Poetry and podcasts have become the best balms for anxious minds doomscrolling this pandemic year. A new project by artist Gaurav Ogale, 29, follows this direction, but adds visuals to words, creating a new way to experience poetry, spoken word pieces and book readings.
Mumbai-based Ogale, who has also worked as a visual designer for cultural and academic projects, launched this untitled series in April this year on his Instagram account (@patranimacchi) by collaborating with some of the best names across Indian entertainment and theatre, such as actors Rajkummar Rao, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Kalki Koechlin. Spoken word poet Rabia Kapoor and bestselling author Manu Pillai are also among them.
Each narrator brings a book extract, a rhyme or a haiku, which Ogale turns into serene audiovisual posts, many of which are under a minute. “I have always wanted to create a ‘blink and miss’ kind of a visual series, which doesn’t necessarily tell a story, but it’s like a thought expressed through visuals. And in today’s times, I feel shorter narratives speak more easily to us,” says Ogale.
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PREVIEW // Manu S. Pillai x Gaurav Ogale • Vasco da Gama | an excerpt from 'The Ivory Throne' : "And thus, ironically the first modern European to sail all the way from the West and to set foot on Indian soil was a petty criminal from the gutters of Lisbon." – Manu S. Pillai | The Ivory Throne
The artist has been previously part of art residencies and shows at Sunaparanta, Goa Centre for the Arts; and, The Ultra Laboratory in Casablanca. And while he has worked on several collaborative projects before, the current one, he says, is “special”. The series started with theatre actor and director Sheena Khalid reminiscing about her encounters with a rhino at an old-time photo studio in Bandra. Ogale visualised it with line drawings, vintage photographs and maps of the city, all designed to hit viewers with the sweet scent of nostalgia. He says, “I love archives. I find recluse in personal archives, so this piece was born out of that feeling.”
Nostalgia is typical of Ogale’s style, drawn and constructed from several cultural sources. In February 2019, he recreated Mumbai’s kaali-peeli rides, which, at one point, were inseparable from Vividh Bharati playing on the radio, mainly for the taxiwallah’s benefit. The Instagram post immediately won the hearts of many who had moved on to the convenience and the coldness of ride services.
Even if memories aren’t at the core of the listening experience in the other pieces, the lilting visual treatment continues, such as in actor and author Lisa Ray’s three-part reading called River Place, which begins with an extract from her 2019 book, Close to the Bone. As Ray speaks about finding oneself when “life alters you without warning”, Ogale invokes natural imagery, such as a nautilus and a poppy scattering its petals. Ray says, “Gaurav is a visual poet and since I traffic in words, it was a beautiful collaboration. I was also intrigued to see how he would interpret the short pieces. It’s a beautiful way to spread the magic of self-expression.”
The visuals come in the form of layers like pressed flowers pasted in a diary with translucent pages. The most complex of these is possibly the one with Manu Pillai’s reading of an extract from his book The Ivory Throne (2016), which begins with the arrival of Vasco Da Gama at Calicut. The discerning eye of Da Gama, made from an archival painting and framed by Portuguese azulejos, dominates the visuals. Ogale says that when he was conceptualising it, he wanted to portray “the vision of a man who took on this journey”.
The ongoing series remains untitled, but the creator says that his audiences have called it “Words x Visuals” and “micro films”. There are eight posts so far, with more expected in the coming weeks. Like with the narrators, the collaborative project also extends to music. Turkish folk music composer Özgür Baba’s work is used to accompany the world of dervishes for actor Arunoday Singh’s piece. Likewise, German harpist Zainab Lax fills the silences in Ray’s reading. In the spirit of collaborations, narrations and music have come voluntarily for the project, which Ogale observes is part of how forthcoming the creative community has been during this pandemic.
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Rajkummar Rao @rajkummar_rao x Gaurav Ogale • written by Paritosh Tripathi @iamparitoshtripathi : Today, on a gloomy day – here's a ray of hope with this evocative narration straight from Raj's heart. Thank you Paritosh for penning a piece the world needs in these times. Hope we come out of this as more compassionate and sensitive beings.
In fact, the pandemic’s humanitarian crisis, which has taken the form of beleaguered migrant workers in India, is the subject of Rajkummar Rao’s reading of a Hindi poem written by television actor Paritosh Tripathi. The plight of a security guard, the pizza delivery person and the construction worker is at the heart of this poem, carefully visualised with Ogale’s lyrical line drawings and mixed with the city’s sounds. The poem ends on a hard-hitting note, asking listeners to make choices different from the ones they are accustomed to. This choice may well be extended to the future of experiencing poetry, book readings and spoken word on digital platforms, even if the purists disagree. No matter what the debate, it still goes to show that the Great Pandemic Project need not always be a mega cross-continental e-concert, but can be a line drawing or two.
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