and they suggested I work in an old photo studio in Paris called the Studio Harcourt. They asked me if I was interested in doing, of course I very much was.
Why they'd asked me was that around 2001-2002 I'd worked with a similar old studio in Bombay called India Photo Studio - I haven't shown you those photographs here - where this man Mr. Thakkar who owned the studio had worked as a still photographer for Hindi films. He was in Dadar actually, where all the studios are down the road. In fact he's shot some of the most legendary black and white photographs of some of the top heroines like Nargis, Meena Kumari and all that. Wonderful photographs which are still used till today.
So they had seen that work and they said that - Studio Harcourt was actually an old studio which also has taken these kind of - similar style - those kind of Hollywood glamour photographs style, using a certain kind of lighting - whether I would ike to work with them. I had to give in a proposal so I said I would recreate some 19th century images over there, in a similar way that I'd worked over here.
So these - actually there's one more which I don't seem to have with me - one was a recreation of Liberty, Delacroix's famous Liberty. And this one seems to be a lost work of [...] because I found an anonymous copy of it. But, one was called Liberty and the other one was called The Slave and Her Slave. So in a sense I'm referring to different histories of France. Because on the one hand France is famous for the French Revolution and ideas of democracy and so on, but on the other hand the 19th century was also the height of colonialism. Its another very cruel history which is going side by side.
And again choosing these different images of French women because France is a very patriarchal society actually. There cannot be a queen in France. And you always find these very well known, famous, powerful King's misstresses like Madame de Pompadour you might have heard of - that was the highest a woman could go because politically you couldn't - and even till today I think its pretty patriarchal. So they're these different images of women from the history of French Art.
I liked this because it was a very Oriental which looked like India. Though most of the Orientalist painting in France are more to do with North Africa because that's where their colonies were. So you find a lot of the harem and like, you know.
This is a very interesting image because I found that apparently there was this Italian Countess who was the mistress of Napoleon III who again became very powerful, for a brief while though. She was used as a kind of diplomat and spy. Her name was Countess of Castiglione. Then I discovered that she had this habit of getting photographs of herself taken with this very early French photographer called Pearson.
This particular photograph is very interesting because it shows the objects of the studio. The thing behind her head - they used to have clamps in the beginning to - because they used to take so long to take a photograph that to keep the head still they used to clamp the person's head. But you wouldn't see the clamp in the photograph.
So what she's done - she's asked him to take a photograph - what she's peering through is actually a frame. An old Victorian 19th century frame. So this very interesting thing.
Ah yes sorry, here it is.
In the sequence to the earlier photograph Phantom Lady or Kismet - Phantom Lady gets caught again in a dark web of murder. Intrigue and foul play in contemporary Mumbai. While rescuing an orphaned school girl, she runs into the underworld and their land-grab operations...
So these locations go from Colaba to Bandra, and they're looking at different histories - how Bombay is changing and different kinds of aspects I would say,... of Bombay. They're all these very historical theatres and places that are disappearing and bringing forth the New Bombay. What was very interesting that all the places I shot in had some kind of legal case going on, to do with property.
This PM road office which is a friend's office is one of these tiny - its made with the kind of villain sort of hang-out office. Villain is Atul Dodiya. That has some sort of legal case going on.
Then this Bharatmata theatre in Lalbaug has a very interesting history. ITs an old single screen theatre which dates from the 30s. It was earlier called Laxmi Theatre and during the Quit India Movement they changed the name to Bharatmata. In fact there's Hindmata and all that down the road. And its in this working class area of Bombay - Lalbaug - where all the textile mills are. Basically these theatres came up for the textile mill workers.
So there's very interesting histories with each location. Madhushree knew the owner so I was able to shoot there. Very young, very interesting guy. And then there was this - MNS I think was having a demonstration outside because apparently the lease had run out and they wanted to demolish - the owner wanted to demolish the theatre and make a kind of multi-storey building.
