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Review: The Red Cat and Other Stories by Ritesh Uttamchandani

Shot over the last four years on Ritesh Uttamchandani’s iPhone, this photobook features 98 images that reveal Mumbai’s pounding, generous heart

books Updated: Aug 10, 2018 22:52 IST
Manjula Narayan
Manjula Narayan
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,John Everett Millais,Ronald McDonald
Swimming pool for horses, Race Course.(Ritesh Uttamchandani)
Rs 1500; Available at www.riteshuttamchandani.com

Young men exercise with cinder blocks; two grinning horses roll their eyes gleefully as they swim; a dog carefully urinates on a pole in the middle of a playing field; cubes of ice sit like a glacier in a restaurant urinal; two Ronald McDonalds gaze at a wall marked ‘TV’.

Finding herself: Photographer Hawra Hajoori at work. (Ritesh Uttamchandani)

Ritesh Uttamchandani’s images in The Red Cat and Other Stories are ironic, funny, touching and most of all, they fill the viewer with a longing for Mumbai/Bombay, its madness, and its stories, for the savage, grimy beauty of that city and the dogged cheerfulness of its people. And what a diverse bunch they are – there’s the tattooed dad whose story almost makes you weep, the cheerful Bihari auto driver who is inordinately proud of his vehicle, the Anil Kapoor lookalike, the hijra who dreams of giving her daughter a better life outside Kamathipura (“I hope she marries a nice man, raises a happy family and builds a home of her own.”), the Bohri photographer who has taken to wearing the traditional rida, and the man who sells donkey milk on the streets. There are dreams here and aspirations, struggles and slights, sorrow, great drama, and the will to overcome.

Participant at Mudrush 2016. (Ritesh Uttamchandani)

Then there is the startling image of a woman in a mud bath that looks to you like a grotesque Mumbaikar parody of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia that hangs in all its Pre-Raphaelite glory a world away in London’s Tate museum. The pictures often work together and play off each other like the ones featuring an acrobatic cat and a parkour practitioner heaving himself up onto a wall that provides a view of the spectacular Worli Sealink. These lead to pictures of courting couples against the sea and among the rocks in that urban jungle that affords no privacy. And so they go on, each image linked to the next in a subterranean way that draws the viewer into the teeming, dreaming mind of Mumbai.

Selling donkey milk: Somnath JadhavI with his donkey Hansa on the streets of Mumbai. (Ritesh Uttamchandani)

Shot over the last four years on Uttamchandani’s iPhone, this photobook, that seeks out the freakish in the ordinary, that is eccentric and contemplative, serious and funny all at once, features 98 images of urbs prima in Indis that are tied to a metaphorical fable his mother narrated to him as a child. The fantastic tale, included in the book, focuses on the unusual friendship between a young man and a talking cat. A red cat “makhmali, with a thick fur coat, shining like a brilliant flash of light, the heart of a matchstick fire” does make its appearance in a picture alongside a vintage ‘Bombay’ manhole.

Author-photographer Ritesh Uttamchandani (Vipurva Parikh)

You stare at it awhile, at the cat, the manhole, the words, at the play of light and shadow and feel a deep longing for the city whose streets you no longer know but is forever home.

First Published: Aug 10, 2018 21:24 IST