Reaching India’s cultural core through weddings

Neebiir Kamaal
A photogrpah by Mahesh Shantaram on display at Chobi Mela 8

A photogrpah by Mahesh Shantaram on display at Chobi Mela 8

The success of the eighth edition of Chobi Mela is that it has successfully brought in groundbreaking works and ideas related to different cultures and societies, and last but not the least, different ways of looking into life. Matrimania, one of the entries of Chobi Mela 8, checks all of these boxes.
Matrimania displays selected images from the enormous body of work of Indian photographer Mahesh Shantaram, who started out as a wedding photographer and has taken the genre of photography to new heights. The artiste has shot more than 150 weddings in India and elsewhere. In an exclusive interview with New Age, Mahesh Shantaram talked about unraveling culture, lives of people and their emotions through sociocultural ceremonies and events.
‘Let us not confuse marriage with wedding. One may be about intimacy, but the other is an event, a very public spectacle that we want the whole world to know about. At least that’s how it is viewed where I come from,’ says Mahesh.
One of the strengths of Mahesh as a photographer seems to be his quality of taking a photograph that shows cultural reality just as it is. For example, many of his photographs show the desire in Indian communities to show off at weddings and their naivety at the same time. In one of the photos, a table is laid out for serving coffee at a wedding and a placard saying ‘Aspresso Coffee’. A group of earnest-looking men stand behind the table with a look of hospitality. Such simplicity moves.
‘Everything that’s great about India and everything that’s wrong with it can be summarised in a single wedding,’ he quips.
‘I don’t think photojournalism – or journalism for that matter – exists only to expose anomalies. But it does need to capture the physical and emotional realities of life as opposed to commercial photography that dwells in hyper reality. The problem is that much of popular wedding photography today is derived from that commercial photography’, says Mahesh, adding that Bangladeshi photographers have an opportunity to make wedding photojournalism a viable and attractive alternative from just commercial photography.
Mahesh Shantaram has started shooting elections in India since last year, as he aims to uncover the experience and emotions of the masses as they cast their votes. ‘There are two things that are always happening in India: weddings and elections. They are both about the exhibition and acquisition of power’, he asserts.
This is Mahesh’s first visit in Bangladesh and he is overwhelmed by his Chobi Mela experience. ‘I am overwhelmed by Chobi Mela, by their sincerity, dedication, passion, and creativity. I’m jealous that we don’t yet have the ability to put together such a mature show in India,’ he added.

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