Then the Bandra Kurla--- the old drive-in theatre in Bandra - which, though I lived in Bombay I've never been there, but in fact that's gone now. I shot in it just before it was destroyed. Over there there's something called BKC - Bandra Kurla Complex which is these glass-fronted modern buildings and this whole - I think its an IT thing, I'm not sure what exactly they'll do over there.
And then of course I also shot in the Dharavi slum. I didn't want to show poverty so much as this other - I mean in the sense Slumdog Millionaire was shot there and after that every week apparently these foreigners - some foreign crew comes to shoot over there. Earlier they were getting irritated but now they're actually making money off it because now they're making these slum tours. I know some people who have gone on them, you know. (laughs) They take these foreigners around and then show them around Dharavi.
But again, there was this court case going on over there because they want to redevelop it and the people, the residents over there have filed a court case. They were quite hostile at first and then they realised it was just 3 of us shooting over there. So they allowed us.
Again I'm using this film noir style which I used in Phantom Lady - this kind of strong... and these very kind of chemical colours which you find on detective thriller covers like James Hadley Chase and all that. I'm very deliberately pumping up the colour. And these mirror images.
The old drive-in theatre.
This is the drive-in theatre and you can see the Bandra Kurla Complex from there.
These were projectors which were wrapped up - old projectors.
So I've woven this... I went and saw all these locations and some others which I didn't use and I've woven this story around them and what I saw there.
So we first seek refuge in the Dharavi Kumbharwada where I'd actually worked. When I was doing sculpture in Bombay I baked some of my stuff there. Strangely enough, the day I was going to shoot I realised that they were firing their pots. So it was very spectacular.
This is the potter there - Ranchhodbhai.
What is very interesting is when I was shooting in Bharatmata theatre, this new Marathi film called Natrang had been released just then. I asked them to project one reel and I actually shot with that. So this is from Natrang film. Natrang is about this whole history of Tamasha
- about this whole Marathi tamasha company. Its folk theatre which actually goes around goes around the country entertaining to the sugar mills and all these different kinds of factories, entertaining workers especially around festival times.
I also like these kind of layers of references where I'm using the cinematic locales and also Marathi theatre comes into it somehow. There are these wonderful coincidences that happen which one sort of works in.
What am I doing in this place?- I'm looking for a bomb. Because you know what happens when there's this old building and somebody wants it - there's always this mysterious fire,... and there's this kind of arson.
The bomb is in a film can. There's this wonderful projection room over there.
Another interesting thing was - I didn't even notice it then - but that portrait on the right is of Dadasaheb Phalke who as you know is seen as the father of Indian cinema.
This is an interesting location - this is Gorai beach where again the government wanted to set up an SEZ and the fishermen cooperative over there was protesting against it. So there again were these kind of you know...
This is again the architecture of these places in Dharavi, goes sometimes up to 4 or 5 storeys. And there are these holes in the ceiling and ladders going up. The whole thing is made up - the walls are made of corrugated tin and wood.
So we escape... and this is the new dawn.
This is another very recent work - both of them have exhibited last year. I look at 3 important female characters in the Ramayana - Kaikeyi, Surpanakha and Sita. Obviously I can't deal with the whole story so I've selected key moments which turn the story. And what's - not that I've read all the different versions of the Ramayana, but I've read Arshiya Sattar's translation of Valmiki which is wonderful, but also I've been looking up and reading different things as much as possible. The women characters and not really dealt with much. Whether they're heroines or vamps, they're actually very key. They're key characters in turning the story, making events happen.
And then why its called The Passion is that we always have this very pious thing of the Ramayana, but when you read the Valmiki Ramayana - I've read a beautiful translation - its so strong and so passionate and all the characters are very strong and they're driven by contradictions and driven by contradictory emotons - that's what's so interesting. They're just big, larger than life, wonderful characters whether heroes or demons.
