Theatre and Art

Portraying The ‘Real’ Story of Dance

p3pic2Almost all of Roy Campbell-Moore’s photographs can be categorised as avant-garde. Sweaty dancers populate the images, in movement against a low-light background, resting after a strenuous dance practice or during the frenzy before the performances. Most are gritty and not what you would call ‘picture perfect.’ But that’s his aim — to showcase the alternative world of dance, not just the beautiful side, and illuminate the relationship the dancers have with the art form. He says, “I try to photograph from the inside of the art form and that’s why not all photographs are necessarily beautiful.”

Giving this idea a further boost, Roy embarked on a project The Beauty And The Grit over a year ago, identifying dance companies across Wales and India, along the way aiming to cultivate a more personal examination of the art form among photographers and dancers. After completing a residency at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi and working with dance company, The Danceworx there, he is now in Bangalore, for his show that will run till Friday at Vismaya Art Gallery, Rangoli Metro Art Center.

He has also completed a four-day workshop with the Stem Dance Kampni, engaging with 15 different photographers. “We created a new short piece of dance for the company. The photographers had to capture everything part of the making process, from day one to the final performance. After that we had a showing of the different works at the studio. To me, the photographs came across as very passionate, very aggressive. It was fantastic. Even the dance performance was very unusual for the dancers because they had to learn a new way of western dance. But they were very enthusiastic,” he says.

Roy’s tryst with Bangalore started when he collaborated with Madhu Nataraj of Stem Dance Kampni about five years ago and since then he has been travelling back and forth teaching residencies and conducting workshops. He recalls, “One particular experience is very close to my heart. Six months ago, we created a series of 18 monumental installations, about 5 foot 1 inch in size showing how dancers engage with different spaces, be it dance studios, stray buildings, office buildings, even a Banana field. These were very unusual settings, and it was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever done something like that in my life before.”

Roy has been photographing dance as a specialist for about 15 years after he stopped dancing. In fact, he was a ballet dancer for over 40 years and even founded the National Dance Company to promote arts back in Wales. But when he realised his love for photography, he stepped down from the role of an artistic director and even gave up dancing. He explains, “I happened to get into photography out of necessity. Back then, good photographers used to charge exorbitant fees. It was also expensive because we had to get them all the way down from London. So I thought I will try to do it myself, see how I can get on. After all, I knew the dancers better and I had a better understanding of the subject. So I bought the best camera I could get my hands on and started work. I studied hard for over three years and taught myself using tutorials. And then, it paid off.” And what does he consider the most rewarding aspect? He says it is the privilege of working with talented dancers and learning about them as people as well as subjects for his photography. But the main driving force is that it enables him to delve deeper into the art form.

First published in The New Indian Express on September 25, 2014

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Gypsy Grooves on the Stage

Gypsies, ostracised from mainstream culture, are survivors, nonetheless. Often seen as ‘outsiders’ and despite being scattered across vast geo-cultural spaces, they are united by a common thread – the richness of their music and dance.

Through the years, their lifestyle has influenced many early forms of modern dance forms as disparate as north-Indian Kathak, Spanish flamenco and Egyptian belly dance. Giving Bangaloreans a glimpse into what a Gypsy life is like and how they have influenced modern day culture, a dance performance part of The SaraLuna Dance Project will be held on Saturday.

The SaraLuna project comprises of Indu Manohar and Kavya Viswanathan

The SaraLuna project comprises of Indu Manohar and Kavya Viswanathan

The project, founded in June this year by Studio Tarang – an open cultural space for dance and drama, traces the journey of the Roma people – often referred to as the ‘gypsies’ – through their diverse dance forms. “It will be an evening of dance, showcasing flamenco and belly dance. Many modern forms that we see today owe much of their early development to Spanish gypsies or gitanos and Egyptian gypsies known as the ghawazi,” says Indu Manohar, one of the founders.

