In Kalakki mashups, how cinema and art collide to lend new life and meaning to films, their characters

  • When Charles Britto and Mohammed Salegh from Chennai started Kalakki in September, little could they have predicted its immediate popularity.

  • It started with Britto attaching Wheat Field with Cypresses by Vincent Van Gogh as background on a picture of Silk Smitha, and it immediately hit a chord with people online.

  • Mashups, as Britto and Salegh call them, are not a new concept. What works on Kalakki, perhaps, is the re-contextualisation of cinema with art that comes from a different milieu all together.

German born Dadaist painter Max Ernst once wrote: "Creativity is that marvellous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition." Nowhere more has this juxtaposition become more relevant than on the internet, where the easel, the socio-political context, if you like, of anything and everything, changes from one second to the other. You could argue there is perhaps no absolute truth on the web, just as much as there is no absolute lie in the tangible world outside it. Filters, palates, applications and innumerable technologies are helping people bring together worlds and create new ones. The result, perhaps, is the infinite extension of the realm of human imagination. Juxtaposing art and cinema isn’t new — a number of popular internet pages do it, but when Chennai's Charles Britto and Mohammed Salegh started Kalakki in September, little could they have predicted its immediate popularity.

 In Kalakki mashups, how cinema and art collide to lend new life and meaning to films, their characters

Vishal Bharadwaj (Haider, 2014) x Claude Monet ('Lavacourt under Snow', 1881)

Imtiaz Ali (Rockstar, 2011) x RT Mackenzie ('State entry into Delhi of Lord and Lady Curzon', 1903)

Imtiaz Ali (Rockstar, 2011) x RT Mackenzie ('State entry into Delhi of Lord and Lady Curzon', 1903)

It started, Britto says, after he came across an original black-and-white photo of Vijayalakshmi Vadlapati, known popularly as ‘Silk Smitha’. Britto decided to attach Van Gogh’s ‘Wheat Field with Cypresses’ as a background and it hit a chord with people online. “That went viral. He was posting other such images on his personal page that showed really good reach. We then decided to turn it into a page,” Salegh says. Both boys are childhood friends. Britto has recently graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru University in arts and aesthetics, while Salegh is an MBA graduate currently employed at a private firm. “Whenever in Chennai, we watch a lot of movies in the weekend — it’s been a sort of ritual we follow. But our tastes do differ to an extent. There are a number of movies I like. I really liked Kumbalangi Nightsin in the recent times, also Pariyerum Perumal, both of which I created mash-ups for,” Britto says. Salegh adds: “We don’t restrict ourselves to language and genre barriers.”

Vincent van Gogh (Wheat Field with Cypresses,1889) x Silk Smitha

Silk Smitha x Vincent van Gogh ('Wheat Field with Cypresses', 1889)

Kalakkii-SupriyaChoudhuri825

Ritwik Ghatak (Meghe Dhaka Tara, 1960) x René Magritte ('Sixteenth of September', 1956)

Mashups, as Britto and Salegh call them, aren’t a new concept. They are fairly old in the space of music, for example. A number of web-pages juxtapose cinema and art, classic art with comics, and so on. What works on Kalakki, perhaps, is the re-contextualisation of cinema with art that comes from a different milieu all together. One of Kalakki’s latest uploads for example, puts Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) from Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (2013) in the world of Edward Hopper’s 'Hotel Window' (1955). Hopper’s painting looked at urban isolation, and is now considered a classic. In the film, Fernandes is a lonely, ageing man on the cusp of his retirement, and what would surely be his life’s last redemptive shot at a relationship of some sort. It all, weirdly, wonderfully, comes together. “It’s the effect the image creates after the juxtaposition of different works. It adds a sense of nostalgia to the world,” Britto says.

Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, 2013) x Edward Hopper ('Hotel Window', 1955)

Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, 2013) x Edward Hopper ('Hotel Window', 1955)

AC Tirulokchandar (Adhe Kangal, 1967) x Edvard Munch (The Scream, 1893)

AC Tirulokchandar (Adhe Kangal, 1967) x Edvard Munch ('The Scream', 1893)

More than nostalgia, the artworks renew a character’s life, enabling you to see them as normal everyday-people. In a way, one art helps the other transcend its literal interpretations. The eternalness of cinema, its implausibility, is suddenly challenged. The results are visceral. “We share our ideas before editing. We give suggestions to each other, but the ultimate decision is of the person who comes up with the idea,” Britto says. Though a number of Indian films are finding new shelves through Kalakki, there is still, however, some paucity of Indian art on the page. “Availability [of images] is a major concern. Also, most of them are watermarked. Even if available, they’re of low quality. We mostly use India works that are available at museums outside India. Though familiarity with Indian art shouldn’t be an issue. We’ll be trying to use more Indian artwork going forward,” Britto says. A photo of Deepika Padukone from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani (2015) adds character to Mir Kalan Khan’s Oriental miniature, ‘Ladies Playing with Fireworks’ (1780).

Tod Phillips' Joker in JNU

Tod Phillips' Joker in JNU

Of both boys, Britto is rather more political, and has utilised his skills to make works that are resolutely political. Only this month, a juxtaposition of the Joker, most recently seen in the Todd Phillips film of the same name, was seen descending the steps of JNU. The university has been embroiled in protests against the increment in hostel and mess fees for students. An alumni of JNU himself, Britto’s clarion call might be his most popular creation. It arrived on my phone, at least, via a WhatsApp forward. “After the 2016 protests, the admin block had become out of bounds for carrying out protests. It’s an important place to mobilise people, and finally, the students have claimed that space back. You can see the paintings on the walls and the stairs in the image. I hope they don’t increase the fee, which would be of disadvantage to large number of students,” Britto says. Salegh acknowledges Britto’s political opinion, and endorses his right to pursue it the way he sees fit. For Kalakki, however, the two believe they are only just getting started.

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Updated Date: Nov 30, 2019 10:29:17 IST