Retelling the retro lies

Graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee and musician Ashutosh Pathak bring an unusual show to Mumbai’s Blue Frog studios, says Aastha Atray Banan

Photo: MS Gopal

IF GRAPHIC ARTIST Sarnath Banerjee is to be believed, then his collaboration with musician Ashutosh Pathak will affect your mind in the same way pot does. “It should take you to places. It will open your mind, and you will see things so much more clearly,” he says in all seriousness, and then laughs out, “or it may just make you remember the year you flunked in mathematics.” The Psychic Plumber and Other Lies, which features graphic prints made by Banerjee and is set to music by Pathak, is a nostalgic one. Watch the tale of a sexually active girl and her panties culminate in a disappointing threesome or a bunch of elderly “Madrasis” headed for a vacation only to return with one of them dead. “A Vicco advertisement can take you back in time. This exhibition will remind you of the 1970s through objects or memories that belong to that time,” says Banerjee.
As one walks around Mumbai’s Blue Frog studios, where the exhibition is being held solely to leave the “conventional art space”, you may feel you’re watching a Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie. The characters are middle-class Indians, and the situations commonplace. The music, which is a combination of world, Indian and retro grooves, gives a sense that the images are moving. “Men usually discover women, Ashu discovered jingles,” pokes Banerjee, as Pathak explains, “There’s an image of the aam aadmi who goes to a government job and is asked to do random tasks by a boss who sits on two cushions to look big. So the music had the sounds of typewriters and computers interwoven, to explain his dilemma of being stuck between two worlds.”
Along with reminding us of the 1970s, the prints and the music are poignant, yet happy. “This has been a constant with my work — comedy and tragedy are closely linked. The series about the Madrasis who go on a trip when one of them has a heart attack is one of them. They buy identical golf hats, and the last print shows them carrying a lone cap along. These emotions are interconnected,” says Banerjee, “and the music will take you to Chennai right away.”
Curator Srila Chatterjee points out, “Such collaboration is rare as most artists don’t want to leave their comfort zones. But Sarnath is capable of doing anything, and Ashutosh doesn’t even know what a box is.” Filmmaker Sunhil Sippy offers his approval, saying, “The best thing about the show was its interactive nature. I mean you are in Blue Frog, which is a sound studio, watching a show and listening to music set to it. It’s rare when an audience can get involved in art.”
The exhibition is on till 28 February. As one gazes at the print of a young man staring despondently at a pair of panties that belong to a girl and hear a 1960sinspired ditty, “Come into my party, come and take a look inside, come and take what you like,” you will be filled with the kind of desire you had when you were 19. Caution is advised.