Devis, Devas and Divas 
- Sunil Kothari 
Photo: Vipul Sangoi  
April 19, 2007 

Devis, Devas, Divas: An exhibition of photographs of dancers by Vipul Sangoi 
Attic Gallery, near Regal cinema, Connaught Place, New Delhi 

Vipul Sangoi is a London based photographer. As a student at National Design Institute (NID), Ahmedabad, in 1982, he photographed Pandit Birju Maharaj in a live performance the first time. Since then he has photographed several dancers within India and abroad. His photographs have appeared in dance press and are in the collection of London's Theatre Museum.   

As a consultant for his own Raindesign consultancy, Vipul has worked in communication strategy planning, graphic and website design and photography. He has designed Pulse, UK's premier south Asian dance magazine and the graphics for a South Asian dance website based in London. He has designed posters of Amjad Ali, Shubha Mudgal and many well- known dancers and musicians. Dancers and musicians have used his photographs for their publicity brochures. He has worked extensively for NGOs and corporations in India and UK. He has graduated from London College of Communication after his graduation from NID. 

His recent exhibition at Attic drew a large crowd of dancers whom he has photographed over several years and also recently. The dialogues that ensued between the dancers and the photographer and the others interested in visual arts and photography, threw light on several aspects of dance photography. 

Anita Ratnam in 'Vaitharani - the crossing'
Of the several tastefully framed colour photographs, those of the Kuchipudi duo, Raja and Radha Reddy, another dancing couple the Sridhars from Bangalore, the legendary dancer Ramli Ibrahim from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, photographed in the early morning in soft light at the Matri Mandir, Pondicherry, of C V Chandrashekhar at a Manchester dance workshop, of Chitra Sundaram in London, and of Madhavi Mudgal, Leela Samson were quite refreshing and drew attention of the cognoscenti. Anita Ratnam in her contemporary work, Sushmita Banerjee's foreign student in Kathak, and Anusha Subramanyam's arresting photograph showed Vipul in command of his vision and an awareness of not falling into a rut. Exploring, using the technical advances, innovating and creating freshness, he has a sizeable collection of dance photos, which deserve to be seen in a bigger venue. 

Dance photography is a special field. Avinash Pasricha has become synonymous with dance photography. It has inspired many young photographers to take to dance photography seriously. 

What draws one's attention immediately is that Vipul has steered clear of getting into a mould. He wishes to see that his are not stereotyped photos. In spite of the fact that his wife Anusha Subramanyam is a Bharatanatyam dancer, he has no false claims that he understands dance better. Like all photographers, he wishes to capture a moment in dance, not necessarily a correct pose, a complete movement. 

There are such photos, in particular of Leela Samson. He explained that technically he would not rate that photo as an outstanding one. But from the dance point of view, I think that it is an excellent dance photograph. There are some memorable photos of his, which I have seen in his collection.  One is of Leela Samson prostrating and offering pranam. You may not know it is Leela Samson's, unless you are told. But it has captured a feeling of surrender and does not require one to know who the dancer is. 

His photographs are taken during the live performances. What he has enjoyed in capturing the dance as he enjoys watching it, he shoots to share that joy. Since the Indian classical dances depict the stories of the Gods and Goddesses and the dancers fall into the category of Divas, the subtle commentary suggested in the title of his exhibition, has a touch of humour. I have seen many a diva not permitting him to take photographs. He takes it in his stride with a smile. 

I like his dance photographs for the freshness and an unassuming quality they exude, like the quality which Vipul exudes while arguing and discussing with the observers. I wish Vipul would study the photographs taken by Migdoll of Dance Magazine, New York and others to look at photographs which establish a signature for dance. He is not far from it. He has avoided being gimmicky when it is so tempting. I am convinced that he is his best critic. 

Dr. Sunil Kothari was Professor of Dance at the Rabindra Bharati University at Calcutta and the first to occupy the Uday Shankar Chair. A dance writer, roving critic, research scholar and author of many books, he is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by Kalanidhi Fine Arts of Canada, in March 2004, and Padma Shri. He is currently a Vice President of the World Dance Alliance, Asia Pacific, South Asia, representing India.