So again this goes to fantasy. While the Phantom Lady and other photoromances are shot on location, this work is shot in my studio with these painted backdrops and so on.
This is like a play poster which I used for the... They're very large works, this is about 4 feet high.
So its just incident taken - the mantra and Kaikeyi incident and just stretched out. The style I've used is early company theatre style which I'm very interested in. They use Victorian furniture and Parsi theatre costumes and these very western backdrops which is very interesting.
So in fact the backdrops, some of them are copied from old Marathi theatre backdrops.
So this is - some of them are... this is completely concocted. I don't think there was actually ever a scene where they play chess, but I wanted to show her plotting. Here she's checkmated him, Dasaratha.
This is the famous anger room - all the versions of the Ramayana have an anger room sequence. That's where when the women were angry - when the queen was angry they would throw off their finery and go and lie down in the anger room and all the maids would go and tell the king 'she is angry'. (laughs)
This whole thing of... I'm very interested in the heroine and the vamp. Obviously there are 2 vamps here - Shupranakha and Kaikeyi - and Sita is the heroine. These whole imaginations and all that happen and this kind of palace intrigue. What is also very interesting is that both Kaikeyi and Shupranakha are both warriors. Kaikeyi is actually trained as a warrior and of course the story of how she gets the boons from Dasaratha... in some of the versions she's the charioteer actually. in this battle, or otherwise she's with him in the battle.And then she saves him in the battle. There are different versions of how she saves him but she's actually been trained as a warrior.
Shupranakha is a kind of guardian of the forest. She's also a warrior. The Shupranakha one is actually a video which I'm going to show later. So this is the... Abduction.
Here they're very large photographs as well - 4 feet and then 5 feet. I used a lot of references from western and Indian painting. Not with this - this is more kind of cinematic
Its very funny, I have this pond at the back of my studio, so I wanted to do this sentimental picture of this woman sitting by this pond and all that. When we lit it up - we lit it at night - Clay my photographer said 'hey look, its looking more interesting if you use the reflection.' The thing about digital cameras is that you can actually see a small picture immediately, you know.
So I said 'ya this looks more interesting', so we did that. As far as I knew there was no such thing in which there was a pond and a lake and a reflection in the Ramayana, but I was not interested in being very literal. But later on I read that in the Kamba Ramayana actually there is a scene that the first time Ravana sees Sita he goes with Maricha to a lake in the forest where she comes to draw water and then he sees her reflection in the lake. Its very strange - you do something and much later you discover that actually its somewhere there.
Here again one thing is stretched out, of the actual act of abduction. I started with the Abduction series first and what I found very interesting about this whole thing of abduction is that it comes again and again in the world's mythologies. If you read Greek mythology, there are so many stories where Zeus and other characters abduct women - Abduction of Europa - and it comes again and again in western painting. Abduction of Europa for instance. And then Zeus keeps coming in various... as a shower of gold coins, as a bull, as various things. then there's this whole thing of Persephone and how this... what's his name... the King of... the Underworld... (Hades) ... kidnaps Persephone and takes her to the underworld and so on.
At every point it is a kind of change in the story - where everything changes and a new order begins - its very strange. And of course abduction is a very... is a weapon of war. And of riots.
During the Partition many, many women were abducted on both sides of the border. There's whole histories of how important women were sent to Pakistan to get back some of the abducted women and they didn't want to come back because they'd actually been happily living over there. They had families over there but they were forced to come back. So there are lots of stories around the act of abduction.
This is very interesting. The costume of the character, the demon, I took from an old photograph of Gubbi Veeranna's and he is the kalla
(thief) - its got nothing to do with the Ramayana - I think its Sadarame
where he is the kalla
(thief) - actually its a theatre still like this where he's abducting this woman. And I must tell you the background of this photograph...
Suresh Jayaram who plays the thing could not possibly carry me. So what we did was I have an old wardrobe of my grandmother's behind him and I'm actually draped over that cupboard (laughs) and he's holding me very uncomfortably.
