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Hero or villain

Six artists take aim at 'public enemies' - and then mess about with their depiction. Amitava Sanyal writes. Mission accomplished | Angels with dirty faces | Men with guns | Still lives | My man | Disasters of terror — Leash

art and culture Updated: Dec 25, 2010 01:28 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Who's the hero of a film? Is it the sexy person who eats up the most footage?

For disclamation, look no farther than Shah Rukh Khan in a range of 1990s' films starting with Baazigar.

Is the hero the one who always does right? If it were so, there wouldn't be any real-life equivalence of Indian characters beyond our first feature's hero, Raja Harishchandra.

We have always lived with filmi anti-heros, blown up or sidelined.

London-based curator Shaheen Merali has waded into this inviting greyness with his latest show. His inspiration is the 1930s' gangster films.

And an Orson Welles quote: "Those who make real money aren't counted as criminals. This is a class distinction, not an ethical problem."

Merali has brought in 6 artists, 3 of them based in India, to take provocative pot-shots at those who they count as 'public enemies'.

So we have an engaging variety of targets at this artistic firing range. Superpower America stands next to societal duplicity, righteous protestors rub shoulder with filmi anti-heroes.

The more layered works ask who gets to label villains, and how.

Like the Indian-origin, African-born, British-bred Merali, most of the artists have moved between cultures.

And that gives their works the edgy feel of ones who don't owe allegiance to any hegemon. It heightens their power to provoke. The electricity that sends into the air can only be healthy, right?

Public Enemy No 1 is on at Exhibit 320, F-320 Lado Sarai till January 23, daily 11am to 7pm. Call 46130637 for details.

Mission accomplished | Angels with dirty faces | Men with guns | Still lives | My man | Disasters of terror — Leash