A land of many cultures, India is the breeding grounds for creative spirits, who are driven by an intrinsic need to create, and to inspire. Even while the country as a whole is sequestered away into their homes in an attempt to arrest the spread of the Novel Coronavirus, our nation’s creative minds burn with fiery spirit, not to be quelled by the difficulties of our time. One such collaborative of creative souls is Aesthetic Kunjamma, a digital collective which spans the country, founded by Kochi-based theatre actor Arun Ajikumar.
“It’s all about teamwork, I couldn’t have done any of this alone.” Arun says, as we chat over the phone, “Every idea is followed up with a crucial discussion. We’re not professionals, we’re amateurs, but we enjoy our work.”
The 20-year-old theatre actor began his acting career in the 4th grade, when he joined the celebrated Kochi-based theatre collective Lokadharmi. While he admits it was his father’s constant encouragement that landed him in the position of an amateur theatre actor, he stayed for the many friends he had made along the way. Having garnered the attention of theatre audiences, Arun soon found himself playing roles in a number of short-films, even making it to a supporting role on the silver screen. “I realised I had a talent for it, and so I decided to work on my skill,” Arun explains. The multi-faceted 20-year-old reveals that he is also a certified yoga instructor, with a diploma in Ashtang yoga and yoga therapy. As we talk, Arun reveals that his dream is to one day combine his love of the theatre, as well as his passion for yoga. “I want to help introduce yoga to this new generation,” he reveals.
Faced with the monotony of a nationwide lockdown, Arun soon decided to do something creative with this time. Having messed around with graphic design for a number of years, the young Kochi resident decided to join forces with longtime friend, 20-year-old photographer, cinematographer, editor and law student, Adwaith Krishna. At the time, Arun had also been engaging in conversation with Deepak J, a talented VFX expert and graphic designer, whom he had never actually met in person, and who serves as one of the team’s most valuable resources.
The three soon discovered a mutual love and respect for old Indian cinema and retro styles of design. It was so that the foundation for Aesthetic Kunjamma was laid, as a celebration of the golden age of Indian cinema, and its greatest pioneers. Soon enough, new names were added to the team, in the form of Gayatri Menon, Tara Elizabeth, and Mydhili Manoj.
“We started talking on Instagram, and from there decided we would collaborate.” Arun explains, “I created a group with a lot of people, 90% of whom have never met each other.”
In just a month, the Instagram page had amassed a following of over 12,000 people, and the Aesthetic Kunjamma team grew from 4-5 to over 50. This robust team is chock-full of talent from across industries, with experts in the fields of art, photography, cinematography, animation, visual effects, graphics design, video editing, writing, and more. “We now have members from all around the country,” Arun explains, “People from Mumbai, Chennai, and all over- We discuss things and do things together. That’s how we roll.”
When asked, Arun explains that there are more benefits than drawbacks to working with people that had never physically met. “We get fresh ideas, we get to talk to interesting people, we get more exposure even while sitting at home.” Arun explains, “We make fewer mistakes,”
The collaborative genius of Aesthetic Kunjamma caught our eye here at TheVibe just a month ago, when we happened across a carousel of poster designs, which reimagined Netflix’s dramatised television-biopic, Narcos, which chronicles and illustrates the rise of the Columbian cocaine trade, championed by none other than infamous drug-lord Pablo Escobar, with a uniquely Indian twist. The poster, entitled Narcos Madras, features a rare image of South Indian cinema legend, Rajinikanth, in the role of Escobar.
“This is how we finalise our ideas, sometimes we work backwards from a blockbuster film title, or a TV show like Narcos, and find parallels with Indian personalities.” Arun explains, “Other times, we find rare pictures like this one of Rajinikanth, and fit the film or title to the image.”
Inspired by a Malayalam word that translates to “Aunty”, Aesthetic Kunjamma aims to bring a taste of old-world charm to our current age of cinema.
“This generation doesn’t know much about retro aesthetics, about old films and movies, old characters, and old directors. People will easily recognise Narcos, but they probably wouldn’t know which films we used stills of for our creatives.” Arun explains, “We wanted to bring a little bit of this old film culture to the new generation, and make them admire it.”
To Arun, this love of old-world cinema is deeply personal, and rooted in childhood memories of films of such giants as Stanley Kubrick and more, who were able to make use of what little equipment they had to make films that, Arun explains, make modern cinema seem dull in comparison. “If people like Kubrick made these films with the equipment they had then, imagine what they would do if they were here now?” Arun ponders, “This is an awareness page, not an art page,”
Having arrested the attention of a legion of followers, Aesthetic Kunjamma’s retro style and quirky ideas have also caught the attention of filmmakers and personalities across the nation, with the collaborative being commissioned for work on a number of Malayalam films, a Tamil web-series, a number of short-films, as well as an album cover.
We at TheVibe applaud this unique collaborative of 20-something-year-olds, who are using social media as a tool for artistic expression and communication. We cannot wait to see what they do next!
All images used in this article are courtesy of Arun Ajikumar and Aesthetic Kunjamma, and belong rightfully to their original owners.
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