Then my photographer suggested the fog machine, which actually makes a lot of difference. I'm sorry they're extremely - its a very bad projection - they're very rich sort of photographs.
This again is a reference to... there are many many Western paintings for about 2 or 3 centuries down to Picasso of The Rape of the Sabine Women. I'm not sure what exactly the story is, its an old Greek or Roman story where its during the war - rape and abduction meant the same by the way, earlier - so they abduct these women from the enemy and take them away. So there's all these references I'm making to historical paintings and...
This is of course Ravi Varma Death of Jatayu, one of the versions.
Ya we can show the... videos...
Its just like a chase sequence
This is made from still photographs, its like stop-motion
We can show the next one. Next one is silent. Its called Seduction.
All the projections are like an approximation of the work... the quality is much better.
I'm very interested in early cinema and I'm using certain things like this very cheap animation - you see it in Dadasaheb Phalke's films where somebody's head is cut off and there's this stream of blood coming out.
Please ask me, don't feel shy. If you want to know anything, it can be any kind of question...
Q: ... last 2 or 3 decades your interraction with the exemplar details ... so many film makers. the reason - the way you found cinema, you usually tend to trace it back to schools - art schools, ... say something about the people who you interracted with from other fields which usually ... ... idea of pop culture is associated with you... [...]
Anil wants me to ... should I just talk or do I need the mic? ...
Anil said I should... ya there various things which have influenced me... in ways in which my interests have grown, so he wants me to talk about some of those things, maybe people I've encountered, or places or experiences.
I think one major influence was... well the first - I'll start from the very beginning... I was in - I did my B.A. in Mt. Carmel College in the 70s - 1974, from Bangalore, which was a very lively time, not that at that time I knew everything that was going on. But the 1970s were a very crucial and important period in India which has not really been studied very much. Its the time of the Bangladesh war, then the Emergency, and also the time of New Cinema and New Theatre, particularly in Karnataka.
Not that I was completely plugged into those things when I was a young student - I was in my teens then - but looking back on it, the people that I knew then and some of the debates that were going on around that time really has influenced me.
For example there was this very intellectual called T.G.V. who was the English professor in Bangalore University, T.G. Vaidyanathan who had a big circle around him. I was very rebellious, and also very young at that point, but I was part of that circle, there was a lot of interest in film and a lot of intellectual debates going on, which I was marginally sort of hanging around.
At that time I started going to Bala Nambiar's art classes. And I think probably when I started to do sculpture he might have had something to do with it because I knew nothing about sculpture. In fact when I went to Baroda I meant to do painting because I'd never done sculpture. Even in art classes they never did sculpture. But certainly seeing his work and knowing him well, he encouraged me to take up art - that was an influence.
There again there was this Bangalore Art Club which he was running which was also like a centre - he used to have talks and show films and had different kinds of activities there. That was a very small place in those days but it heightened the Modernist movement in Kannada literature. Though I wasn't into reading Kannada at that time, but it was all around me. Later on I started reading. I think in my teens I acted in a play directed by Lankesh. I knew Lankesh who was also a professor - P. Lankesh, the writer, who was a professor in the Central College, English Department at that time.
These things were so... all those famous plays like Karanth, Karnad, Kambar - all those plays were going on at that point. I think some of my cousins were also acting in those plays or was in the chorus or something like that. So that was one point. And then I went to Baroda. It was a very important, very formative period in my life. I was there in the late 70s - from '77 to '85. I think one of the first things - there was a lot of interest in popular culture over there because of Bhupen Kakkar who was not teaching there, but living in Baroda. You'd be familiar with his work. He was a very strong influence on me.
