Striking a Classic Pose

Anu Prabhakar
Filed on January 23, 2009

Exquisite-looking women, clad in brightly coloured saris, greeted visitors at the Regency Room in Deira’s Hyatt Regency Hotel… only, they weren’t real women, but photographs of demure Indian dancers.

Welcoming visitors with the traditional namaste, they were on display at ‘Super Reflections’, a photo exhibition of women in Indian classical dance forms, by Kali Jal.

The exhibition, held from 15-18 January, displayed over 500 photographs of female dancers depicting various dance forms like Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Odyssi and Bharatanatyam. “This collection spans 20-25 years,” said Kali Jal.

His forte lies in portraits, specifically, Indian classical dancers. “I found this subject beautiful, patriotic and Indian. When I found out the artist takes five to six hours to get ready, with the make-up being dictated by the guru, I decided to get into the field of Indian classical dance.” Elaborating further on his decision to hold an exhibition on a subject he barely knew, Jal explained, “When artistes perform on stage, they take you to a completely different and divine world. Once you enter that world, you don’t feel like coming back till they stop the dance. This is a phenomenon I enjoyed.”

Visits to art exhibitions worldwide, like France, Germany, California, UK and India, provided much fodder for thought as the female models presented there surprised him. “Many of the female models were either bikini-clad or nude. People would exclaim how glamourous they looked. I decided to do something vice versa — an exhibition of women clad in maximum clothes.” Explaining the absence of male artists in the photographs, Jal says he feels more charged when challenged with shooting a female model.

A Parsi from Bombay knowing zilch about dance, Jal encountered several problems in organising the exhibition, such as linguistic limitations. But having to knock on doors and introduce himself to dancers in Dubai brought him to the doorsteps of dance gurus, who ultimately supported him. “I requested invitations to shows from the dancers and selected the ones I wanted to work with on the basis of charm, expression and presentation. I actually had to learn what each pose meant and the force or spiritual power behind it.”

Culture transcends borders and Jal’s exhibition stands testimony to this. “American and European visitors appreciated the exhibition so much that I am thinking of having an exhibition on India for Westerners. Hotel guests said that Dubai is a beautiful place with such beautiful Indians. Even Arab visitors, who came for the exhibition, asked why I didn’t tell them about this before.”

‘Super Reflections’ is only one chapter in Jal’s story. “I want to put in more than 1,000 pictures so that I can enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the maximum number of pictures on culture and heritage in one show. If I come in the Record, the world will know what I have done and if I can project Indian culture and tradition this much through my art, it is a matter of pride.”

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