It looks like photographer Mahadevan Thampi is on a roll. Right on the heels of a photoshoot of a Rajasthani street vendor that went viral, comes another. If the former is a makeover of a 21-year-old Rajasthani woman, who sells essentials at the Edappally traffic signal in Kochi, his latest is on 98-year-old Pappy Amma, a wizened old daily wage labourer, with a charming toothless smile.
It was serendipity that led Mahadevan to Pappy Amma. Mahadevan was on a location hunt at Thevalakkadu, Vaikom for debut director Shameer’s film when he spotted Pappy Amma walking by with a scythe and jute bag in hand. “I asked the car to stop and jumped out. Soon, I was taking photographs of her. The next day I decided to shoot a series depicting a day in the life of Pappy Amma,” says Mahadevan.
The photoshoot starts with Pappy Amma’s routine in the morning, right from brushing her teeth and sweeping the courtyard to sitting by the light of her kerosene lamp at night.
“She is beautiful despite her wrinkles. She has lovely features. She did not require any drastic makeover as she was perfect as she is. She must have been quite a beauty in her heyday. I asked her if she had any photographs of her on her and she said ‘No’. ”
There were only two costume changes for the shoot. “Pappy Amma owns just two sets of clothes, one which she wears daily and a set and mundu that she wears on special occasions. For the set-mundu, we applied a chandana pottu on her forehead, a touch of lipstick, and did her hair for her.”
A native of the village, Pappy Amma’s husband, also a daily wage labourer is no more. They have two daughters. Her younger daughter lives close by and Pappy Amma often stops by her house for meals.
According to the photographer, Pappy Amma is a mini-celebrity in her village. “She is a familiar face amongst the villagers. She may be 98-years-old but she is still going strong. Despite her age and her frail body, she still goes to the fields to work with paan in her mouth,” says Mahadevan, who adds that Pappy Amma told him that Mohanlal and the late Prem Nazir are her favourite actors.
As her daughter herself lives in a tiny house, Pappy Amma lives in a makeshift shed close by. There is no door though to the house. “Pappy Amma told me that she wished she had a door so that she could sleep peacefully at night.” A wish that has come true as businessman-cum-philanthropist Boby Chemmanur announced that he would build a home for Pappy Amma.
“I sent him the video I had made of the shoot and he seems to have fallen in love with Pappy Amma as I have,” chuckles Mahadevan, who adds that Thevalakkadu, has always been a lucky place for him.
“I had earlier shot a picture of an elderly man and his wife travelling in a country boat, which also went viral. Besides this village is a land that is caught in time. One feels one is in the 1970s when one steps into the village. There are elderly men seated discussing politics by an old bus shed that is near a Tamarind tree in the evenings, a small river flowing nearby, men casting their fishing rods in hopes of reeling in a bite…,” says the photographer, who adds that his works these days follow a theme and are no longer “mere shoot and aim”.
He cities ‘Kali’, a photoshoot depicting actor Anarkali Marikar as the goddess, a photoshoot of Anikha Surendran in costumes designed from the banana leaf, and a recent a shoot on the “purity of lesbian love” as examples. However, a shoot that probably shot up his 32.1 k followers on Instagram to the current 80.6 followers is that of Aasmaan, the Rajasthani street vendor.
“I often pass by the Edappally signal and have been observing Aasmaan and the rest of her nomadic family for some time now. I admire their grit towards creating a means to create a livelihood. In fact, my fascination with these nomads and their lifestyle began even while I was studying at Mar Ivanios College in Thiruvananthapuram. I had shot quite a few black and white images of them back then.”
According to Mahadevan, ‘Street to Studio’ was a concept that had been on his mind for some time. “And when I saw Aasmaan, I knew she would fit the bill, the perfect candidate for a makeover. I really wanted to see a smile on her weather-beaten face and was able to so during the photoshoot. This had to be one of my personally satisfying projects,” says the photographer-cum-film photographer cum-cinematographer.
His photoshoot of Iniya, Paris Lakshmi, and model Chaitanya Prakash in a bold yet traditional look has grabbed eyeballs too.
The cinematographer, who has completed the shoot for Anoop Menon’s Padma, will be starting the shoot for Shameer’s film in February. “It is on life in a village. It will be shot at Thevalakkadu.”