And another thing was that whole sense of humour. Also K.G. Subramanyan who never taught me but he was a major... he was there only for one or two years when I was there, but he was a major influence on a lot of people. Especially at that point he was doing these glass paintings and terracotta works. What was really interesting - both of them, though they were opposed to each other - I think they hated each other - I don't think they got along at all - K.G. Subramanyan and Bhupen Khakhar - but both of them in their different ways were using the vernacular, which I am very interested in. Vernacular as popular, but also the vernacular, as folk maybe.
Also the daily life where there was a lot of emphasis - for example we'd be given things like 'do a painting on wayside tea stall' and all that, which is very much to do with what you did in your daily life - you went around, you're looking around, you're seeing the city or small town as it was.
Then later on I think '81 was this Place for People show which was again very influential. There were all painters, but before the exhibition there were a lot of seminars and debates. There was this English critic called Timothy Hyman who'd come there. I think Baroda was intellectually very lively in that time. It was one of the golden periods of art school, I was lucky to be there during that particular time. Of course that's not the only time.
... Maybe it was so lively - generally these places go up and down, there are certain periods when its like on a trough nd certain periods when things are really clicking. Intelectually there was a lot... and a lot of artists of my generation, 20-25 of us at that point - in all departments we were very well known, we all studied together. Of course we weren't aware that all this was happening, we just knew each other and we were like irresponsible young students having fun and all that sort of thing... but also, it was really [...]
And another very important thing which has influenced my work a lot - I'm very interested in art history. In fact my friend Parul Dave who is a well known art historian said 'how come you're using so much art historical references in your work, because you always used to sleep during the classes while a student?' Of course we all used to fool around... but basically I've always been very interested. I'm very interested in history and memory. I always like to analyse things and go to the roots of things and so on, I think an interest in history is part of that. We had 7 years of solid art history in Baroda - 5 years of B.A. and 2 years of M.A. ... I still remember some of the lectures of Gulam Sheikh for instance, who was just marvelous to have as a teacher. I think some of those...
And of course some very wonderful contemporary artists were actually working in front of us, it was very intimate.I would say that some of the artists, well known artists, I've seen them painting their famous or crucial works as a student. So that I think was tremendously inspiring.
Later on I got married to a film scholar and went to Bombay where I lived for about 10 years. That I think was a very influential period. I was very rebellious actually - I was very rebellious against this whole film culture because film people are very arrogant, especially at that time. They think film is the most ultimate art. So they think film encompasses all the other arts and is the most advanced. Of course the 20th century is known as the age of film now. So it was a very important medium, but as a sculptor then I was very angry at this whole marginalising of the other arts in a sense.
But then I met people who I knew very well like Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul, Arun Khopkar and many other people... Neela Bhagwat, a very well known singer... So these people were very major influential - intelectual as well as the leader of the art film movement.... and what's called the Indian New Wave. I knew them extremely well at that point - I've not seen all their films but constantly was in... listened to them - extremely articulate, extremely educated people I would say.
Also I would place them historically at that kind of post independance generation who are very interested in the classics. So my whole thing of Indian New Wave cinema is that actually they were trying to make film into an art form and trying to claim film as a kind of classical art form like Indian classical music and classical dance. If you see a lot of things that they made, they used a lot of classical music and classical dance.
So then suddenly - and then another thing that was happening was that ever since I got married, for about 8 years, my husband was working on this huge tool called the Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. So we were seeing 4 or 5 films a day. Of course I would not be sitting in front of it all the time - that'd drive me mad - but it was like many many languages and many of them he was seeing himself though he had researchers working for him.... but it was so crazy... film had never been researched like that in a scholarly way, it was a very pioneering work.
So it was like for 8 years this film conversation. So on the one hand there was this kind of aristocracy of the art film makers. And on the other hand my husband who was a very strongly a kind of part of them, because he took on this project of doing the encyclopedia had to also fling himself into popular cinema... and all kinds of cinema... and plus the technical part of it. There was also this whole bunch of ex FTII students who had liked working with Mani and who were all friendly with. So it was like constantly being surrounded by this film crowd talking film and all kinds of things.
