The recent calendar brought out by photographer G Venket Ram is a fitting tribute to one of the most iconic Indian artists, Raja Ravi Varma.
Ram has collaborated with NAAM Charitable Trust, founded by Mani Ratnam’s wife Suhasini and created a calendar for the year 2020 to celebrate “the spirit of Indian womanhood”.
This limited edition calendar has 12 renowned women from the South Indian film and dance sector pose in a recreated version of some of Raja Ravi Varma’s most celebrated paintings.
The calendar features names like Khushbu, Shruti Haasan, Ramya Krishnan, Aishwarya Rajesh, Samantha Akkineni, Nadhiya, Lissy and dancers Priyadarshini Govind and Chamundeshwari.
Raja Ravi Varma is still an influential name who took some big risks with his art, one of the biggest being making it affordable to the general public, echoing the message of how art should be for everyone and not just a select privileged few.
According to reports the earnings from the sale of these items will then be used to help and empower single women who come from the economically weaker sections of society.
Samantha Ruth Prabhu, a known south actress, is seen here in the recreation of one of Varma’s most known works, ‘Woman Holding a Fruit’.
The depiction of this work is that of an expectant mother holding an orange as a means to symbolise new life.
This painting has specifically been noted for combining eroticism represented by the flowing hair and sari falling of her shoulder with the innocence of her face and actions.
The soft pink and brown colours further emphasis the tenderness of the painting.
Shruti Haasan, Kamal Haasan’s daughter, here is seen in a recreation of the painting ‘Radha in Moonlight’.
Aishwarya Rajesh, a Tamil actress was part of this recreation of a portrait of Her Highness Janaki Subamma Bai Sahib of Pudukkottai.
Varma painted this in 1880 while he was in Tamil Nadu for a short while. He painted a lot of the royals during that time.
Varma was actually commissioned by the Maharaja Thondaiman of Pudukkottai himself to paint not only him but his wife (painted above), his sons and a few other royal family members.
Bharatnatyam dancer, Shobana, can be seen here in a recreation of the ‘There Comes Papa’ portrait that Raja Ravi Varma created in 1893.
This portrait that has Ravi Varma’s daughter, Mahaprabha Thampuratti (Princess) of Mavelikara, holding her own daughter Sethu Lakshmi Bayi who later on became the Queen of Travancore is another aspect of motherhood.
Ramya Krishnan who is best known for her character of Shivagami in the Baahubali franchise was recreated as ‘Damayanti’ who is intently listening to the swam recount tales of Nala.
Title ‘Hamsa Damayanti’, Ravi Varma painted this in 1899, the portrait has been inspired from a sub-plot in the epic Mahabharata about Damayanti and the king of Nishada, Nala.
It is said that smitten by her beauty, Nala sent over a swan who sings praises about the king in order to make Damayanti fall in love with him.
It’s also interesting that the mode of communication between between Damayanti and Nala is a swan, who mates for life. Damayanti and Nala are also known for their unwavering loyalty towards each other no matter what.
Shurti Haasan features in another recreation this one being from the portrait of Raja and Rani of Kurupam by Raja Ravi Varma.
The focus seems to be only on the Queen though, with the blue being one of the most eye-catching thing about the painting.
Another Bharatnatyam dancer Priyadarshini Govind, is seen in the recreation of ‘Kadambari’ one of the last portraits that Raja Ravi Varma painted before he died in 1906.
Experts have said that commented on how it comments at a wealthy aristocratic lady involved in the arts.
The ornate sari, a marble patio, velvet slippers and a beautiful peacock feather fan around her all symbolise her status.
South Indian actress, Nadia, is seen here in the recreation of Raja Ravi Varma’s painting ‘Expectation’.
The identity of this North Indian lady is not known, but it seems to be another portrait that Ravi Varma would often do.
Khushboo Sundar, an actress turned politician is seen in this recreation of a portrait by Ravi Varma that he painted sometime in the 1910s.
But there is confusion as to what the source of the original painting is, where some believe it is Madri, the second wife to Pandu (father of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata) others believe it is just a common woman carrying a tray of fruit.
Lissy Lakshmi, a former Malayali actress is seen in this recreation of a portrait of a royal woman from Kerala.
Actress and producer, Lakshmi Manchu, can be seen taking on the role of Rani Chimnabai 1 in this recreation of the Raja Ravi Varma’s portrait.
It is known that the Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Tanjore was actually named after the Rani Chimnabai 1.
Chamundeshwari, one of the beneficiaries from NAAM was also included in the calendar. Here she’s seen in the recreation of Maharani Lakshmi Bayi.
Raja Ravi Varma painted this in 1890 and seems to glorify her noble status. Lakshmi Bayi later on went to become the senior Rani of Travancore.
This is actually a good way to reintroduce modern artists to the new generations and making them aware of the rich Indian art culture that we have.
It is also quite interesting how this project has brought together three quite different worlds of creativity in such a beautiful way.
From art we have the iconic Raja Ravi Varma, one of the most celebrated artists in not just India but globally, from the world of photography we have G. Venket Ram, a popular celebrity photographer from south India and from cinema we have names like Ramya Krishnan, Aishwarya Rajesh, Samantha and more.
One also has to comment on how well spun the final product is where the recreations go beyond shape, size and colour.
The whole thing is so intrinsically Indian, where the real beauty of our country is shown, making you feel proud of what it signifies.
The final culmination is just awe inspiring as it introduces an artistic legend that is, Raja Ravi Varma, to the new generation but also shows the power of creativity.
Image Credits: G. Venket Ram
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