Lunch Box!

The Dvibhumi Webstore Sale!

Posted on October 24, 2016 by Vyshnavi Doss | 0 Comments

How to apply the discount code:

Enter the code dvibhumilove during check out (the prompt appears when you arrive on the address page). After entering the code, click “apply”.

A few policies we’d like you to note:

This is a webstore-only sale event

The discount is only for purchases made via the website. Bank transfers and cash payments are not accepted at this time

If the "add to cart" tab does not appear on a particular product, it means it is currently out of stock

The discount applies to the price of the product and not to shipping charges. Shipping charges are auto-calculated and added at check out

In-person viewing or trial requests cannot be taken at this time

Unpaid bookings of products are not accepted. Orders are processed upon receiving payment.

Purchased products may not be exchanged

If products are damaged during shipment, refunds will be processed if pictures of the damage are submitted to within three days of receiving the products

The sale ends 12 Midnight Singapore Time on 2 Nov 2016

Person of Interest: Maxima Basu, Costume Designer

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Vyshnavi Doss | 1 Comment

MAXIMA BASU started her career as an assistant to Danny Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire, and soon forayed into costume design with her keen eye for characterisation. She is known for layering her costumes that brings forth the inner turmoil and journey of each character. Her work includes Peepli Live, Ram-Leela and Bajirao Mastani, Filmfare and Screen Awards in 2016, and the Guild Award and Screen Award in 2015 for Ram-Leela. 

I met Maxi in college when I was doing a course in advertising and she, in films. In a world rife with manufactured opinions and confirmation bias, I’ve always admired her ability to keep an open mind, embrace the unfamiliar and reach out to people. Perhaps that's what makes her work complex and layered. 

PERSON OF INTEREST is a continuing series of informal chats with fellow independent thinkers bound by a common desire to create new meaning. Dvibhumi Lunch Box is my dabba of mental nourishment and I'm sharing it with you. Tuck in! - Vyshnavi


What do you love the most about your line of work? 

Costume design is usually around a story, for characters which have life, for people who have a past and a goal within the movie or a drama that is written. That’s the part which fascinates me as it does not entail glamourising a lifeless object. It may sometimes require you to make things uglier. I find it purposeful, and meaningful. It may require restraint many times, to put the right amount of ingredients and not overdo it. I find it mindful, and it keeps me fulfilled emotionally because it demands travelling through many experiences, research material and emotions to arrive at a perfect character sketch. That is important to me as I need my work to be meaningful. Also, I am not under any immediate pressure to sell my art, so the liberty of visualising at freewill is a pleasure. Artistically, I can’t complain. I have had the opportunity to work with some great minds, and I have had great artistic encounters, but sometimes you have to understand the commerce of film making and stick to basics. I feel I am a fairly undefined person artistically. I don’t have a very strong artistic angst that gets challenged, so I flow well. I am more an experiential sort of a person, so in that sense, the job really suits me.



But you studied films. Not fashion design... 

“Costume Designer” still sounds strange, because I never aimed to be one. But I love stories, I love imagining different characters, I love fabrics, I love physically working with colours and dyes. I love metals, leather, earth and clay. Costume design merges everything. I only understood while working for films as an assistant director that I am not a player of words or images, but of physical elements. Visually merging all these elements to make beautiful footage gives me a kick. 


You have a very diverse portfolio that includes theatre productions, dressing up stars, Ram Leela, Peepli Live, Bajirao Mastani and now Dangal. Is there something that defines your approach to work? 

It is very easy to change my perspective. I really flow with suggestions and insights that come from different people be it my directors, assistants or workers. I don’t stress on my unique approach. To create harmonising concepts is more important to me than to struggle to make my independent idea come through. If I feel very strongly about something, I really push for it, but the aim is to always work in harmony with the environment. I believe any artistic attempt will have a certain individuality that comes through. But it should happen naturally. There is a story, and there is a story teller. I am an extended arm of the storyteller. I need to understand the vision of the film and the filmmaker. Once that is in place, the real work starts. I have never had problems gelling with my directors or actors, because there is a premise that we work on. And each film director or actor that I have worked with has been so different from the other that there always has been something new to learn. I try not to stick to the same kind of things. Adaptation is the name of the game. For every project you set up a tiny industry that gets dismantled at the end of it. And then you start again! 


So how do you go about building a wardrobe for a film?  

Building a wardrobe starts the moment I get my brief. If it reminds me of a charm in my closet, a textile patch I saw somewhere in the past which or whatever influence I might have at that time, I try to bring it all together. I take a lot of time to feel, absorb and research my characters. I procure what I need. Ageing and layering are very important for me and that comes next. I put it all together on a dummy and then I make my final garment and look. Multiply that with all the characters and envisioning them in their set ups, and the wardrobe is ready.   



