Colours of an Election

(first published in Mar 2009 for Art Concerns e-Mag)

One usually doesn’t use ‘art’ and ‘elections’ in the same breath. But hey, it’s the 21st century. And innovation is in. So we made Anjolie Ela Menon our next PM, asked Raghu Rai to travel back in time to the Indira years and quizzed Amar Singh about what he thought of caricatures on Manmohan Singh. Yes, it’s all too confusing but read on.

I recently shot with Anjolie Ela Menon for CNN-IBN’s special show called ‘If I Were Prime Minister’. It’s a programme where a person of consequence takes the mike and talks about what’s closest to his or her heart. Anjolie decided to get out of her studio and spend time with pre-schoolers from the Nizamuddin slum school. It’s a place she supports with both her time and her money. She spoke not about her art or the art market or even about the painting she just dedicated to the Mumbai martyrs but focused on something closest to her heart. The state of municipal schools in the country! She spoke of the horror stories that happen in such schools. Parents forced to bribe municipal school teachers, free uniforms and books sold by school officials and bad quality midday meals. I’ve shot with Anjolie several times but have never seen her in as good a mood. Walking down the tiny Nizamuddin lanes has also given her many themes for her paintings. That’s where she gets her colours from: the faces, the energy, the life. Shooting her among these children was a surprise because her body language changes with them as she sits them down and shows them how to colour their paint books. Lucky children, I don’t think they realise their good fortune as they sit learning art from one of our truly great living artist. For them, she’s a sweet aunty from the down the lane.

While my crew and I caught Anjolie in a never before avatar, Raghu Rai shared with me his work on Delhi in the last 40 years. His latest book called ‘Delhi’ is actually his third on the capital. It takes us through a Delhi we would never have known if it wasn’t for him. Old shots of a clutter-free Jama Masjid, days when road traffic was just about the odd Amby and a few horse carriages. The famous top shot of Agrasen ki Baoli which many Delhites have never seen except in his picture. But his most abiding images are of Indira Gandhi. Those rare glimpses of Mrs Gandhi that later came to define her persona. So we decided to talk politics instead of Delhi. I couldn’t have asked for a better day to shoot, the sun was merciful on a not-quite-cloudy day. I never do my book shoots showing the book being flipped through, nor have sit down interviews. I decided to go outdoors to a location suitable to the book and take the author for a walk there. So Raghu and I went to the Mehrauli market near his studio. This is a lovely location with the Aadam Khan tomb a.k.a. as Bhool Bhuliaya in the background. If he ever got back to shooting political campaigns he’d most dread the tight security cover he told me during our walk. In the ’70s security meant usually one or two bodyguards. But now getting close to a podium for close-ups or even to hop on to the stage to take crowd shots from behind the podium is unthinkable.

While we most certainly miss Raghu’s Midas touch today, there’s one man who has brought back some humour in the elections. Sudhir Tailang recently released a book ‘No Prime Minister’ that would have been music to L.K. Advani’s ears. But Tailang got Amar Singh and Shatrughan Sinha to launch the book. It has about 150 cartoons on Manmohan Singh, beginning with his days as Finance Minister. This was almost a godsend in the election season. Amar Singh was as usual full of sher-o-shayari but with a pinch of salt, unhappy once again with the Congress. But he was certainly cheered up when Sudhir showed him as the real ‘Singh is King’ in one of his cartoons.

In shooting this book the challenge was, once again, on how to make it look visually interesting. So we spot-lit it with some white light and bands of saffron and green filters. The results were political! Bathed as it was in colours of the Congress.

Sudhir admitted how initially he felt guilty about doing caricatures of an “immensely decent man” but found the ‘Sonia Madam’ factor hard to resist. While the book keeps everyone entertained and the party rocking, I for one will wish Dr Manmohan Singh a big ‘Jai Ho’ and hope to see him with the right numbers on the other side of Election 2009.


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