 Indu, who dances kathak, odissi and flamenco, dons the hat of Luna and her friend, the belly dance instructor, odissi dancer and co-founder of Tarang, Kavya Viswanathan is Sara. Indu adds, “Kavya is a globetrotter. In order to learn the dances of the nomadic community, she had travelled around the world. In fact, she was in Turkey earlier this year and will chase down the last gypsy dancers of Egypt in November.”

Together, reflects Indu, they “seek to explore the contradictions of the gypsy existence through dance – they are united but diverse, nomadic but have a home in music and dance, persecuted but imitated, assimilated but kept estranged.” They also hope to study the different Romani trail dance forms that have come in contact with different cultures and civilisations through intercultural performances.

Saturday’s event will herald a series of performances throughout the city in the coming months. The dancing duo aim to raise awareness about the community’s immense contribution to culture around the world and also throw light on their current plight through workshops, classes and social activities. 

The SaraLuna Project will be held at Opus in Vasanthnagar at 7.30 pm on September 6.


First published in The New Indian Express on September 4, 2014

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Swiss films come to Bangalore

With the ‘Swiss Film Week’, taking place until September 1, the Swiss Consulate in Bangalore looks forward to celebrate a century of German teaching in India. Around six films — 4 fiction films and two documentaries — will be showcased at the festival at Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. Rolf Frei, the consul general throws more light on the idea behind the screening as he says, “In Switzerland, we have four official languages; the most widely spoken one is German. The films we have chosen are films made by renowned Swiss filmmakers. By showcasing these films, which are in German, we aim to acquaint the people with our cinema culture.”

The festival will kickstart with a screening of ‘More than Honey,’ a documentary by Markus Imhoof, which was the country’s nomination for the ‘Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film’ in 2013. ‘More than Honey’ examines the causes for the dwindling population of bees across the world. In the course of 91 minutes, it captures insights from a Swiss beekeeper living on an alp, a brain researcher in Berlin, a pollen trader in China and more, documenting their lives.

Frei is confident that the festival will receive a good response and is eager to reach out to more people around the country after the screening in Bangalore. “We want to take the festival to five other cities. We are yet to finalise the details.”

The films

Film: Die Standesbeamtin (Will you marry us?) by Micha Lewinsky

Duration: 90 min

Screening: August 30, 8 pm

A civil registrar, Rahel Hubli has long given up on finding the ‘love of her life.’ But her outlook is set to change when her childhood friend, Ben, suddenly shows up. Love soon blooms between them. The movie, released in 2009, packs in humor, music and romance as Rahel tries to circumvent a marriage proposal from Ben as she is already married.


Film: Der Kreis (The Circle) by Stefan Haupt

Duration: 101 min

Screening: August 31, 6 pm

Released in February this year, the story is set in Zurich of 1958 at the underground organisation, Der Kreis which pioneered gay emancipation across Europe. The protagonist Ernst Ostertag, a young teacher falls in love with Robi Rapp, a German cabaret artist. Torn between his bourgeois existence and his love for Robi, Ernst joins Der Kreis and witnesses the rise and fall of the organisation.


Film: Der Verdingbub (The Foster Boy) by Markus Imboden

Duration: 108 min

Screening: August 31, 8 pm

A 2011 film, it is the story of Max, a 12-year old orphan who goes to work with a farmer, Bosiger. But here, Max, instead of finding a loving home, gets treated like a workhorse and is constantly humiliated and abused by the farmer’s son, Jacob. When his teacher stands up against the brutality, it only makes matters worse for Max at home. The only saving grace for him is his friendship with Berteli, who was also taken on to work at the farm. The story continues as he dreams of living in a fantasy world with Berteli in Argentina, where everything is hunky dory and where even hayforks are made of silver.

Film: Vaters Garten – Die Liebe meiner Eltern (Father´s green – The love of my parents) by Peter Liechti

Duration: 93 min

Screening: September 1, 6 pm

The film examines the strained relationship between the director and his parents. For decades, they avoided meeting each other as much as possible. The film follows a re-encounter years later between them. In the process, Peter understands more about their individual personalities,  their marriage and the love they have for each other which helped them sustain the bond for 62 years.


