A half burnt movie poster, decaying sets and a perfectly setup yet grotesque murder scene, these are a few shots from Sheetal Mallar’s debut photography exhibit titled Transients. Her gaze, very candidly engages with the artifice attached to a post World War Two movie set, thus capturing both animate and inanimate objects. As the images evoke a certain sense of nostalgia for the yesteryears, they also make one ponder about the passage of time and the remnants it leaves behind. We got in touch with the fashion model turned photographer and talked in detail about what inspired this exhibit, her fondness for sets and more. Excerpts follow:
What led to the transition from behind to in front of the camera?
My career as a model started right after school. I was always interested in the arts and was drawn to the visual medium. I used to draw and paint as a kid, and enjoyed taking pictures too. So, photography happened almost naturally. It all started with my attempt to reconnect with my friends and family. I felt disconnected from everyone as I was away most of the time. The camera was a tool I used to reconnect while I spent an entire day at each friend’s place and that’s how it all began.
What was the idea behind Transients ? Was it inspired by your familiarity with sets and the idea of artifice attached to them?
Transients is a long term project with stories shot over a long period of time. I think I am fascinated with the construction and deconstruction of personas and spaces. Changing personas is something I am familiar with and it’s probably this part of me that resonates with sets and spaces. I am fascinated by the fact that entire worlds are created only to be brought down. The temporality of it all is what interests me.
In some shots the subjects are directly engaging and in some they aren't with the camera. Is there a reason for the same?
No there is no specific reason for that. I have laid out images in a non linear format, and mixed fact and fiction to blur these lines so you can’t really make out what’s fact and what’s fiction.
There are two very potent shots of paper burning down. One of a yesteryear movie starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis. While art is open to multiple interpretations, what did you want the audience to take away from these?
Many of us grew up watching many of the RK films. The posters feel familiar and remind me of my childhood and the many family and community film watching sessions. To me, it signifies more than just a film poster, these memories are intertwined with many experiences and memories of growing up. The burnt posters and the burnt negative is reminiscent of the end of an era and the transience of it all.
The shot of the empty room with the blue wall on the first glance, screams of its socio-economic conditions. Why did you pick this particular location? It doesn't look like a set.
The shot of the blue room is very interesting for me because the things in that room speak their own stories. The weight bar lying on the floor, the glue bottle, the shirt on the rack, the makeshift ceiling and the burgundy drapes that envelop the room. It is a casting room and that adds its own set of stories. The blue door with the horses and the ray of light from the clouds feels like 'Hope' that’s waiting on the other side of that door.
What made you explore the sets of a post World War 2 movie? Do you believe the contemporary times are reminiscent of the previous era?
No, I wasn’t trying to make a comment on contemporary times or the post wartimes. I was fascinated with the make-believe worlds of another time and the imagined characters inhabiting them. It’s the transient nature of these imagined worlds is what interests me the most. I have used the images metaphorically to denote the end of these worlds.
Finally, what's next for you?
I am working on preparing a book on my long term project about my grandmother. I'm also working on putting together another series called Alone Together that depicts my friends at home.
Curated by cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, the exhibition is on at Art Musings, Mumbai till 10th Februrary 2020. Don't miss out on this one!