So suddenly what happened was in 1996 we decided to leave Bombay and more to Bangalore. And just then I had shot Phantom Lady and it was so funny because it was like a complete rebellion against this whole art film thing because I was directly taking from popular culture and this whole kind of stunt film which is not even A grade its supposedly C grade cheap films.
What is interesting is that what was happening all this time when I was actually resisting this whole film... cinephilia I should say, I myself had become cinephilic. Everybody calls me a cinephilic now. The film people think my work is entirely influenced by cinema. Theatre people think my work is entirely influenced by theatre. 'Howcome ' and all that sort of thing... But what has happened is that I've always been interested in theatre, so I try to follow theatre dance, different art forms basically. I'm also very interested in social sciences. I take a lot... I have a lot of friends who are some of the pioneers in say film studies and cinema studies in India.
So one has been... not that I read theory that much but I'm constantly with people who are talking about things, who attend lectures and try and keep up with what's happening. Because I think as an artist I have to be in touch with the most progressive thought of the day. So as much as possible I try to keep in touch with the progressive ideas that are being produced today.
And after we moved to Bangalore my husband was one of the founders of CSCS that is Centre for the Studies of Culture and Society which actually started in my studio - in our house in my studio. So I was very - there was a group of us friends who started it and so I was very closely involved at that point.
So there's different kinds of streams which have come into my work, and I think that answers your question.
Q: After seeing your photo I think you have been inspired by this artist Cindy Sherman...
Q: ... its right or what?
I don't know but that's what people say. I'm actually interested in this whole history of performance in art - feminist art, from the 60s. So Cindy Sherman herself is taking from people who are working before her. And in fact my work is more closer to this other artist who is not that well known, but Eleanor Langton, who in fact I'd not heard of till I saw a big retrospective of her's.
Phantom Lady I exhibited in Los Angeles in '99. There in the museum is this whole retrospective of Eleanor Langton's work. Then I realised its very similar to what I'm doing. She's also very interested in early black and white cinema. She's made these short films, and then she... and then she's also worked with stories.
About Cindy Sherman - I mean of course I'm obviously interested in her work - but in the 90s we were not so aware of American art. Our connections were more with England. Or with Europe, not so much with America. And in fact I knew and always like the work of ... Gilbert and George. I'm also very influenced by Bhupen Khakhar who also used to have all these performances not as part of the work but in shows. He'd ask his friends to dress up in some way and come for the opening of the show. We heard about it - not that he did it when I was there. In fact this whole idea of doing Nadia came from Bhupen Khakhar actually. Very directly.
Q: Pushpa, more often that not, you've played an ideal Indian beauty, or the ideal woman. And you're speaking about Cindy Sherman... I think there was a point in time when Cindy Sherman really tried to look as ugly as possible like in some magazines I think, no? She really tried to look as grotesque as possible. Do you ever feel the need to do something like that?
No I don't like those grostesque... because one of the problems I have with Cindy Sherman's work is this kind of destroying the woman. You start using the image as the woman and then you start destroying it. I don't want to do that actually. I'm constructing something rather than destroying something. When I play dead, or some kind of injury, I actually try to... I don't want to make it gross. I don't want to make it gross.
Because I think that whole thing is a form of... that kind of self-hatred is one area of feminism which I don't like, at some point, a certain era also of that kind of self-hatred which comes through in certain... and the reason it works for Cindy Sherman - I saw a huge show in MoMA, New York - horrendous. She's playing these kind of rich women like caricatures. That sort of work doesn't interest me at all. I don't want to do something like that.
And I think over here we are far more... in the non-western countries, we are far more political and we have far more to say. So as I said a lot of my work is to do with the nation, the history of the nation, the contemporary, the modern - but what's happening in India. I thnik while critiquing, I'm also trying to construct something... we're all trying to... even the critique is quite strong, its not just caricature, its not just making fun of some society women. I'm not interested in that kind of thing.
Shall we wind up?