Film: Die Schwarzen Brüder (The Black Brothers) by Xavier Koller

Duration: 98 min

Screening: September 1, 8 pm

Die Schwarzen Brüder (The Black Brothers) is a poignant story of a young boy, Georgio, who is forced to work as a chimney-sweep in Milan. Saddened by his misfortune and the abject condition he is living in, he forms a community – ‘Black Brothers’. Together, they defend themselves against the attacks of street urchins called Die Wolfe. The film traces Georgio’s struggle in Milan and his escape back to Switzerland.

First published in The New Indian Express on August 28, 2014

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Two artistes, three villages, one Bus Project

Should art only be confined to closed spaces, the high-end galleries and convention centres, catering to only the elite and the art enthusiasts? Two artists, Martin John and Saji Kadampattil have attempted to answer this question and in doing so, have tried to reimagine the idea of a performance space. They embarked on a journey a year ago in Thrissur on what they called ‘The Bus Project’.

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‘The Bus Project’, was a travelling stage that moved from place to place and interacted with local audience in villages like Manakody, Pazhuvil and Mattom. For the production, the duo used a bus as a performing arena and developed shows around it. The objective, Saji reiterates, was to move away from the conventional theatre spaces and cultivate the idea of an interactive theatrical display. Saji recalls, “We got a bus and altered it. We created two performance spaces –the bus opened on the side to become a platform where actors staged their plays and we converted the top as well. It was like a carnival on wheels.”

They used the bus as the central theme for the production, Odichodichu – Oru Bus Natakam, delving into the history and evolution of the mode of transportation which has become a life support for thousands of people in Thrissur and everywhere else. Saji says, “We had staged which revolved around the premise of ‘a disappearing bus’. The bus veers off in the wrong direction and falls into a deep ditch. The play is a parallel between two worlds — one that takes place inside the bus and the other, of the people who are trying to pull the bus out of the ditch.” Then there were workshops on sculpture making and painting and music performances.

By offering grants, the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) has supported the artists in their endeavour to make theatre accessible to the public. Arundhati Ghosh observes, “This was a very interesting initiative of building an audience for theatre. Unlike others who drum up an audience by distributing flyers and making announcements, their idea was simple — to take theatre to the masses and make theatre accessible to everyone.”

Will the bus travel to other cities in the country? “We haven’t been able to do that due to roadblocks pertaining to certification and bus permits. We are helping them get in touch with civil authorities regarding this,” says Arundhati.

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First published in The New Indian Express on August 21


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An art show that celebrates the freedom of expression among young, up-and-coming artistes

For over a year now, Rangoli Metro Art Center has tried to bring to the fore many art forms that dot the cultural landscape of the country, giving a glimpse into the life and works of myriad artists. In yet another new initiative, the gallery will present 30 young creators, who have no big exhibition to their credit but whose works resonate with aesthetic brilliance. Surekha, the curator of the show  asserts, “These are artistes who have just graduated from college. They have created some great works, but they are not market-oriented. There are not many opportunities in Bangalore for them as most galleries seek big-name artistes. This show is a stepping stone for them.”

The exhibition, which kicked off on August 15, showcases the contributions these artists have made to the rich tapestry of art. Surekha tells us that the artists work with different genres, so the show has paintings, sculptures, light, video and sound installations, prints, performance, photography, drawings, etc.”It is the freedom of expression that we celebrated this independence day, the freedom that the new generation of artists can enjoy,” she opines.

Coin box Post Art History

An artist, Deepak, who has studied art history and who is part of the exhibition, seconds the thought. “The exhibition tries to bridge the all-too prevalent divide in the art space in the city. To put it in perspective, there are over 70 galleries in Bangalore but only a handful, say 1 or 2 per cent of them allow amateur artistes to portray their works. Moreover, Karnataka produces at least 1000 artistes every year.” He has been working in the art space for over two years, having graduated in 2012. At the show, he is showcasing his sound art work which deals with the concept of ‘emotions and surroundings.’ “I have been fascinated by how a person reacts to the surroundings, how he responds with a flurry of emotions. My piece throws light on that aspect,” he says.

