If you’ve loved browsing the recreations of legendary artist Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings featuring Southern stars Samantha Akkineni, Ramya Krishna and others, you will also love the story behind it, as told by photographer G Venket Ram. The project was based on an idea floated by actor Suhasini Maniratnam as a fundraiser for her NGO
HYDERABAD: We all love our movie stars. And when they try out something novel, like going retro to recreate the look of a bygone era, it is bound to get trending on social media. The 12 photo series featuring top actors like Samantha Akkineni, Shruti Haasan, Ramya Krishna, Shobana and others have caught our attention and for a good reason, literally.
The photo series is a result of actor Suhasini Maniratnam’s collaboration with her favourite Chennai-based celebrity photographer G Venket Ram. “Few people can relate to even one of the many dimensions of women. Royal artist Raja Ravi Varma is one of the few Indians who not only understood women, but also portrayed and represented them in a single dimension within four frames by infusing life through colours. It was always my dream to bring to life Ravi Varma’s women to life and that’s when it struck me that recreating his legendary paintings of strong and spirited woman for NAAM Charitable Trust would be ideal.
The 10-year-old NGO is into empowering single (widowed and abandoned too) women from underprivileged segments to evolve into beautiful and courageous women. I have always been looking for ways to inspire the NAAM women. What better way to inspire them than to bring back the beautiful paintings of strong women by Ravi Varma to life?” says Suhasini Maniratnam, who is the founder of the Trust and of course, a well-known actor herself. “My dream was to have 12 beautiful, graceful South Indian women portray 12 paintings of Raja Ravi Varma in rich costumes, ornate jewellery and a lavish backdrop, and bring them all together in the form of a calendar! I pursued my dream with determination and I am happy that my dream has come true,” she adds.
Speaking to City Express, Suhasini said over the phone that the calendar was a fundraiser. “We want more people to support, contribute and get involved in this cause. A few years ago, we conducted an event and we got Satyabama University in Chennai to give us five admission spots on their campus. Such acts can change the lives of these women. I also made sure that we have two NAAM women - Chamundeshwari and Malar (who, by the way, can give an exotic, gorgeous Ethiopian model a run for her money) featured in the calendar,” she adds. Neeta Lulla designed the outfits, she adds.
Suhasini recalls how she once got involved in rebuilding houses for Bhoomika NGO after the Chennai cyclone and realised the power of crowdsourcing. “I was surprised how each of us brought in our jewellery pieces for auction and raised about `2.5 crore. The current effort is on similar lines. I can’t thank the actors for giving us their time. I call this photoshoot - portraits for a purpose,” she remarks. “The idea was floated four years ago and we had shortlisted Khusbu and shot a few photos, but due to time constraint, we could not follow it up. On December 8, 2019, I bumped into her at an event and she demanded that we do something about such a beautiful concept. So Suhasini and I brainstormed and decided on the calendar idea. Within a short span, we managed to get the top actors to work with us, adjusting their busy schedules for the cause. Suhasini quickly lined up the ladies who were ready to pose. Amrita did the styling and Suhasini ran around to Nalli’s and Prince Jewellery to put the outfits and accessories in place,” says G Venket Ram.
The real challenge, however, was to recreate the artist’s interpretation of real life. “A painting is his interpretation, a reflection of his own style and in his own medium. But when you put a model there, there is a lot of difference. For example, Damayanti’s hip-to-leg distance was longer than actor Ramya Krishna. Here, we also have a lot of fabric, lights and jewellery, all of which have to coordinated to create that final look. In some cases, the models wore nine-yard sarees and you can imagine what they have gone through to hold it all together,” quips Venket. He also reveals how they shot indoors and used flashlights, while the originals were shot in ambient light.
Which was the trickiest photograph? He says, “The one where Shobhana poses with the baby and the dog. It was a real baby and it was fun to watch Suhasini show cartoons on her iPad to keep the baby focussed. The dog was, however, shot separately as it was tough to get all the three subjects in the same frame at the same time,” he shares. The NAAM Calendar can be ordered from naamchennai.org, and is on sale from this week.
— Manju Latha Kalanidhi