Shobha Deepak Singh’s photograph collection titled “Theatrescapes” presents faces of Indian theatre categorised under the Navarasas

It was during her solo show exhibiting photographs on dance, titled “Dancescapes”, that Shobha Deepak Singh had promised more, and keeping that promise, she now presents a slew of nearly 60 photographs on theatre, in an exhibition titled “Theatrescapes”.

Nine distinct, raw and powerful emotions form the basis of Singh’s latest solo exhibition, curated and conceptualised by Alka Pande. The Visual Arts Gallery of India Habitat Centre, with its walls painted in nine representative colours, displays a staggering range of pictures plucked from her extensive repertoire, built over two decades of work photographing candid moments from plays. Each photograph finds a place in one out of the nine rasas that the Director of Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra has used to categorise her work. Encapsulating some of the best and most emotive moments of Indian theatre, Singh’s work brings together shots that feature actors like Zohra Sehgal, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Manohar Singh, Seema Biswas, Mohan Agashe, Ratna Pathak Shah in action. Through her photographs, Singh has documented more than 40 theatre productions by leading names in the history of Indian theatre, including Ebrahim Alkazi, Amal Allana, Lillette Dubey, K.N. Panikkar, Nadira Zaheer Babbar, Neelam Mansingh Chowdhury, Ratan Thiyam and Ratna Pathak Shah.

The Navarasas, or nine moods of emotions, laid out in the canonical Natya Shastra, give each photograph its own, separate identity. A grinning Naseeruddin Shah in “A Walk in the Woods”, directed by Ratna Pathak Shah, personifies Hasya, the comic rasa. A photograph of Nadeera Zaheer Babbar in “Begum Jaan” finds its place within the ambit of Shanta, the sentiment of peace. The other rasas are Veera, the heroic sentiment, Bibhatsa, the sentiment of disgust, Shringara, relating to passion (attraction) and beauty, Bhayanaka, the rasa of terror, Karuna suggesting psychic pain or depression, Raudra or fury, and Adbhuta, the sentiment of wonder. Each rasa contains multiple photographs that both explain and evoke it, reinforcing the powerful language of theatre and laying forth the various interpretations and faces of a single emotion.

For Singh, the process of narrowing down her repertoire was a painstaking task. “I’ve taken around 200,000 pictures, out of which we picked around 10,000 to sift through for the exhibition. And then we started narrowing it down. First to 5000, then fewer and fewer till we had around 60 pictures for the exhibition. I would select pictures and then take a gap of two or three days before taking another look at them, just to be sure of the choice,” she says.

Singh says that this assortment has been a deliberate decision. “When I was photographing the images, I didn’t have this in mind at all. It was only when this exhibition had to be put up that we decided that there was an order we needed to put them in.” Of course, the idea of the navarasa was a perfect and appropriate fit. “In theatre, emotions are important,” she says.

The photographs are displayed in three distinct ways — conventional framed prints, digital displays and a slideshow projection. “The solos displayed digitally are the best of the lot,” says Singh.

While 60 beautiful pictures have made it to the exhibition, almost 200 of them have been featured in a book by the same name. Published by Niyogi Books and edited by Alka Pande, the book was released during the opening of the exhibition and contains a foreword by Ebrahim Alkazi, and essays by Dr Pande, Amal Allana and Shobha Deepak Singh.


Visual Arts Gallery,India Habitat Centre, New Delhi


Till March 31


10 a.m. to 8 p.m.