Another artist, Vineesh V Amin attempts to link consciousness with the subconsciousness and explore the philosophy of the process through installations and light work. He explains, “I believe existence is perceptual and dependant on possibilities which are an extension of thoughts. My work focuses on transition, delving into the intermediate spaces between spaces which are either abstract or virtual. I have used kinetic and mechanical installations to portray this transition and lasers, which just like belief, are intangible.”

Line and Beyond, according to him, is a place where all artists can congregate and exchange ideas. He adds, “There are two groups of artistes — the ones who dabble in commercial work and the others, non-commercial. As artistes working in the non-commercial space, we work with a lot of different theories and concepts. An exhibition like this, brings such artistes together to share different perspectives.”

Deepak adds that Line and Beyond also aims to break away from the conventional gallery construct and reach out to the public. “When you exhibit at a gallery, you only interact with the art enthusiasts and the elite. Here, we hope to mingle with the public and learn about their reaction to art, understanding our own work in the process.”

Published in The New Indian Express on August 12, 2014.

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Paavakathakali, a rare puppet art gets a new lease of life


The ancient glove puppet art form Paavakathakali, originating from Kerala, is slowly dying. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), a government funded arts organisation, has now taken an initiative to give it a new lease of life by staging performances in the city.

 Paavakathakali or glove puppet play is an art form that is almost two centuries old. The art form emerged by incorporating Kathakali techniques and modeling puppets based on the characters in the dance form.

The classical dimension is what differentiates Paavakathakali from other puppet theatres. ‘Kathakali’ style masks, colourful ornaments and embellishments such as peacock feathers are another highlight. The head and arms are delicately carved in wood, painted, gilded and adorned. A cloth bag is used for the ‘body’ that is concealed by a long, flowing robe. The puppeteer uses three fingers to manipulate the puppet. Unlike some puppet theatres, the puppeteers do not hide behind the screen.

History has it that the Aandipandaram puppeteers from Kerala visited  villages with their puppets. They were originally from Andhra Pradesh and then settled in Kerala. In Kerala, they performed the Aryamaala, the Tamil folk drama as a puppet show.  Later when Kathakali became popular, they carved Kathakali figures, studied the text and devised their own art form. So is Paavakathakali still prevalent? “Yes, there continue to be some families in Paruthippulli and Kodumbu villages in Palakkad,” says Vikram Sampath, executive director, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Southern Regional Centre. But it is a dying art form, he adds. And as an institution devoted to the documentation of traditional and folk arts of India, IGNCA is working towards reviving Pavakathakali in India. 

According to Vikram, the glove puppet theatre form is of great importance because of its ability to present Kathakali, the classical dance-drama, through puppetry. He adds, “When children and adults see a character unfold through puppets, it leaves a strong impression in their minds. It is usual in other countries to present theatrical forms like opera through puppets for children. As a form capable of initiating children to the appreciation of Kathakali, it answers a need of the day.”

Published on July 12, 2014 in The New Indian Express. 

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A tribute to “The Perfect Musical”

The musical, My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion

The musical, My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion

In 1956, the Broadway production of My Fair Lady became the longest running musical theatre production in history. And since then, the musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, has seen a film adaptation and many enthralling theatre revivals across the globe. In Bangalore, city-based theatre group Antardwand had staged two productions in 2012 and 2013. Now, before moving on to their adaptation of Mughal-e-Azam, they will be staging the perfect musical one last time. “My Fair Lady is a treat for fans of old British classics. It appeals to everyone, young and old alike because it brings together music, theatre and dance. This year, Pygmalion completes 100 years and this is our way of celebrating the great play,” states Priyanka, the founder of Antardwand, whose past productions include adaptations of popular classics like Tagore’s Chokher Bali and Sir Arthurs.

