Meet Rohit Bhasi, the artist behind Pehel theatre festival’s evocative poster

The Bengaluru-based illustrator feels that thought-provoking promotional artworks are as important as the play itself

Rohit Bhasi and the poster for the theatre festival

By Reema Gowalla

Long story short, even better — visual. On Saturday morning when Bengaluru-based theatre group released the first poster of their upcoming festival Pehel, it caught the attention of many on social media. At first glance, it looked like the trunk of a Ganapati idol, while one may also interpret the figure as the representation of a vocal activist. A thoughtful piece of art, the poster is vivid, evocative and with a character. Blame financial constraints or the standard practice of using photographs from the play as a backdrop for posters, illustrations are not very common when it comes to promotional material for the theatre. “Imaginative canvases for plays, however, have a great potential to help theatrewallahs reach out to a larger group of audiences. These curious pieces could add a whole new dimension to what a play wants to convey, even before people come to the auditorium to watch a performance,” says Rohit Bhasi, the artist behind the poster.

Narasimha and Prahlada chat about Silk Board and Nagavara, while they enjoy their ice candies

A resident of Indiranagar, Rohit runs his own art collective, called Indigo Ranges and is also the co-founder of Still Space Theatre. He has been working with the city’s theatre groups and independent artists for quite a few years. You’ll also find his illustrations in the creatives for the storytelling sessions by Vikram Sridhar and Aparna Jaishankar. The poster for ‘Ranis of India’, an Artkhoj event, was also well received among art lovers. Be it murals, merchandise or Rajasthan’s colourful storytelling box tradition called kavad katha (for which, he collaborates with Akhshay Gandhi), his artworks can be traced almost everywhere. Expressive human faces with a touch of mythology make his work stand out.

A woman weaving strings of jasmine features in his artwork

“Characters from the Indian epics and folklore have always fascinated me. I love mysteries and the otherworldliness in stories. Needless to say, they also find a way into my illustrations. I usually travel to the remote temple towns of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for inspiration, not just to make a mental note of the religious rituals that people follow but also to document the life of those whom you meet along the way — at street stalls, in buses and rickshaws. Their typical mannerisms, style of striking a conversation or the way in which they express their opinion about politics and matters of social interest make great stories in themselves. I just outline them as illustrations and caricatures on paper later,” explains Rohit. Different gods and mythical figures also jostle for space in his sketches, as he tries to bring them to “ground level, marred by common issues”.

Audiences at a kutcheri classical dance performance

His interest in mythology also influences his choices in theatre. “I prefer plays like Kaumudi, Akshayambara and Piya Behrupiya, because they are interesting as well as entertaining narratives. I feel many of India’s contemporary English theatre productions, particularly those in Bengaluru, are too abstract or serious. Maybe, plays can be made a little more comprehensible in terms of stories and narrative techniques, without compromising on people’s individual style of storytelling, of course.”

The face of a Rajasthani folk artist

Decoding the figure in the Pehel, Rohit says, “When Srinivas Besetty from Kahe Vidushak approached me for the artwork, we decided on coming up with a series of creatives, of which the one released this weekend is the first. The idea is to build an engagement with the audience through visual art which, in turn, will complement the theme of the theatre festival — to look beyond the stage and performances and foray into discussions and learning. In the illustration, I tried to create a figure who has the zeal of a vocal activist but is also a performer at heart. The tribhaṅga posture is a tribute to the Odissi classical dance form, while the eyes are inspired by the Bengali style of painting. The one ear is that of a mouse, but there was no deliberation on the use of colours in the artpiece. An onlooker is free to draw a conclusion on their own.”

Check out more of Rohit’s artworks here.

A piece depicting a temple premise in South India

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