When Malayalam actor Parvathy shared pictures of a photoshoot on her Instagram handle in September 2020, she received several comments, mostly from young men. The nine-part project, titled the 'Rhapsody series', featured her and Marathi actor Ketaki Narayan. They were photographed by Kerala-based documentary photographer Hasif Abida Hakim, who is the creative mind behind the work. “Are you portraying a same-sex relationship here? Is this a lesbian shoot? Is Parvathy playing the man? were some questions which popped up on the actor’s Insta handle,” Hasif tells TNM. The 32-year-old says that these questions are a byproduct of the viewers’ gaze, which is most often gendered.
The photos feature Parvathy in a weather-beaten look: no make-up, unplucked eyebrows, with a tan and frizzy hair. She clutches onto a camera which she uses to shoot Ketaki, who wears maroon lingerie and a long kimono robe. Hasif says that if viewers feel the photoshoot hints at a possible sexual relationship between the actors who play ‘Photographer’ (Parvathy) and ‘Muse’ (Ketaki), then it is their inability to move beyond the male gaze and explore thousands of other spaces shared by women. This could be a result of years of conditioning, he adds.
“Traditionally, a man sees a woman only as something to be lusted after or admired for her beauty. A person to emotionally or sexually connect with. And if two or more women are depicted, more often than not the space they share is sexualised in the man’s gaze. I want to shatter these notions and say, 'Look, this can be exactly what it depicts — just two women at work'. But, we are too keen to add sexual labels or gender stereotypes,” Hasif explains.
Photographer Hasif Abida Hakim
Explaining the way he works, Hasif says that he conceptualises his shoots entirely, from costumes to colours. "I generally use my wardrobe for inspiration and either alter my clothes, or get them recreated. What Parvathy and Ketaki are wearing too are from my collection," he says. The artist also wanted an old-school vibe to the series, and chose a colour scheme to that effect.
Hasif admits that over the course of his career, his understanding of relationships and spaces shared, both by men and women, has evolved. “I came to understand that beyond the male gaze, there lies a plethora of non-sexualized spaces shared by women that can be depicted through art. Two women can be just sitting, being, or just sharing a space which is uniquely theirs. In this pace, I am an outsider, and when I shoot, I realise that there is so much more unexplored territory to female bonding than what a conditioned man's (or woman's) mind allows.”
Through his work, Hakim seeks to erase sexual stereotypes in the way subjects are portrayed. And his subjects can be anything — he says. “I have men, women, trans women and trans men, animals you name it. And all I want is for people to see it for what it is — to look beyond your conditioning,” he says.