Recreating women empowerment

An interview with G.Venket Ram



February 19, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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women empowerment

Credits: IG venketramg

In a befitting tribute to one of India’s greatest painters, Raja Ravi Varma, a Chennai-based photographer G. Venket Ram has recreated 12 of Varma’s iconic paintings into photographs, in line with the theme of ‘celebrating the spirit of Indian Womanhood’.

A NAAM project

The project was taken up under the NAAM Charitable Trust, founded by actor-filmmaker Suhasini Maniratnam, that aims to empower underprivileged single women by guiding them into suitable professions and providing them educational aid and requisite skills.

All 12 photographs along with a picture of the actual paintings have been compiled into a limited-edition calendar launched in Chennai, earlier this month. The photographs base themselves on the paintings created by Raja Ravi Varma in the 19th century. Hailed as the Raphael of the east, Raja Ravi Varma was closely related to the royal family of Travancore in Kerala and is known to portray women using European techniques of paintings like impressionism and symbolism. He drew heavily upon the characteristic of Sanskrit myth and drama like Shakuntala and Dushyant, Nala Damayanti, Sita and Draupadi.

The recreation of some his paintings into the calendar features 12 personalities – actors Khushboo, Shruti Haasan, Ramya Krishnan, Aishwarya Rajesh, Samantha Akkineni, Nadhiya and Lissy; dancers Shobhana and Priyadarshini Govind, and Chamundeshwari, a NAAM Charitable Trust beneficiary who portrays Rani Laxmi Bayi of the Tanjore and Travancore palaces.

G.Venket Ram

G.Venket Ram, the photographer, a reputed name in Chennai’s media circle having worked with personalities like Sivaji Ganesan, Amitabh Bachchan and Narendra Modi talks to Media India Group about the calendar and the sensibilities that it desires to portray.

Q. What was the aim of this recreation of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings into photography and why specifically has Raja Ravi Varma been chosen?

Raja Ravi Varma, in his paintings throughout his life, has portrayed a lot of women. Although, a major misconception is that he only portrayed royalties but, in reality, he has also painted a lot of common women as well, depicting strength and power through their expressions and statures. This resonates with the aim of NAAM that helps single destitute women find strength and confidence in their own way. The idea was conceived some couple of years back to raise funds for NAAM Charitable Trust. Last December, we started to tirelessly work on this calendar that formed a beautiful story of paintings that aims to empower women.

The whole objective has been to recreate the paintings and not to just copy them. Unlike many other pieces on the internet, where an ill-qualified, ill-researched, almost superficial copies of such paintings are readily found, we rather chose to carefully plan each step, paying attention to minute details like the drapes of the saree, the strands of hair, jewellery and props. In fact, some of the stuff has actually been fabricated to be put to use in the photographs.

‘There comes papa’

One particular incident I wish to mention is from the ‘there comes papa’ painting which shows a portrait of Ravi Varma’s daughter Mahaprabha holding a child with a dog standing by. We shot the daughter and child separately since the dog, a Border Collie which is a Scottish breed was unavailable in India. After long we finally chose a dog that was most similar to the dog portrayed by Raja Ravi Varma and added it to the picture. At the day of the launch, Gopika Varma, one of our chief guests and member of the royal Travancore family shared that apparently, Raja Ravi Varma never painted the dog until he went to London for an exhibition and saw most European painters having portrayed their pets in their paintings. He caught fancy of a dog in London itself and painted it there and erased it when he came back to India, and then went on to add it again. So, in a way we have made our efforts to purely recreate the art.

Q. The photographs have struck a chord with the audience and the pictures are viral online. What in the photographs do you think has connected to such a diverse set of audience?

I believe that what stood out and connected to a large audience is the emotions that were brought out. Having used award-winning film personalities and dancers as models, they bring to the table an experience in communicating through expressions, rendering emotions which add life to the whole photograph. In Samantha Akkineni’s photograph which shows an expectant mother holding a fruit, the emotions in her eyes represent a feeling beyond words.

An expectant mother holding a fruit symbolic of a new life

Besides that, people have bridged their own stories in which they see women empowerment in the photographs and how art portraying women has been regenerated. A lot of women called me up told me that they loved the work and enjoyed sharing it with their colleagues and draw different perspectives about the aesthetics which were represented in the women empowering images.


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