Giving Ravi Varma his due

ONLY IN our puranas are there gods and goddesses in love. And no one has pictured them for the masses like Raja Ravi Varma. High priests of culture and art dubbed his works as kitsch and calendar stuff, but at Southeby's, they would love to have more Ravi Varmas. Affordable copies of his paintings flooded the market even when he was alive. Most of the pictures of gods and goddesses that the older generation households had, are copies of Ravi Varmas, though few actually realised it. As far as the originals are concerned, the lucky few will not part with them.

R. Sarath is paying a cinematic tribute to him through two ventures, one, a documentary on his works and the other, a feature film on his life in Baroda and Mumbai. Titled Divine Love and Prince Painter, one is nearly over and the other will begin later this year.

Rama Varma, a descendant of the real Ravi Varma, will play the artist. "He looks like the famed artist in many ways," says Sarat. Rama Varma is a novice at acting, but he lives at the Kilimanoor palace, where Ravi Varma belonged. "I am 59, somewhere near the age when Ravi Varma died," he says.

Giving Ravi Varma his due

Yukta Mukhi plays the Maharashtrian model. "I tried to get many tall actresses from Kerala, but no one would wear the kind of clothes that the women in Ravi Varma paintings wore. They had inhibitions about it. That's why I got Yukta Mookhey," says Sarath. Margi Sathi, Kalamandalam Shailaja and Kalamandalam Rajashekharan are among the cast.

"Some of the paintings had an almost integrated look, like the Maharashtra lavani attire, and bangles from Bangalore. The nayika concept was very different from the accepted norm," remarked Sarath.

The documentary has no narration. Neither has it any dialogues. English subtitles support it.

O. Sundar is the art director. Unfolding and folding a number of huge flex prints of Ravi Varma, Sundar had to stick to period furniture, period buildings, which was why the documentary had to be filmed in the Hill Palace, Thripunithura and other `royal' buildings in Thiruvananthapuram.