Arjun Kamath’s Anxiety Series Captures The Ugly And The Uglier Of Ordinary Indians’ Anxiety

Arjun Kamath’s Anxiety Series Captures The Ugly And The Uglier Of Ordinary Indians’ Anxiety
'The Anxiety Series', Arjun Kamath

“If anxiety were tangible, what would it look like?”

Would it engulf us like an invisible pyre, crackling and cackling at our incapacity? Or, would it pierce through our eardrums, deafening us with the barrage of noise — trumpets being played by faceless people to our faces as we weep, desperately begging them to stop?

Where would it seep out of?

Our own bodies, as we languish inside — imprisoned, tethered forever? A missed call, a doorbell, what if it were to jump out of our laptop — a reminder that the article or the project we procrastinated will never forgive us? It will get out and exterminate us. Tit for tat?

Or, would it eat us alive? Picking at the soft mounds of flesh, devouring it until we’re gone or changed?

No, that would be letting go too easy, wouldn’t it?

Would it shame us? Punish us? Make us pay it back for every smile we have cracked, every tune we have hummed so far? Would it make us surrender till we can’t take anymore and so we just shrug our shoulders and follow it, let it take us where it does?

As we head towards the end of the Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s accept that anxiety is real. A lot of people brush it off saying that it’s merely us ‘overthinking’. However, to people who constantly deal with anxious thoughts — thoughts that emerge out of the most mundane conversations, but seem to engulf our sense of self, our confidence, the love we carry inside — it’s real and it’s all of the aforementioned. It’s not like we don’t know how to be happy. Truth is, we do. We are happy people, but we are also people who constantly deal with anxiety, and it manifests itself in myriad ways. It’s difficult to explain what triggers it, but it descends like a heavy feeling and engulfs me, leaving me with trembling fingers, fear, doubt, and tears.

For some, it’s a moment, for some others, it’s years and years of pain.

And what else has the power to answer all our questions and tell our story but art?

Acclaimed photographer and filmmaker Arjun Kamath, who has also been through this experience, brought together eight stories to show the world what anxiety looks like. Not a believer in tall claims like his work having the capacity to change the world, Arjun’s only hope with his project was to speak to someone who might need it, or inspire someone who might care to find resonance. It’s to be mentioned that besides everything else that Arjun Kamath’s ‘The Anxiety Series’ does, it shifts the global gaze to India and shows ordinary Indian people dealing with anxiety. This primarily includes people who don’t have a platform to express themselves.

In his own words, “Shot in Bengaluru, India, ‘The Anxiety Series’ broaches the concomitants of anxiety, translating both volatile and perennial fears of its victims into a vibrantly pictorial and poetic narrative. The series also resonates with the condition of the current generation as well as coincides with the bleak state of our current world.”

In 2020, as the world reels under numerous ongoing crises, ‘The Anxiety Series’ acquires renewed meaning and relevance.

Says Arjun about his self-funded project, “In May 2019, I wandered into the dismal world of anxiety, exploring the muted obliteration it causes. I observed family members and close friends, consulted a few mental health practitioners and explored my own encounters. My personal experience of it left me utterly withered and I was distressed to realise that there are people out there who have it much worse.”

He further recalls how all of that helped him carve the unique characters he portrayed in his photo series. “This led me to flesh out unique characters dealing with lashes of mild to clinical anxiety and panic attacks,” he continues. Each of his eight characters personifies different manifestations of anxiety.

After six months of research, ideation, and shoot, ‘The Anxiety Series’ was born.

A collection of eight pictures and poems, Arjun’s series revolves around the lives of eight fictional characters, each afflicted with a different level of anxiety. Almost theatrical in appeal, the pictures seem to capture the real face of anxiety with great precision. He takes up characters who we don’t otherwise think about when we say ‘mental health’.

Amongst others, his list of characters includes an old patriarch, someone who if you met in real life, you would probably think he exudes an aura of command or authority, a to-be bride who is supposed by all to be happy, if anything, ‘shy’, about her upcoming wedding, a prosperous upper-class widow who throws fancy tea-parties, and an ordinary housewife who seemingly ‘loves’ cooking food and caring for her family.

The chief pillar of Arjun’s series is his empathetic storytelling. The intensity of his photos is plated with delicate lyrical storytelling. “The foremost challenge,” Arjun says, “was to materialise the emotions and give them tangibility. This combination of photographs and poetry taps the lives of eight fictional characters, each subsisting in a distinct situation, dealing with dissimilar emotions. The stories go deeper in themselves too, exploring misadventures like PTSD, bullying, body-shaming, and more.”

The combination of impassioned poetry with beautiful photography results in images that are so real that we can’t help but find ourselves in them. Laced with familiar insecurities and memories, these stories fill one with a sense of victory over finally having found someone who understands what it feels like.

Someone who does not judge when we say that we feel our laptops are out to get us. Someone who knows how the seemingly ‘perfect’ mannequins seem to taunt us when we take off another pair of trousers that doesn’t fit us. In doing all of this, Arjun’s art does exactly what art does. It saves us. It helps us.

Says Arjun, “ The stories are all set in India, parts of where crucial topics like anxiety and depression still go undermined. However, these emotions are universal and so are the prejudices attached to them. Hence, this series is an effort to reach out to a larger mass, communicating the gruesome effects of anxiety.

It’s also an attempt to empathise with the victims by giving them a voice. I believe that right now, this subject needs to be pressed upon more than ever. I hope my work brings empathy for those who are locked down and struggling to cope with reality and the agony of their own mind. I want them to know that they’re not alone, and this too shall be history someday.”

Arjun tells Homegrown that all of the locations and props used during the shoot were original or made from scratch. The masks were painstakingly made by stylist Wardha Ahamed.

Several members on his team were also close friends and people he has been working with for long. During our conversation, Arjun gratefully recalled how actor Shweta Tripathi had come down to Bengaluru, especially for the shoot.

Arjun wanted to express his raw emotions whilst keeping his work artistic, attractive, and relatable. He acknowledges his limitations in pointing out how despite all his research, he is only qualified to do so much as voice the issues out. This is why, he made sure that his ideas were conveyed with utmost accuracy — even when it meant playing with fire and turning the world upside down.

A perfectionist in his own right, Arjun believes that there is no room for mediocrity in his work. Great artists always come out of details, and that’s exactly what Arjun does. Having spent several years in the glamour industry, at this point, Arjun is all and only about producing finer art with deeper meaning and impact, and stopping at nothing short of perfection.

Team Credits:

Styling/Costumes- Wardha Ahamed
Make-up and Hair- Pragna Krishna, Priyanka R K, Sharanya Uday
Production Design- Studio Slip(Bangalore)
Assistant Director: Vinit Dodamani
Casting(Supporting Actors)- Suhail
Story, Creative Director, Photography, Poetry- Arjun Kamath

Actors: Ponappa Subbaiah, Shweta Tripathi, Mohammed, Ray R Dharma, Kalpana Rao, Yasmin Sait, Rt Kumar, Marie Padival, Arvind, Shreya Krishnan, and Venkat V Dhondale.

Arjun Kamath is an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker with 11 years of experience as well as a Masters degree in Film and Television Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, LA. His photo stories have previously been published by the United Nations, Daily Mail, Metro, Vogue, National Geographic, Buzzfeed and HuffPost, amongst others.

Find more about Arjun here.

Find The Anxiety Series on Instagram.

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