WELCOME TO THE ENCHANTED LIVING ROOM AT BARO
WORDS BY KRUTI DALAL
Our eyes followed the rays from the oil lantern; our ears absorbed every word that emerged from the darkness. The light was trained directly at the centre of the 15ft long scroll. There he was – Pabuji in his royal robes, holding court alongside his four faithful companions. To his right, the light illuminated his magnificent black mare, Kesar Kalami. Further down was the Sindhi town of Umarkot. The bhopa’s clear baritone filled the night with tales of Pabuji’s glorious adventures, but I couldn’t stop staring at the intricate phad, unconsciously imprinting every figure, every animal, every motif in my head.
I had never seen a phad outside of Rajasthan. Then I walked into BARO one afternoon to meet curator and co-founder Srila Chatterjee. No bhopa, no lantern, no audience. Mounted on a cream wall, surrounded by contemporary wooden furniture and modern light fittings, the scroll seemed to belong in this giant living room as much as it belonged in a tiny hamlet near Jodhpur. Perhaps this is what Srila means when she talks about making indigenous art cool – taking a piece out of its traditional environment and placing it in a more contemporary setting. Folk art has found its place over chevron sofas and Turkish carpets in many a SoBo drawing room, and Srila feels the young brigade is leading the change. “Many young people appreciate this art,” she says. “It comes at a price point that doesn’t scare them and they’re able to put it in their homes the same way they would a poster of a footballer or a Richard Avedon photograph. It just goes.”
What also goes is the delicious potpourri that greets you when you step inside the turquoise blue store at 12, Sun Mill Compound (BARO means twelve in Bengali). A high-backed armchair covered with traditional Suzani fabric from Uzbekistan sits snugly on top of an Afghani carpet looked over by elephants, cows, and owls from Ramesh Tekam’s Gond paintings. Vintage chandeliers, teak dining tables, a brass and wooden bar inspired by Art Deco, lacquered steel trunks, pattachitras from Bengal and Orissa – every corner of the store is magical.
About 80 to 85 per cent of the furniture is designed and made by BARO. The rest is vintage furniture that has been bought, transformed, restored, refurbished, and given new life in the workshop. Co-founder Siddharth Sirohi designs the furniture and runs the workshop, while Srila fronts the store and interacts with clients. “I think our personalities and interests have automatically balanced out,” says Srila. “Siddharth is very clearly the designer. I have great respect for his designs and I give my inputs. When he’s creating something new, he’ll ask my opinion.”
Srila is clearly the curator, the one with the discerning eye, creative mind, and a well-worn passport. “I’m not a designer and I make that very clear,” she says. “I’m a stylist. I can look at a space and do things with it. It doesn’t follow any CAD drawings. It just follows instinct.” Her instinct has been honed over the years in her various roles as film producer, co-founder/promoter of Blue Frog and director of Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. A master’s degree in business also helped a little. “An MBA is the most general degree in the world,” she says. “It just means you learn how to get the best out of everything or everyone around you, which is, in a sense, curating.” Doesn’t she ever want to hop over to the drawing board, try her hand at designing? Not really. “I don’t feel the need to say, ‘This is my design’,” she says. At present, Srila seems content in her role as “guardian of the BARO headspace.”
The folks at BARO seemed to have a packed schedule with events lined up until March 2018. A 10-day Rajasthani festival in collaboration with Wolf, a showcase of Delhi-based designers, the annual Christmas Bazaar, and a pop-up store in Jaipur are just some of the events on the anvil. The monthly Culture Grind with its unique performances, discussions, and cross-section of attendees is already a big hit. “I love to use our space for things that are not exactly accessible in Bombay and get people to see dimensions of the city that are so closed up,” says Srila. Which is why BARO is joining hands with Bombay Perfumery and Paper Planes to host an event to celebrate the launch of food magazine Gather with a perfume workshop and flavour-centric panel discussion. Events such as these blur the lines, attract like-minded people, and turn BARO into a giant living room, open to guests for the day.
Srila’s own living room is just as welcoming, filled with paintings, vintage furniture, and artifacts from far off lands. But her most treasured possessions are her five dogs. “There are a lot of things in my living room that I love,” she says, “but there’s very clearly only one thing that’s superbly precious, and it’s them. I cannot imagine my living room without Laila, Jomsom, Gengis Khan, Lyca, and Maya.” Jomsom, the mountain town in Nepal? “Yes, she’s from a village called Jhong near Jomsom.” Srila tells me the story about how Jomsum the short-legged bhutia dog made her way to Mumbai, while I indulge in some nostalgia involving shaggy Nepali puppies, green apple trees, and fresh cinnamon rolls at 14,000ft.
Forty minutes breeze by with talk of dogs, designs, and Iris Apfel. It’s time to haul myself from one of Siddharth’s plush couches. As Srila accompanies me to the stairs, I spot an intriguing piece of art from her own personal collection. Rows of tiny framed paintings – sunsets, abstract faces, logs, telephones. Is this for sale, I ask. “I always tell people to make me an offer I can’t refuse. I’m still waiting”, Srila says with a laugh as I walk down the stairs to be embraced by the giant living room at BARO.
The City Story is media partner for the event.