It’s probably the weather that contributes to my wilful distaste, but the last thing that interests me on a humid Friday afternoon is talk about rent inflation in Bandra. Still, the facts are being vehemently produced in hopes that I might engage in some popular tea or whisky (pick one) argument about when’s the right time to start my own business. This was when the other person privy to this conversation pulled out a wild card – Karthik Ramachandran.
For those who use their Internet as ineffectively as me, Karthik Ramachandran is one of the few to have found a balance in this city. He once served valiantly as a Creative Director in MTV for 4 years. When the ideas couldn’t be contained anymore, he set up his own commercial design house, Xtrathin, and when the ideas were prolific enough, he frantically realised its confines to support a less commercial outlet – a gallery he calls False Ceiling. We had to drive up and see it all unfurl for ourselves.
I. The Robot-Kitsch Age
Int. Xtrathin Reception, Pali Naka – afternoon
Karthik is busy preparing for the fourth instalment of his latest exhibit 69 amidst the yellow-hued interiors of his Bandra office. Shortly after, I am verboten for taking pictures of him or picking at his personal life; the focus must be on False Ceiling and his latest exhibit 69. But for a man so disinterested in spewing details about his becoming, Karthik won’t blink an eye when asked about what influences it. In fact, I now have his full laser attention.
“At home once, my dad was painting this really beautiful South Indian girl going to the temple,” he recollects. “My dad was full kitsch on that level. But then I looked at it and imagined this Unreal Tournament-like cyborg soldier vibe in there. What if we just put that in the background? All futuristic with the image in front being so traditional? I called it ‘Safeguarding the Tradition’. That ended up being my first exhibition. That was when I even called myself an artist, and my artist name was Prostitute Boy.”
I’m sorry, Prostitute what?
II. Prostitute Boy
I’m a commercial designer for work, I’m just being honest. My dad’s an artist. I’ve made like shit money out of my art.
Where Karthik once mechanized his father’s art, he now laces his own creations with steel to serve the realm of advertising. He explains, “What is a painting to me? It’s like an interesting idea without a logo. I’ll put out an idea, then add a body copy to that so the client understands, and then an associate logo. That’s all the dressing that goes over my idea. Then there’s the audience. To some level, the traditional aspect of my father’s paintings will always linger in my career. Everyone’s trying to find the next coolest thing while still communicating to Indians on some level. So there you have it – Desi Cool.”
III. Prostitute Boy finds a Heart
This particular one is about relationships.
“Some series of events in my life gave me the idea for 69, so I decided write out an entire script for it,” says Karthik about his latest exhibit. Does that make 69 autobiographical? Close enough. “It’s a pattern I’ve found in urban relationships,” he elaborates. “My parents have fought a lot and stuff, but they’ve hung out together at the end of it. In today’s time and age, I don’t like the way things work. The tolerance level is zero. Some people kind of hang on and work it out, and some people are just going through the same damn cycle over and over again. They fall in love, then one person doesn’t like the way the other burps, then one person doesn’t like the other’s nose, then.. It’s just a cycle.”
IV. Prostitute Boy and Friends
Int. Xtrathin corridor. Karthik’s friends roll in as the office space starts to take its alternate form – False Ceilings.
“I thought of 69 as a collaborative about 2 years ago,” says Karthik getting a grip of things. “But at that time I didn’t have an art gallery to back me up. I wrote the script and sent it out to about twenty-eight artists, only one got back. After that I kind of left it hanging in the background when work took over.”
Fast forward to present day. As we speak, 69 chapters of Karthik’s opus are being reinterpreted by 69 different artists. Let’s take a roll call here. Chapter 1 of 69 was created by Karthik and his abiding cohort within Xtrathin itself. Chapter 2 was created by Kunal from Cabein, another renowned design house in the city. Chapter 3 was picked up by Randolph Correia (of Shaair and Func, Pentagram fame). It saw the reimagining of Karthik as an alien life form and probably remains the most ambitious translation of the script till date. Chapter 4 was picked up by Kapil Sharma, a sixth generation artist from his background, so determined to adapt to Karthik’s oddities that he created his own ink for the task. “Art is just growing with people,” Karthik adds. “Someone like Kapil is in the same ‘futuristic’ zone with me, watching the same kind of ‘futuristic’ movies. But he’s still paying homage to his upbringing, which is making Rajasthani miniatures. So it ends up being a modernised version of it.”
Desi Cool? ”Yes.”
V. Prostitute Boy Away!
Ext. Xtrathin Balcony- evening. To commemorate the lighting of Karthik’s next cigarette, a close friend appears as if he was standing there the whole time and starts discussing the prospects of porting 69 to a digital medium. Karthik starts to get excited, lights the cigarette, and takes off.
“Eventually 69 will be a beautiful novel, or maybe even a film” Karthik beams. “There are going to be so many different artists featured through this one long story. I want to give them something back because each one has put in a minimum of 2 weeks work. If you had come for the first instalment, the whole point was to just mix media. There was one section with a pole kiosk. Visitors could listen to a particular song mentioned in that section. Form there, the story continued into another section where a character says ‘let’s have some shots and go to your terrace’. So immediately, I thought of having a tray of three shots placed over there. Whoever came by, read the scene, took the shot, and by the time they got to the last frame, they were drunk enough to like it a lot more.”
VI. Prostitute Boy vs. The World
Basic research says that in the next 30 to 40 years every person is going to have about 36 careers in his life.
While we’re both unsure of where that basic research stems from, it is discerning that we live in an age where Instagram raises professional photographers overnight. Should the purists be furious? Karthik has a better question – “Isn’t it challenging? If I’ve called myself a photographer all this while and someone comes and says they can do it too?”
“It’s the sharing of ideas that has become easy, that’s all.” he elaborates. “I won’t call it bad because with the digital world bringing super professionalism to the consumer level there are automatically so many new careers and options coming out. Maybe someday I’ll just go jam with someone on stage with a djembe or something, and call myself a musician.”
Now if it were any other situation, I would have turned the recorder off right then and then. But the course of this conversation has helped me interpret Karthik’s thought processes to be insidious. His words arrive soon enough – “I want to have this other exhibition. I’ll call it ‘All Fart No Shit’. It’s basically me taking a piss on the Indian advertising awards, or let’s call it the ‘Pat Your Own Back Awards’. I just want to create my own clients, my own product, my own communications and I’ll give myself awards.”
For more information visit www.false-cieling.com.