INTERVIEW: Indrajit Khambe

Fòcas Creative Director Arpita Shah interviews Fòcas India shortlisted artist Indrajit Khambe, a freelance photographer based in Kankavli, a town in west India, about his project Pehelwans Rising From the Soil.

© Indrajit Khambe

F: Pehelwani is a form of wrestling that dates back to the Mughal Empire. What drew you to photograph it today?

I: When I first went to the one of the old Talim (the schools where wrestlers live and train) in Kolhapur, I thought I have entered the 19th century. All the Talims are historic buildings and most of them are more than 100 years old. But in recent years most of the Talims are reconstructed and lose their original looks. Gangavesh talim is one of the oldest in Kolhpaur and it was refurbished last year. When I realised that the old Talim are history now it made me restless. I have some very beautiful pictures of Gangavesh talim before its refurbishment. But now it’s not as same as it was for the last 120 years. And this is happening rapidly with every Talim. Now we have left only 3 to 4 old ones and I have to document them as quickly as possible.

© Indrajit Khambe

F: The dynamic among the men is combative but it’s intimate as well. Is this project as much about contemporary masculinity in India as it is about a dying sport?

I: I have both things in to mind while I work on this project. But as I started talking to the Pehelwans, then I realised that this original Mughal form of wrestling will end in short time. Since the wrestlers like Shushil Kumar and Narshingh Yadav won Olympic medals, Khusti (wrestling) started to get back its lost glamour. But on the other hand traditional soil wrestling format is not allowed in international games, which are played on a mat. There is huge difference in playing tactics of both these forms. Young wrestlers are more interested in mat work. This is the biggest threat traditional soil wrestling have to face in coming time.

F: You say you look for stories in your own town, Kankavali, west India, so do you look for stories that speak particularly to the culture and people of west India?

I: My images convey a very small element of west Indian culture. India is diverse country and my place is a small part of the west. The place and culture in which I live only spreads about 50km in radius from my hometown. If you travel 50km south from my home then you will find Goa, where the language, people and even food are different. The main reason for working in my own town is that I haven’t earning anything from photography. My projects aren’t funded by anyone. I am passionate, but every passion must have its own economically sustainable model. I don’t have to travel and stay in hotels, and I get the freedom to work for a long time on my projects. Lack of money will never be a barrier to work for me. I documented my personal life issues and also made some photo essays focusing on to life of few of my friends whose stories are worth telling. I’ve been working on Pehelwan project for last 4 years. Kolhapur where this Talims exists is 130 km away from my home. But I never made a special trip to document this. Whenever I travelled Kolhapur for my office work, I used to take couple of hours in the afternoon to document the pehelwans. This is the formula which has worked for me in the last 5 years.

Indrajit khambe ( b.1981) is documentary photographer based in Kankavli, which is small town situated in south west of India near Goa-Maharashtra Border. He has been making images since 2012 and inspired by photographers like Josef Koudelka, Robert Frank and India’s Pablo Bartholomew.. His work has featured exhibited in Indian photography festival, Hyderabad in 2015 and 2016, and has had projects published in various magazines.