Phantom Lady or Kismet by Pushpamala N.
In this series of staged performance photographs, Pushpamala engages with popular forms of entertainment such as masquerading, mirroring, and performance of a double role. With a backdrop of colonial architecture, female characters from the Silent Movie Era or even the early Talkies, are spotted in public places.
‘Phantom Lady’ invokes the memory of entertainment in the 1930s and ‘40s when stunts by women were the popular ingredients to cinema. The actress on whom Pushpamala’s photographs are based is the Australian Mary Evans AKA the Indian star ‘Fearless’ Nadia. As many of these performers were not of Indian origin, they had to bow out with the advent of the Talkie in cinema by the late 1930s as they could not speak the languages in which Indian cinema was being made.
These women brought forth a distinct image of modernity where ‘femininity’ was dramatised Their stylised costumes, contrived personas and yet an easy presence in public places created layers through which they formed the prototype of femininity for Indian cinema. Pushpamala ‘phantom-ises’ and invokes this forgotten vision of the female entertainer within a contemporary cityscape.
As Pushpamala masquerades as the Phantom Lady and traverses the outer layer of the colonial city – public streets, corridors, balconies, eateries, railway platforms, and so on, she also, playing the vamp – the lost twin sister, reclines in the interior (as the moll of a don), surrounded by cinematic motifs of urbanity – French windows, opulent mirrors, over sized sofas and long cigarette holders.
Author, Producer, Director: Pushpamala N
Photography: Meenal Agarwal
Cast: Pushpamala N, Vinay Pathak and the people of Bombay
Shot on various locations in Bombay
Pushpamala N is a photo, video and installation artist. In 1985, she did her post-graduation in Sculpture at M.S. University, Baroda, and became a practising sculptor afterwards. Since the mid-1990s her work has mainly been in photography, performance and video. She uses women’s stories and material to explore history, memory and contemporary society. In all of her works Pushpamala N. is chief actor as well as director.