This exhibit explores the journey of an image as it travels through several mediums before coming full circle. The exhibit commences with the 2020 calendar of photographs inspired by Raja Ravi Varma's paintings, created by G Venket Ram and the NAAM Foundation, Chennai headed by Suhasini Hasan, and traces the image back to photographs from 1892/1893.
Radha in the Moonlight (1890) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Pundole's, Mumbai.
Suhasini Hasan shares about the project:
It all started during the Chennai floods when I was working along with the Bhoomika Foundation in packaging food and delivering it to flooded areas. Rajiv Mecheri came up to me and asked if I could help in auctioning a piece of jewellery and use the proceeds for rehabilitation. I suggested collecting 12 other pieces of jewellery and having fashion show. Amitabh Bachchan agreed to come for the fund raiser and I had to find a theme for the fashion show. I wanted the fashion show to be unique, classy and emotive.
Shruti Haasan in 'Radha in Moonlight' (2020) by G Venket Ram and Suhasini HasanOriginal Source: NAAM Foundation
The first thing that occurred to me was Ravi Varma’s paintings and the women he portrayed. Their sheer beauty and the class struck me - that by bringing his women live on stage or on screen would bring back positivity and beauty at a time of crisis.
My personal favourite is ‘Radha in Moon light’ for the lighting is serene. Shruti Haasan posed for Radha and she played the role with elegance.
Expectation (1893) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection
I therefore requested four bharathanatyam dancers and four classic actors to pose as models and bring the paintings alive. Bombay Jayashree picked eight classical songs and she sang as the legends walked the ramp. I requested G Venket Ram, an exceptionally talented photographer to shoot the portraits of these eight beauties.
They were all were picture perfect! Four years later, in December 2019, he called me and asked if we could complete the series. He suggested we do it to benefit our NGO, the NAAM Foundation. We however could use only four of the previously shot portraits so we went in search of eight other paintings and South-Indian beauties. Despite the paucity of time, we managed to complete it. Venket and I worked at break neck speed in finding models, getting the costumes and jewellery, creating the sets, etc.
Nadia in 'Expectation' (2019) by G Venket Ram and Suhasini HasanOriginal Source: NAAM Foundation
Actor Nadia recreates 'Expectation'.
Ramya Krishnan in 'Hamsa Damayanti' (2020) by G Venket Ram and Suhasini HasanOriginal Source: NAAM Foundation
Here, Ramya Krishnan poses as Damayanti.
Damayanti and the Hamsa (1899) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Sree Chitra Art Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram
The painting of 'Hamsa Damayanti' by Raja Ravi Varma.
Shobana in 'There Comes Papa' (2020) by G Venket Ram and Suhasini HasanOriginal Source: NAAM Foundation
Venket Ram says:
Danseuse Shobana chose to pose for the painting ‘There comes Papa’ by Raja Ravi Varma which portrayed his elder daughter, Mahaprabha. Compared to all the other paintings we had recreated, this was the most challenging. While most of the other paintings were portraits, this painting was more detailed in composition. It depicts an aristocratic lady, wearing a typical Malayali attire and hairdo, holding a baby with a dog by her side.
Getting the baby, Sitara, to replicate the posture from the painting was next to impossible! However we managed to succeed thanks to Suhasini who has an exceptional talent in getting a baby to smile!
The background and props too were meticulously recreated. We took care to maintain the same size ratios of the subject and the door as in the painting.
The motif of the carpet was hand-painted by an artist.
I had posted a request on Facebook for leads to get a dog that is closest to the one featured in the painting. Till the day of the shoot, we did not get a response. So we went ahead and shot the photograph without the dog. A good friend responded with a contact two days after the shoot and so we shot the dog separately and added it during post production.
There Comes Papa (1893) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Private Collection
Ganesh V Shivaswamy shares:
I found the pictures by G Venket Ram and Suhasini Hasan noteworthy as they recreated the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma with meticulous attention to detail. I was particularly interested in the picture of ‘There comes Papa’ as the image transitioned across several mediums.
The photograph of G Venket Ram and Suhasini Hasan was recreated from this 1893 painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
Photograph of Mahaprabha posing for the painting 'There comes Papa' (1892/1893) by UnknownThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Interestingly, Ravi Varma requested his daughter, Mahaprabha and her infant son Marthanda Varma to pose for the painting.
Photograph of Mahaprabha posing for the painting 'There Comes Papa' (1892/1893) by UnknownThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Mahaprabha is photographed in two poses and the artist decides on the three-quarter view of Mahaprabha for the final composition. The photograph of Shobhana is therefore a full circle moment as the visual travels from photograph to photograph.
Venkat Ram euphorically says:
The dog is not in the original photograph! Ravi Varma added the dog later, just like I did!
Image rights and credits are mentioned in each item.
Text by Suhasini Hasan, G Venket Ram and Ganesh V Shivaswamy.
Compiled by The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation, Bengaluru.