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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Kitsch and tell

Cheerharan toilet roll, Mughal cards, magnets — quirky stores are retailing kitsch beyond the cliché. Amrah Ashraf writes. The weekend fix

art-and-culture Updated: Jan 24, 2012 18:33 IST
Amrah Ashraf
Amrah Ashraf
Hindustan Times

The great Indian highway was once the land of screaming trucks, drunk drivers and great food. Now, it is almost every contemporary kitsch designer’s inspiration.

The great Indian deities were once snuck in a corner of the room, visited may be once a day, bombarded with requests and then left alone. Now, they adorn the fashion sensibilities of the counter culture brigade.

And, who can forget the great Indian auto! That rickety three-wheeled caricature of an automobile is now the greatest symbol of kitsch Indian cliché. What is the catch phrase here? The great Indian…. It is desi, quirky, loud and extremely in.

So, turns out, ‘It happens only in India’ is now on global request!

Some people are calling this sudden barrage of Indianness, Kitsch 2.0. After the rather banal renditions of Madhubala on pillow covers and garish match boxes on curtains, the sensibilities in the times of Kitsch 2.0 are rather sophisticated.

Kitsch has broken away from the over saturated and superimposed graphics, pseudo-Warholism and mere copy paste jobs.

Play Clan, with its textual rendition of an auto rickshaw or Mughal Empire playing cards, is one of the fore runners of this new cool kitsch identity. They work on small focused products and infuse graphics and textual illustrations with classic kitsch.

“Kitsch is always evolving. The days of copy-paste are gone. Today, kitsch is all about experimenting with graphics, colours and illustrations. The emphasis lies on original designs and not reproduction,” says Himanshu Dogra, the owner of Play Clan.

Earlier, a Faiz Ahmed Faiz sonnet slapped innocuously on a T-shirt was as far as creativity went. Now you have a Cheerharan toilet paper, a smart spin on Draupadi’s ‘vastraharan’ in the Mahabharata. Not only is the humour subtle, the utility is ubiquitous.

Uzma, the graphic designer and creator of kitsch store Kya Cheez Hai, believes that if a product does not have utility, then it lacks the characteristic Indian trait — ‘The kitna deti hai formula.’

“We as Indians are always looking for paisa vasool (value for money). We don’t like to buy things which have zero utility and are only good to look at. Similarly, Indian kitsch is all about looking inward and respecting our quirks. Here, we work with the simple funda that everything must have some kind of functionality behind it. That is the Indian mentality and that is kitsch.”

In many ways, kitsch expresses a sense of nostalgia and resurrection of the Indian identity. When did the good ol’ ambassador car become cool? Only after was it shooed off the Indian roads by fancier western cars.

As Rahul Anand of Happily Unmarried puts it, “Of course a sense of nostalgia drives Indian kitsch. The quintessential Indian squat toilet is cool and kooky because it has been witness to many judgmental smirks from the western commode toilet.

What makes kitsch so appealing is its ability to laugh at itself; a humourous critique of our shortcomings. We love to bob our heads; our autowallahs treat every moment on the road like it’s their last; our Yoga gurus can contort their bodies and character to suit their needs and kitsch satirises it all.

So, be it Chumbak’s ‘Auto Raja bobble head’ or Happily Unmarried’s ‘Bhojpuri shot glasses’, witty self critique is ingrained in the DNA of Indian kitsch.

Happily Unmarried

If the idea of ashing a cigarette in an Indian squat toilet sounds ‘down market’ then this place is not for you.

Old hats in the business, HU is about taking life with a pinch of salt.

A poster of Jimi Hendrix which reads ‘Jimi Jimi Jimi Aaja Aaja Aaja’ or Bhojpuri shot glasses which read ‘Glass Hamaar, Daaru Tuhaar’ are testimony to the owners’ take on life.

They claim to never repeat a design and have created over 200 products in the categories of bar essentials, posters, notebooks and other home apparel.

Where: N 35 A, Outer Circus, CP, 23313326. Happily Unmarried Kiosk, Select City Walk, Saket, 9212734188

The Play Clan

PC takes inspiration from everyday objects, cultures and quirks. For founder Himanshu Dogra, the trick lies in observing the obvious and creating a playful paradox — minimalistic meets kitschy.

They produce a range of products such as cutlery, lamps, cushions, T-shirts with holographic gods and kaleidoscopic prints. Known for their Manga art work, they refrain from calling themselves classic kitsch.

Where: G07C Nr Atrium Select Citywalk, Saket, 40534559. Shop no. 17 & 18, Mehar Chand Market, Lodhi Colony, 24644393.

O Layla

At first, OL may not look like your conventional kitsch store. But once you go through their rails of clothing and other knick-knacks, it has the kitschy flavour. A local enterprise, OL is a typical-ethnic-store-with-a-quirky spirit.

Apart from tunics, kurtas, earrings, hand bags, there are strikingly kitschy T-shirts.

Where: 21 Hauz Khas Village, 26513821.

First Published: Sep 09, 2011 22:43 IST