My Fair Lady

My  Fair Lady revolves around a cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, played by Priyanka. She has had to live the hard life and has never experienced luxury. Then comes a phonetic expert, the snobbish Professor Higgins (Shishank Gupta). He studies her for a few days and disgusted by her ghastly accent, offers to give her speech lessons so that she can be more ‘ladylike’. Eliza, who has a dream of working in a florist shop instead of on the streets, agrees to the wager. It is this comical transformation of Eliza that forms the crux, and also underlines the class separation that existed in Britain in the 1940s, says Priyanka. The other cast members include Salmin Sheriff as Colonel Pickering, Higgins’s friend and a phonetician; Apachu Poovaiah as Alfred, Eliza’s father and Akshay Datta as Freddy, Eliza’s suitor.

Talking about the response the play had received earlier, Priyanka observes, “It was simply superb. The audience did not expect us to put up a show like the Broadway version. But when they saw the play, they were amazed. We had put in a lot of effort into the costumes, the set up, the mannerisms to keep the essence intact. Even the songs were performed live.” This year too, the audience can expect “an authentic portrayal of 40s Britain from costumes and backdrops to accents, providing a true Broadway experience,” according to Priyanka.

MFL (7)Published on July 16, 2014 in The New Indian Express.

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Capturing a fleeting moment in brush strokes

Amrita Nambiar, Entrepreneur

Amrita Nambiar, Entrepreneur

Meet Amrita Nambiar, an illustrative designer who always dreamt of infusing into a space that ethereal, unpredictable beauty and meaning that would change moods and create experiences. Drawing was something she always fell back on as a child. With each passing hobby, she realised that this was the one thing that continued to hold her interest and she decided to go to art school. She discovered illustration a few years into art school, the sheer whimsy of detailing a complex thought through a few intricate lines in pen intrigued her. And then when she moved to Pondicherry a couple of years ago, to work with Hidesign, she was hooked. “The creative folk that lived there, the quaint streets, the ashram life that takes you back decades, the sea that always beckons with answers to your questions — life in Pondi was infinitely slower, calmer and allowed one to dream,” she observes. Eventually, she was inspired to dream of a brand that would bring this feeling of freedom and serenity into people’s lives. And so OLIE, a home decor label, was born.

What makes OLIE unique is, Amrita says, “its unusual combination of exquisite hand printed stories with the luxury of hand-twisted natural fibre.” By bringing together the art of the contemporary with the beautiful craft that abounds all over India, each product is crafted with the greatest care for the smallest detail. Her collections are based on the idea of ‘impermanence’. She adds, “We capture a wondrous moment that is fleeting. We reflect the movement and the beauty of those seconds in our printed collections.”

Amrita believes in classics and not following trends, but she constantly experiments and works with different fabrics, textures, colors and prints. “I adore working with beautiful, soft cottons and of course, the exquisite natural fibres,” she says and adds, “We draw inspiration from the things we see around us and work to bring a delicate balance in each signature accessory.”

OLIE's collections are based on the idea of 'Impermanence'

OLIE’s collections are based on the idea of ‘Impermanence’

3 cake dinner4 heartlight-cushions

Outlining the process from conception to the finished product, she says, “Color is one of the most beautiful and key features. It starts at the very beginning, when I illustrate. I usually use watercolors for my initial sketches and choose the palette for each collection. Then we sit with the women artisans who bring my illustrations to life on fabric.” Here we mix pots of gorgeous colors and create the absolute perfect, unusual shade that make a cushion cover or a lamp stand out as unique and beautiful. She adds, “The teals, olives, bright yellows and indigos in our collections are strong colors, each complimenting the other in that particular print, bringing out the best in each other. The handprinted fabrics are then combined with the artisan-woven natural fibres to create a signature product.”

Moving from illustrating in a two dimensional form, to creating something that is not only more tangible but also functional has been an incredible journey for Amrita. “I’ve enjoyed donning different hats to get the brand started. It is very fulfilling.”

