A Homegrown Photoseries Captures The Sisterhood Found In Local Beauty Parlours

Series capturing the essence of parlours, celebrating self-care and female bonds
Series capturing the essence of parlours, celebrating self-care and female bondsHarshini Boyalla & Lekha Rathnam

There's a certain magic to the humdrum. The unassuming beauty parlour on the corner, a scene of quiet transformation, becomes the stage for a photo series by Harshini Boyalla and Lekha Rathnam, aptly titled 'Let's go to the parlour?'

This series isn't a how-to guide about getting the perfect brows. It delves deeper, questioning societal beauty standards and the symbolism woven into a strand of hair. Harshini and Lekha themselves were shaped by these spaces – one witnessing her mother's parlour; the other watching her older sisters meticulously groom and fuss over clean-ups and waxing.

In order to bring this project to life, jumped into into the heart of a complex narrative that took them on a journey of self-discovery, empowerment, and even some reality checks through their visuals. Their mission was to capture the essence of parlours – not the upscale establishments or franchises, but the humble, homey spaces run by women that often double as community spaces.

They travelled to Mysore and the outskirts of Bangalore, knocking on over 20 establishments to capture stories, and roped their friends into their trips - all to capture authentic visuals that painted an accurate picture of the intertwined relationship between Indian women, beauty, and the spaces dedicated to it.

Through their lens, they ended up capturing much more than images; they captured stories of resilience, passion, and the relentless pursuit of building safe communities.

"I'm primarily an actor and very recently I've started exploring film. I was exploring hair as a symbol and what it means in one of my improvisations and it stuck with me. Because hair decides so much, especially in Asia. It does decide a lot about your gender and our concept of beauty even what your standards of beauty are, and so much about it was such a big symbol."

Harshini Boyalla

Their lens, however, extends beyond personal experience. These photos capture the essence of these small-scale sanctuaries in Bangalore and Mysore. These aren't just places for a clean-up; they're havens for self-care, a chance for women to step out, breathe, and claim their own kind of beauty. It is a celebration of female bonds. "We often have parlour dates," the captions tell stories. Friends like Meghana and Aditi turn pre-wedding jitters into a shared beautification ritual. The parlour becomes a space not just for grooming, but for laughter, gossip, and the comforting routine of sisterhood. The series isn't limited to patrons. It paints a portrait of the women who run these businesses, the "parlour aunties" and their assistants. These are women venturing out, taking charge, and building their own visions of success.

"We also think that these parlours are kind of disappearing and that they won't be around in the future because everything is transitioning into becoming to family and unisex salons. My mom literally had a ladies and children only parlour for like 20 years. I grew up in that space and I think that made this whole project super personal."

Lekha Ratnam

'Let's go to the parlour?' isn't just about aesthetics; it's about a space that transcends the mundane. It's a testament to the beauty of everyday routines, the power of female connection, and the quiet rebellion of defining beauty on one's own terms.

The exhibition opens today, on International Women's Day, and is a fitting tribute to the multifaceted world that unfolds within the walls of a neighbourhood parlour. The question "What did you make for lunch today?" is a simple a reminder that amidst the self-care and beautification rituals, the conversations about life and its ordinary wonders continue to flow.

You can also catch 'Let's go to the parlour?' as part of the 'WOMEN OUTDOORS' photography exhibition by the Kala Collective at the Goethe-Institut Chennai on March 8, 2024, at 5 pm.

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