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Remembering South Indian movies and Dishes through Art.

Gup-Shup with Varshini. R I Illustrator

Varshini, an Illustrator from Chennai talks about the making of Art on Plate calendar, a fusion between cultural dishes and South Indian movies.

Your project "Art on a Plate" which is a Calendar inspired by South Indian Movies and ancient forgotten dishes is really interesting. Can you brief us about the project and the key elements referred in the making?

I was approached by GRT hotels and Resorts, Chennai in September 2019 to design a calendar 2021 which is a collaboration of 3 art forms - Photography by Mr. Chandra prakash from Actinic Light photography, Cooking by GRT hotels and Art by me.

They had provided me with a brief to come up with illustrations inspired by the vintage kitchens of south India. The theme of the calendar is forgotten dishes of South India where each month will be portrayed with visuals and food related to the selected dish for that particular month. The calendar was named ‘Art on a Plate’.

There were totally 14 illustrations including the cover art with the title, the 12 months and the final artwork portraying an age old tradition of having paan/betel leaves that’s served after a sumptuous meal.

How did the cultural study regarding the project take place? Did you collect samples of the backgrounds, the patterns in the saree etc.

The study was mostly based on characters, clothing and kitchen culture portrayed in the South Indian movies of 60-80s.

I explored a lot of hyper local elements with respect to prints, clothing, props in the background, utensils, hair style etc. Though my study was largely based on secondary research ( internet, movies, posters), I had also taken help from my grandmother who is 78 years old and my mom age 52, to understand the evolution of lifestyle and culture as part of everyday life.

I watched around 10-15 movies of that era for this project and I would spot products which are interesting and true to that period. It was more like shopping for me. I would collect references of these props or prints or characters, utensils etc and I would try to curate them in a single illustration or mix and match it according to the scene I wanted to create.

For a project like this, it's important to understand the era you are portraying. What were your guiding notes on this?

Its very important to do a deep research about that era for my illustrations. I would ideate a scene and list down the things I would require to create it. I would also discuss the same with my mom and grandmother and they would recollect movies which had similar scenes or props related to the scene I’m narrating. The challenge was to do a seamless collage of all these elements in a single frame, as they all have to belong to the same era that I’m representing.

For example, An era where ladies never wore blouses with sarees, has to be in the same era when a television was invented or majorly used in south Indian households, If I’m planning to represent them in the same frame. The detailing had to be perfect. 

The colour scheme for the project is really interesting. Can you guide us on how the mood board was developed?

The colours were chosen based on the dishes and the movie references. The walls have a cooler or warmer tone with parched walls , the flooring was usually a darker shade to enhance the colours of the dishes. Movies from 60s-80s used a lot of primary colours and saturated hues, the utensils were usually bronze or steel, Checked saree, and floral prints were common, sarees and veshti (Dhoti) were also commonly spotted. I collected screenshots of movie scenes and artworks of artists like Maruthi and S. Elayaraja for reference. I then created a collage out of it for my understanding of the aesthetics. I try to bring about the feel of the concept in the mood board, so that there is clear direction and no deviation.

Can you take us through the process of creating an illustration?

The illustration for the month of January, Where the mom cooks Maragathavalli vadai and her daughter trying to get her hands on them before it is even cooked. This is a common scenario even today at my house, as we all love vadai and we crave for it. So I wanted to represent this scene with a vintage feel to it. I referred to a lot of movies and found an apt scene from Samsaram Athu Minsaram(1986). I tried to notice as many elements as possible, like the saree drape while cooking, the utensils hanging, the shelves etc. I also mixed and matched a few objects like the rice sacks, woven basket, Masala Dabba, vintage Calendar etc which I thought would go well with the scene

I then went on to create the initial sketch.

I added and removed elements along the way in the process of achieving the best possible aesthetics.

I then come up with a colour palette for that illustration which is just for the basic guideline and sometimes it tends to differ in the later stages. I wanted to create an effect similar to oil painting through digital illustration, so you will find brush strokes clearly visible on the illustrations. It's more like the role of a stylist but in this case I was styling a scene.

Gup-Shup with Varshini



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