CHARIOTS OF FROLIC
Cars represent the pinnacle of design and technology. They are a symbol of an individual’s economic status. Customizing them allows owners to express their aesthetic and functional sensibilities.
Prior to the liberalization of the Indian economy, purchasing options were scant. Contemporary car buyers are spoilt for choice, but the planned obsolescence makes them hanker for the durability of older cars.
The entry of multiple local and foreign car manufacturers almost sounded the death knell for the cars of my early childhood. One such car, the Fiat Premier-Padmini, ubiquitous in India in the 70’s and 80’s, is an increasingly rare sight. Their phasing out as the iconic Mumbai taxis was a sentimental moment for many across the country.
Imagine my surprise when I encountered a beautifully preserved Fiat, modified to serve as a wedding procession vehicle. A curious mix of the medieval and postmodern – the vehicles can best be categorized as a hybrid between a road car and a horse driven chariot. The embrace of modern design, technology in keeping with the cultural practices of the past.
Chariots have always had a historic association with weddings. The ancient Greeks used them to “increase the grandeur of the occasion”. We are all familiar with mythical tales where the chariot or ‘ratha’ is the vehicle of choice for gods, demons and mortals alike. It is probably these myths and the influence of the regional film industry that inspired enterprising fabricators to dream up the chariots in their rudimentary workshops. Because of the simplicity of their set-up, the cars can be easily disassembled and often masquerade as regular commuter cars during the day.
Weddings in India are an opportunity for families to make a statement. They are a display of social and economic standing, that in small towns, becomes a celebration of community and a means of garnering goodwill for the two uniting families. Chariots of frolic add to that pomp, fanfare and dramatize the announcement of the nuptials.
This work was supported by the Forum art gallery residency in association with the Chennai Photo Biennale, 2019. The residency culminated in a month long exhibition at the Forum Art Gallery, Chennai that ran the length of the Chennai photo biennale.
This series of portraits honor the individuals engaged in the wedding industry and earn their living/supplement their income through Chariots of frolic. Photographed mainly in their workshops or around their homes, the compositions often include the paraphernalia involved in wedding decoration.
The individuals in the images include fabricators, chariot owners, hired drivers, wedding musicians and in some instances, their close family. They made this project possible by decorating their cars on their days off, helping scout for locations and accommodating the exacting nature it took to make these images at night. I’m extremely grateful for their support and enthusiasm regarding my work.
Untitled triptych - Arumugam, Apu, Divya – 10” x 24” ; Archival print on Hahnehmühle pearl.
Photographed in Arni, Onnupuram and Veerapandi respectively (L to R)
This short film contextualizes the setting in which chariots of frolic are used. It documents the activity in the build up to a wedding reception and follows the evening procession for which the chariots are hired by the families of the bride and groom. The hand-held footage, in stark contrast to the formal approach employed for making the photographs, complements the chaos that the chariot processions are surrounded by and unwittingly cause more of.