In popular perception, colonial Kolkata has its own trappings. “Palace, byre, hovel, poverty and pride, side by side”, is how Rudyard Kipling described it more than a century ago. It’s easy to believe that colonial Kolkata resided in old houses with semi-circular arches, shuttered windows, pediments and wrought iron balconies, but that would be an “oversimplified narrative”, believes Archan Mukherjee, a Kolkata-based freelance photographer. “There are many stories that were never told of those repressed times. They were stories of forbidden same-sex love that were kept under wraps. The tension that it built was as palpable as the cry of freedom,” says Mukherjee.
In an effort to tell these stories, Mukherjee has designed a calendar that is a fictional account of a different freedom struggle. Using the found footage technique, a genre of filmmaking or photography where the footage or pictures are presented as discovered photographs or video recordings left behind by missing or dead protagonists, the calendar tells six different stories through six different photographs. “The photographs are designed in such a way that it appears as if they were taken in that colonial era and we just found them and published them. In this process the real challenge was to be sincere to the time we are dealing with and recreating it authentically,” says Mukherjee. Using a cast and crew of friends and well-wishers, Mukherjee shot this calendar in Kolkata and its suburbs in roughly two days and a shoestring. “This is actually a collaboration of the entire LGBT community of the city,” he says.
The effort clearly shows. A bearded young man in Bengali regalia poses in a stilted fashion in front of a vintage jalopy, even as two women (presumably his wives) are caught in a moment of intimate conversation. “As a photographer it was important for me to understand the technicality of the camera of that time. People generally had to hold a pose for a long time, which is why most people look so stiff in photographs of that era. In that particular photograph, I wanted to depict a zamindar with his two consorts. The intimacy that you see between the two women is a subtle hint at the nature of their relationship. Most zamindars of those times had many wives and they hardly spent time with them. Wouldn’t it be natural for these women to seek solace in each other?” asks Mukherjee.