The most rewarding aspect, she says, is when she sees a customer connect with the brand, it’s beliefs and take OLIE back home. “The first few months, I had the joy of interacting directly with our customers and have been to their homes, helped them set up their spaces and learned a lot from them.” And what’s the most challenging? “It lies in the little details, the perfect colors, the softness of the fabrics, the weave. We work hard to get every detail right, and that’s what makes it all worth it!”

Published on July 19, 2014 in The New Indian Express.

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Struggles find expression on artist Jayakumar’s canvas

Growing up, contemporary artist Jayakumar G was always fascinated by the world around him. His father was a social worker and mother, a house nurse. So Jayakumar always came in contact with people from different strata of the society. He recalls meeting a drunk man who always came home to beat his wife and children, a man who would beg on the streets, people who would struggle to fend for themselves and their families.

He admits that as a child he was depressed by these scenarios. He recalls going up to his father and asking him ‘Isn’t there anything that can be done to end their misery?’ Watching these people struggle still continues to disturb him. That’s perhaps why he chose to mirror these socio-economic struggles in his paintings.

By juxtaposing reality with his vivid imagination, using men and women as his subjects and portraying their fears and insecurities, he compels his viewer to see beyond the mere painting and read his thoughts.

From being a kid who doodled in books and drew on walls, Jayakumar has indeed come a long way. Having travelled across the country and the world, studying and teaching aesthetics, this 54-year-old artist is now heading the visual arts division at Bangalore University. He is currently exhibiting his works — oil on canvas, reverse paintings and drawings — at an exhibition titled Enigma- Going Beyond the Unknown at Bangalore’s newly-opened gallery, Art Houz. I caught up with the veteran to know more about his creative journey.

Bangalore-based contemporary artist Jayakumar G

Bangalore-based contemporary artist Jayakumar G

Early Days

During my school days, I was very interested in drawing. All my books had doodles in them. Even walls in my house had my artwork, which my parents preserved and didn’t repaint. But I didn’t know what to make of my talent. I didn’t know anybody who was in the field of art and I was not aware that there was something called ‘art school’. So I continued with my leisurely drawings without any thought about what the future held for me.


One day, my father met a signboard artist who needed help with painting. He sent me to work with the painter. I started meeting him every evening and within a year, I aced the art of writing in different fonts. But soon, I got bored. Later, my father met a portrait artist during his work, and the artist noticed me and my talent. He was the one who suggested that I join art school. The next day, my father sent me to Ken School of Art and I enrolled myself with a tuition fee of just `20. I continued to study art during the day and pursue my studies in the evening. I went on to start my graduate studies in B Com, but halfway through, I discontinued.


After completing my studies at Ken School, I travelled to Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. In 1983, I received a scholarship from the Inlaks Foundation and went abroad to do my masters at Royal College of Art, London.


Travelling Abroad

Before moving to London, I turned down a job as a teacher at Maharaja Sayajirao University. I wanted to travel and broaden my horizons. After completing my education at Royal College of Art, I stayed there. I took up a teaching job at The Falmouth School of Art and held a few exhibitions. To say the least, this trip taught me how to survive on my own. When I joined college, I did not speak with anybody and I had no friends. I even wrote a letter to my parents telling them that I would return to India soon. Then gradually, things changed. My classmates started noticing my work. They started hanging out with me. I bonded with them only because of my art.


After my stint in London, I travelled to other parts of Europe — Belgium, France, Italy, Greece. All through my travels, I met interesting people, not just in museums and galleries, but even on the streets. People like musicians, jugglers. I have spent nights in the Roman Railway Station just talking to people. All this has enriched my life and the way I look at people.


On Teaching

At the request of my teacher at Ken School, I set up a graphic studio at Ravindra Kalakshetra. During the same time, Chandrashekhara Kambara, founder and vice-chancellor of Kannada University at Hampi wanted me to head the art division at the university. I was in two minds about it. But as I examined the 700 acre barren land where the university was to be built, I made my decision — I wanted to move away from the mainstream art field and do something that would help people. I am proud to say that the first piece of work that was constructed at the campus was a 15-foot sculpture of a mother that I created. After seven years here, I moved to Baroda to head the graphics department at my alma mater, before coming back to my roots to set up the visual arts department at Bangalore University.

