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The Stories Behind the Swarathma Album Artwork

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Photo-essay on photographing graffiti-art, an 'arty' interview between the persistent correspondent 'Vivacious Vasu' and the elusive 'Designer Dixit' followed by an insight into the man behind the lyrics

Photo Essay: Making Interesting Images for Each Song

In our early days, Pavan was Swarathma’s intrepid percussionist. Armed with a bewildering array of quirky percussion instruments he lent a folksy earthiness to the sound. Also a lens-man, Pavan’s photographs spoke louder than his words. Here are excepts from Pavan's experience of shooting for Swarathma’s album inlay.

Pavan felt doubly excited about this project. One, because it was his band’s maiden album. Two, because it was his responsibility to shoot pictures for it. This was the culmination of both his passions, Photography and Music!

It was a great experience, shooting hundreds of pictures where each had its own story. 13 photos were shortlisted for the album - and here is a colourful context to each.

Page 2: ‘The Horse”

Shot on: 6th November 2008

Location: In and around Mysore palace

Camera: Nikon D70

'Ghodi's Story: the band's mascot, shot from the graffiti-work on a tonga (one-horse carriage) at Mysore Palace after much hunting around the city that included a trip to the old tonga stand at Agrahara.

Page 3: 'Auto'

Shot On: 10th Nov 2008

Location: Mandi Mohalla, Mysore

Camera: Nikon D70

Shot taken on Pavan and Vasu's random wandering around town with no destination in mind. Graffiti found on the wall of an automobile shop - this, in its textured essence became the accompanying art-work for 'Jana Kahan Hai Muje' - a song about our many journeys.

Page 6: 'Sathya Harishchandra'

Shot on: 5th November 2008

Location: Sayyaji Rao Road, Mysore

Camera: Nikon D70

Mobile temple-on-wheels, decorated with mythological characters and scenes are frequented by people for brief salvation. Shot in front of Mysore's famous Krishna Rajendra Hospital (a govt. hospital thronged by many patients from villages across the state), this curious-cart is visited by many for whom prayers are a form of healing. A hopeless scene of desolation - this became the art-work for 'Patte Sare', a song that laments the lack of belonging.

Page 2: ‘A Beautiful World’

Shot on: 10th November 2008

Location: Regulated Market Circe, Lorry Stand, Mysore

Camera: Nikon D70

Graffiti on a truck - a simple depiction of the idyllic life of clam and nature's bounty. Ideal art-work for 'Ee Bhoomi' - our song of hope for a beautiful future of this planet.

Page 10: 'Demon Face'

Shot on: 7th November 2008

Location: Pandavapura Taluk, Mysore

Camera: Nikon D70

Pavan went searching for graffiti on bullock-carts around Mysore - eventually coming across one on which rode two kids. Pavan photographed the cart to much-delight of the kids - who didn't really understand what a music album was. They lead Pavan to the only artist in Pandavapura who painted on carts and trucks. The artist's studio had this massive demon-poster standing guard at the entrance. It was intimidating and unmissable - and later became the art-work for 'Bolo Kya Hai' which is a brooding song about complex dichotomies.

Page 14: 'Angel in a Sari'

Shot on: 5th November 2008

Location: Mysore Palace Area

Camera: Nikon D70

Wandering around Mysore Place, Pavan continued his hunt for interesting images on tongas. Sadly, there was little of it to be found - as tonga-wallahs told him about how their colleagues were swapping these anachronistic vehicles for the nifty autos. The nostalgia of experience the thrill of the clip clop of hooves down a village street would disappear with time. Later, as chance would have it, Pavan spotted these rustic drawings of everyday angles. Here she is, in her mustard-yellow sari, afloat against a robin-blue sky, flanked by her celestially yet feathery wings. She is a creation inspired by the routine of our middle-class lives.

Art-work became a heart-felt thank-you note for everyone who made Swarathma's maiden album possible.

Vasu Speaks to Dixit: The Swarathma Album Inlay Design Story

In an exclusive telephonic interview, our correspondent Vivacious Vasu catches up with Designer Dixit to get a hang of what went behind the much talked about CD inlay design of Swarathma’s début album. The kitschy Indian motifs inspired from the ubiquitous lorries, brightly painted walls among other things have caught the attention of aficionados and amateurs alike. Excerpts from the interview:

Vasu: So, Sir…how did…

Dixit: Sorry to interrupt, please don’t call me sir…makes me feel very old.

Vasu: Oh..sorry sir…err…Dixit…how did the whole concept for your CD Design germinate?

Dixit: Germinate? Well…we wanted to have a concept for our CD design after the album recording. So I guess it must have been then.

Vasu: Very interesting…You are a Post Graduate from NID (National Institute of Design), so does that make Design easy for you?

Dixit: Heh?  I really don’t know? If you really see the Album and its inlay, I’m not the actual designer; the real designers are the people who’ve done those painting on the trucks, buses and bullock carts. They are the real artists. I just got images shot of those works or designs which were already there and put it together.

Vasu: And yet you call yourself a ‘Designer’?

Dixit: Next question please.

Vasu: Hello…are you there…?

Dixit: Yes….I said no comments.

Vasu: So, what do you call this ‘art’?

Dixit: You may call it ‘Kitsch’ art or ‘Pop’ art. Or the ‘Kitsch of Pop’, if you’re feeling smart.

Vasu: Are you saying that your music is ‘Pop’ Music?

Dixit: ‘Pop’ music means popular music. We aren’t very ‘Pop’ now, but soon we’ll be.

Vasu: Who are your target audiences, Truck drivers and Bullockcart riders?

