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Greif Alumni: Abhishek Khedekar’s new docu-fiction “Tamasha”


We periodically invite our alumni, artists we have featured in the past, to share their new work and projects with us. Abhishek Khedekar is a photographer based in New Delhi, India. His work revolves around documenting stories bordering between reality and fiction, creating narratives, and curating archival images. We are now catching up with him in the form of a Q&A about his new book published by Loose Joints.

Der Greif: Abhishek, your book “Tamasha” is an experimental docu-fiction following a 100-person nomadic troupe performing ‘Tamasha’: a travelling form combining dance, music, and visual art, dating back to the 1800s. What drew you towards it?

Abhishek Khedekar: It started as my graduation project back in 2016 when I heard of a theatre in Pune, known as ‘Balgandharv Theatre’. So, on my next visit to Pune, in order to find some information about the art form and possibly a troupe whom I could photograph, I made a visit. I was always interested in the art form, especially as a child, since I was not allowed to attend because of the adult themes which are usually also a part of Tamasha. It was always a curious sight, one can spot it from a distance because of the lights and the music. And the performances are so dynamic, there are all kinds of artists performing in a format of a show. This art form is prevalent everywhere in Maharashtra, and was one of my first introductions to live performances, even though it was always from a distance. Having the opportunity to dedicate the time towards learning more about it was exciting and it was like a distant memory that I got to explore again with the mediums that I ultimately decided to use. It was the allure of the show and even after all the time spent on the project, Tamasha still holds me with the same gravity.

Der Greif: As post-independence India moved away from rural dance and song forms, Tamasha became stigmatized, polarised, and relegated in Indian society. How did you experience the process of following the Tamasha and their traditions with your camera? Have you, in the role of the artist, gained new valuable, maybe unexpected insights through this project?

Abhishek Khedekar: In regard to post-colonial effects, perhaps most rural arts suffered to some extent. However, they did find spaces in suburban and rural areas. As I mentioned in my previous answer, I had witnessed Tamasha being performed in Dapoli, my hometown. The experience itself has a lot of vehemence, for me personally. Spending every day with the people in the Tamasha group, travelling and living with them puts you in close proximity to their lives and it is beautiful to make those relationships. After some time you become a part of the unit and see more of their lives than what just meets the eye. It is laborious in nature of the logistics, long hours of performances, the before and after, the long bus rides, mostly very uncomfortable, and then the show goes on again. The resilience in the art form and the artists who perform it are the most magical thing to witness. It’s a world of its own and it is immensely dynamic, in all aspects you could imagine. More than an insight, it is the cognizance that all photographs are made of people and the space that surrounds them, which is truly remarkable. I am grateful and thankful to the people of Tamasha for giving me the opportunity to photograph them.

Abhishek Rajaram Khedekar, © Abhishek Khedekar 2023 courtesy Loose Joints

Der Greif: You dive into the complexity of this sociocultural phenomenon by utilizing various artistic techniques - from archival material to collage, documentary photography, performance, sound, and video. Have you always been drawn to the intersections of photography and performance, or did Tamasha’s traditions inspire you to experiment in that manner with visual narratives?

Abhishek Khedekar: I have always tried to be experimental but I think it was, for the most part, because of the nature of the performance Tamasha possesses and what I wanted to focus on and present eventually. It is in itself a dynamic art form, and I felt that the project needed to reflect the same persona the Tamasha appeared to be; something I could experiment with and make an immersive experience out of. Also, I have been working on the project for a long time, which is why I used different techniques as I learned them and it is sort of an amalgamation of all those experiments over time.

Der Greif: As part of Issue 14 guest-edited by Sylvie Fleury, Der Greif featured an image from your series “Many but one”, a narration on how we see life through our experiences and inner reflections. Can you elaborate on any potential parallels between that series and your new project “Tamasha”?

Abhishek Khedekar: Well, I guess it is sort of reflective of the inherent process.

Der Greif: Last but not least, please share with our community what of all the things happening right now in contemporary photography particularly excites you in a positive way.

Abhishek Khedekar: Recently I enjoyed looking at the work exhibited during Les Rencontres d’Arles, especially “Moving Definitions | An Invitation To Re-View” curated by Tanvi Mishra. Even more so, I was happy to see a couple of my friends’ work and ingenious and experimental visuals from Indian artists.

“Tamasha” by Abhishek Khedekar is published by Loose Joints.