On his paintings…

I am inspired by what I see around me. I read newspapers, literature, I watch TV and I talk to people. I examine them, I try to understand their point of view, what goes on in their mind, how they cope with their problems like poverty, illness, disaster, death, etc. I use familiar elements like a man and a woman and place them in an unknown context. To unravel the meaning hidden in the painting, you have to go deeper into its universe.

And how art can create awareness

Art as a language, as a form of expression, lets painters tell the world their story. But more importantly, it sensitises people to what surrounds them. It compels them to think and notice the subtleties behind a portrait. Even if it is just a drawing of a smile, art helps them open their eyes to what’s behind that smile. And I feel more people should be exposed to art so that they respect their surroundings.

Advice for aspiring artists

There is a beautiful world out there, chase it. You are young and energetic. You have all the means to achieve what you put your mind to.

Jayakumar's repertoire includes women, their fears and insecurities as the main subjects

Jayakumar’s repertoire includes women, their fears and insecurities as the main subjects

At the inauguration of Jayakumar's exhibition 'Enigma...':  (From left)  Vincent from 'Art Houz', Jayakumar.G and veteran artist S G Vasudev

At the inauguration of Jayakumar’s exhibition ‘Enigma…’: (From left) Vincent from ‘Art Houz’, Jayakumar.G and veteran artist S G Vasudev

Published on July 22, 2014 in The New Indian Express.


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Centuries-old tale retold in new context

Written by German playwright, George Buchner,  is a play set in the fictional kingdoms of Popo and Pipi. In a German state, where the ruler is the final authority and where the subjects have absolutely no free will, Prince Leonce and Princess Lena are forced to marry each other. But filled with melancholy, Leonce decides to renounce his royal duties and escape the system. And so does Lena. By a quirk of fate, they run away only to meet each other at an inn and fall in love.

Buchner’s theatrical universe may be nearly 200 years old, but it is still relevant today. Much like Leonce and Lena, we are like a cog in the well-oiled political machine, sometimes with no free will whatsoever. Hence, inspired by his political satire — which was Buchner’s only humorous play — two theatre groups, Perch based in Chennai and Rafiki from Bangalore will be presenting their adaptation How to Skin a Giraffe this week. Director Rajiv Krishnan says, “We still live a regimented life. Most of the time, we have a hand guiding us, telling us what we can do and what we can’t. It’s as if we are puppets controlled by strings.”

But the similarities with the original one stop there. Leonce and Lena has been reinterpreted in a way that suits the current ethos. Rajiv adds, “We have used Buchner’s play only as a reference point. We have kept the comical nature intact. But we tried to make our play very relevant to the Indian audience. In the original one, the language was old-fashioned and often poetic, unlike in ours which is multi-lingual. We also have live music, a simple set and colourful costumes to make our adaptation unique.”

The multi-lingual play 'How to skin a giraffe' is based on George Buchner's 'Leonce and Lena'

The multi-lingual play ‘How to skin a giraffe’ is based on George Buchner’s ‘Leonce and Lena’

Conceptualised last year, How to Skin a Giraffe premiered at a theatre fest in Chennai, marking Buchner’s 200th birth anniversary. Then on, the troupe has held shows in Bangalore, Kochi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. This will be the second run of the play in the city. But Rajiv says the audience can expect something different this time around. “We have had a diverse audience attending our past productions. We have incorporated their feedback in this year’s edition and have taken a different approach — it is a newer, tighter version and will be a treat even to those who have watched the previous ones. We have added a new character, rearranged some scenes and added a new scene.”

How to Skin a Giraffe premiered at a theatre fest in Chennai in 2013, marking Buchner's 200th birth anniversary

How to Skin a Giraffe premiered at a theatre fest in Chennai in 2013, marking Buchner’s 200th birth anniversary

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