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The Emperor’s New Clothes

Fashion designer JJ Valaya trains his lens on royal portraiture, bringing together the beauty of the past and present.

Written by Pallavi Chattopadhyay | Published: October 7, 2015 12:00 am

Frames of pre-modern fairy tales in black and white at Threshold Art Gallery bring out the fixation that ace fashion designer JJ Valaya has with royalty. When he decided to pay a tribute to his 22-year-old relationship with Delhi three years ago, the thought of photographing its streets or its towering tombs and minarets did not excite him. Instead, he chose to travel back in time to showcase characters from an era 500 years ago, when the chaotic Indian Capital was still reeling under the influence of the Mughals and Rajputs. He transported them to the 21st century — dressing up friends and acquaintances in his own designs inspired by the royalty. They posed near Jantar Mantar, a wrestlers’ akhara in Aya Nagar, a scrapyard in Kalindi Kunj and at a hillock in Vasant Vihar.

Inspired by studio photographer Raja Deen Dayal — renowned for capturing royalty during the British Raj — in his latest exhibition “Revisiting Beauty”, Valaya also revisits his debut photography exhibition “Decoded Paradox”, which also celebrated grandeur. This time, his protagonists —

including designers Sumant Jaikishen and Neera Nath, dancer Navtej Johar, pattern tracer Prabhat Kumar Ray, artist Subodh Gupta and actors Nisha Singh and Malvika Tiwari — have been given a royal transformation. The most notable is a princely figure of Subodh Gupta, with a sword in hand, in front of a calligraphic wall at Qutab Minar. “If you see them in real life, you will not recognise them. It was all about creating personalities and required two months of intense research,” says the self-taught photographer, adding, “My photography is more about narrative and composition than about technique. It’s my alter ego
at play.”

Among the 15 frames is a boy clad in a brocade churidar, with velvet cloth draping his knees and jewels adorning his turban. He sits on an intricately carved chair, while an old man (the late master embroider of Valaya) standing next to him holds a duck. The backdrop has peeling walls, a gas cylinder and a rusted cooler. Valaya says the shoot took place near the veranda of a house near Dhobi ghat in Connaught Place. In another frame, dressed like a maharani, Nisha Singh gets her long lustrous hair combed at the steps of Jantar Mantar. A photograph shot at the buzzing annual market at Jama Masjid on Bakra Eid has a masculine figure sitting on a throne with cushions beside, radiating a nawab-like nonchalance. “This lane was once used by Shah Jahan,” says Valaya.

The exhibition is on till October 20 at Threshold Art Gallery, C-221, Sarvodaya Enclave. Contact: 41829181

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