Dixit: Well…it is for them ALSO. This art style is very close to Swarathma’s music, it has that rawness in it. It is unfinished and not perfect. And I like imperfectness, look at me! It is very bright and colorful yet naïve. It is an everyday art, same as our music

Vasu: Your bandmate Pavan Kumar shot those Images, How did you guys work together? What were his inputs in the design process?

Dixit: You must hear it from the horse’s mouth about that.

Vasu: Oh…you mean your ‘ghodi’ you use in your shows?

Dixit: NO. I mean Pavan’s mouth. In fact, he had lost his Camera few weeks before this project but he jugaadofied with a friend of his for a Camera and went in-and-around mysore in search of these wonderful pieces of art.

Vasu: So, you are also from Mysore, infact you’ve done BFA from CAVA (Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts), is that the reason why you went back there?

Dixit: If you look at the Kitch Art in cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai it has become very modern and computerized. You hardly see hand painted posters, mudguard paintings and even on rickshaws. Mysore still has its tradition and naivety intact. It is painful to see it also changing, so before it vanished, I thought I should capture them. In a way this is my tribute to all those artists, who go unnoticed.

Vasu: Does you being a member of the band help or is it difficult, for designing?

Dixit: It is both. It is difficult because I never got paid by the band…grrrr…hope my bandmates are reading this. It is helpful because I’m partly involved in approving the designs (laughs).

Vasu: Your portraits on the CD Cover and the ‘Cut-out’ style paintings in centre-fold are very interesting. Who is the artist and what was your brief for him?

Dixit: The paintings are done by a very talented passing out student for CKP (Chitra Kala Parishad), Bangalore, Manjunath. I gave him a lot of references from the 60s and 70s Indian Film Posters. The colors and techniques (brush strokes) were inspired from there. I asked him to follow the style and yet retain the characters of the musicians. I think he has done fantastic job.

Vasu: Some people say they are quite distorted. I mean look at Jishnu or Varun, the paintings hardly look like them.

Dixit: Ahem…ahem.. Actually that’s what we wanted. If you look portraits of Sharukh khan, Sanjay Dutt or Salman khan behind rickshaws and on its mudguards, you’ll find them disproportionate, they are a little distorted, but the characters are captured. And that’s exactly what we’ve also achieved.

Vasu: Is it a successful design then?

Dixit: Now you are talking like my Jury Panel at NID. If today you are discussing it, I would like to consider it as successful.

Vasu: That’s true. You’ve hand-painted all the lyrics in the inlay, I believe.

Dixit: Even I like to believe the same. This is for all my school-teachers who have got nightmares about my handwriting, and have given me a hard time. Hah! Who’s laughing now?!

Vasu: Why didn’t you use any fonts?

Dixit: I wanted to give it a ‘Personal Touch’.

Vasu: How touching!! Any message to young budding designers?

Dixit: “Dear budding designers, considering I’m a ‘blossomed’ designer all I can say is never lose your fragrance”. Was that a little philosophical or should I… ?

Vasu (interrupting): That’s quite enough, Thank you, Thank you, I’ve got all I need. Nice speaking you. Hope you come up…with much better designs in the future. Have a great day. <Click>

Dixit: But I’m not done! I have so much more to….hello…hello?

Written by Vasu and Dixit, edited by Jishnu Dasgupta

The Mind Behind the Lyrics: Hitesh Kewlaya

Hitesh Kewalya is the man behind many of Swarathma’s song lyrics. A gift with words inherited from his father has been put to excellent use with the sensitive engagement with the subjects that Swarathma chooses to compose about. Here he speaks of his journey through life, and the part that he shares with the band he loves! DOWNLOADcomplete Swarathma album lyrics.

I remember the days my father would recite poetry to us children, he was a really avid reader and ever so often would sing or read out passages of pieces he really loved. I was a quiet kid, and writing soon became my way of expressing my emotions. I loved watching films, commercial Bollywood to World Cinema I’ve been through it all, and every frame has built my way of looking at the world!

Design became one of my passions while growing up, and it was at the National Institute of Design that I met Vasu (vocals, guitar). Over the years at NID we would collaborate on songs, unfinished tunes that Vasu would show me and to this day the way we work has changed very little.  Most of the time Vasu calls me up and either sings a tune on the phone for me or just sends a scratch recording version. We discuss some ideas over email and then my job begins…over a few sittings we are done. I would love to jam with the band while I am writing, but distances (they in Bangalore, me in Mumbai) don’t always permit that.

I think writing and designing overlap in many ways – like you design a narrative…even a song, where words are placed in order to create a sound wave, which evokes thought or any other response. But my design skills are limited to the stories I tell through my writing, short films and songs. So, I’m a storyteller not a designer!

What I love about Swarathma is that watching them live is so very elevating. They have an electric presence on stage. And the kind of themes that they choose makes it exciting to listen to them. I feel they are a very jam-friendly kind of band – if they go onto the streets and just ask random people to jam with them they’d be able to do it and would thoroughly enjoy it also. And I think that’s the USP of the band. My favorite Swarathma song is ‘Sur Mera’ – though they hardly ever play it live. Just writing it gave me a high.

According to me, nobody creates music, it’s just there. We enjoy it just when we take note of it. It is in this garb of enjoyment, that our mind becomes receptive to the ideas being expressed through music!

If a stranger comes into a room and extends his hand you’ll think twice before shaking it. But if a musical sound or a melodious tune is wafts into your ears, you won’t think twice before tapping your foot to it. So I think music just makes everyone very receptive.

Edited by Jishnu Dasgupta

Hitesh’s Songwriting Co-Credits:

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