A few months back, Shailja Gupta, Head of Red Chillies USA and Head of Digital and Merchandising division, was doodling on Photoshop on an Amitabh Bachchan image and decided to send the finished product to her friends. Next thing she knew, she had been coaxed into doing a whole lot more by her friends. The result? A digital art project -- Glimpses - 100 years of Indian Cinema’ -- as a fitting tribute to 100 years of Indian Cinema.
“Initially, I wanted to create 100 iconic faces, not just from Bollywood, but from Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, Bhojpuri and Marathi films as well, but then realised that my Bollywood list itself is more than 100,” says Gupta.
So as part of the project, the visual artist and creative consultant has created 161 digital paintings using Adobe creative software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, capturing the faces, characters and stories immortalised by filmmakers in Bollywood through the century. “As for the regional, I’ve already started work on them, and hope to complete around 60 of them by this year-end,” she adds.
The decision to pick up certain people, images or poses, comes from her personal connect with them. “When I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we used to have this system of renting video cassettes over the weekend and watching them.
So, I saw a lot of different kinds of cinema. These paintings are my personal understanding of cinema. So for example, I saw Mughal-e-Azam when I was in class six and the image I connect immediately with Prithviraj Kapoor is of him in that role. Or when I think of Nadira, I immediately think of her in Shree 420, wearing a long gown and smoking a cigar,” she says.
And although she has no favourites, since the time and effort gone into their making has more or less been the same, it is Amitabh Bachchan’s painting that stands out most in her mind. “Maybe because it was my first painting,” she says. And what about Shah Rukh Khan? “Well, he is somebody I work with and have known for many years,” she says, “I put a lot of pressure on myself to make a really good painting of him and kept reworking on it till I was satisfied.” And the pose? “No question about it, it’s the one with his arms wide open!” she smiles.
Gupta, who divides her time between India and the US, says she’s aware that pop art doesn’t sell much in India. “In the US, you will get to see a lot of famous digital paintings of iconic faces like Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix, but that doesn’t really happen here.
For a lot of non-South Asians there, Indian cinema is all about colour, singing and dancing. I just thought this might be an interesting way of depicting cinema in a different, modern and retro way. So for people who know these actors, they understand the logic behind making them, and for those who have not seen Indian cinema, these are charismatic Indian faces that can be put on the wall,” she adds. Gupta plans to have an exhibition of the paintings, but for the moment, the digital art can be viewed on her website. “If somebody wants to buy, we can print it for them on paper or canvas. They are available in three sizes, but if somebody wants it bigger, then I can figure it out,” says Gupta.