Looking beyond films, where do you go for inspiration?                                             

It is so varied. I like Seurat, Monet, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Freida Kahlo, sculptors like Botticelli, nothing unusual really. But I am a traveller, and I really learn from my experiences with people and textures that I come across. I am a naturalist of sorts, a pantheist maybe.  I love tribal rural arts of India, and I try and follow all sorts of installation artists. In fashion, I really admire Alexander Mc Queen’s art, I follow Rohit Bal and Sabyasachi. My choices are very straight and classic. I like tradition rich art with an element of twist.  I love the rich cultural heritage of our country, and my land inspires me the most. There is so much I owe to my roots. At the same time, I admire the western tradition of preservation and attention to detail. I love history. I love stories about kingdoms and ancestries. So I keep reading about them. I like doing handicrafts. I like travelling. I am a dreamer, a floater. I never stick to any one thing that can be called my passion. 


Being an independent creative is often glamourised. How difficult is it?

I might be one of the luckier ones who hasn't had it very hard. Personal challenges have to do with garnering more skills as I have not been trained in costume design. I have had to learn everything on my own. But I have been quick at it. Professionally, there is a constant struggle to do a different kind of script or a different set up. I really work hard so that I have varied body of work. As an independent creative you have to deal with the lack of stability, not having a constant income and the lack of control on your personal time.


What is next for Maxima Basu?

A lot more films, more stories, more worlds. I eventually want to work on my independent label, but I am yet to find true inspiration and channels for it. It needs to have a wider social meaning. It will happen when its time comes. I also want to have a strong and happy family and be surrounded by my loved ones.


(All pictures published with the kind permission of Maxima Basu.)

Posted in Costume Designer, Films, India, Person of Interest, Visual Arts

Person of Interest: Manasa Prithvi, Interior Product Designer

Posted on May 01, 2016 by Vyshnavi Doss | 0 Comments

MANASA PRITHVI started Ira studio in 2012 when she sensed that the Indian crafts industry was stagnating with cheap imitations and archaic mediocrity. Adapting and developing antiquated traditions with contemporary minimalist sensibilities, she combines the dichotomy between these two design worlds in her work. 

Manasa and I discovered each other's work on the internet. She interviewed me late 2015 for her own website, a thinking exercise that I thoroughly enjoyed. Naturally I am taken in by her work; I relate deeply to her values of understated elegance, restrained luxury and Indian minimalism.  

PERSON OF INTEREST is a continuing series of informal chats with fellow independent thinkers bound by a common desire to create new meaning. Dvibhumi Lunch Box is my dabba of mental nourishment and I'm sharing it with you. Tuck in! - Vyshnavi


You studied at the University of Arts, London. What prompted you to come to India and set up a craft based design business in India?

Well, to be honest, I had to come back to India- it was very expensive to get a visa to stay back in the UK. But, the other thing is that I didn’t want to anyway. Towards the end of my Masters programme, the idea to start Ira Studio had been seeded in my head, and I was itching to come back to set it up. I had very clearly understood the design space I wanted to be in. I saw ways and reasons to work with the craft industry that had inspired me in the past and was the reason I wanted to get into design in the first place.

Madras Trays combine simplicity with functionality, with strips of brass inlaid in Teak wood to echo the aesthetics of the quintessential Madras checks of the South. Source: Ira Studio

I wanted our crafts to be more functional and relevant to today’s times, and hence the desire to sustain it by re-creating an identity for them through my work. And, ultimately it is the very simple, but fulfilling reason of wanting to design, work with hand processes and create beautiful pieces that fuelled me to set up Ira Studio.


What is the essence of contemporary Indian design and how do you bring it alive in your work? 

I think the idea of what contemporary Indian design is, is constantly evolving. I can’t speak for anybody else, but to me it is a relevance to the times we live in, infused with an essence of our culture and tradition. Aesthetically speaking, it is about a quiet minimalism- not clinically stark, but with warmth and elegance. This minimalism is not new, and it is certainly not Western. We had our Indian idea of minimalism in the past too, in our crafts such as in traditional metal ware, mud houses, some of the simple cotton saris or white dhotis. Yes, there is also an ornate, decorative side, but we often forget the simplicity we found in our own backyard. What we are doing with contemporary Indian design is just Indianising the global (which we are pros at)! 

I make my products functional with a very reductionist approach to the design, retaining the important essence of the craft technique.

 The Tekku stools handcrafted in brass and wood using the Indian sheet metal technique and tarakashi (metal inlay technique). Source: Ira Studio


What is the Ira Studio way of creating something? 

The initial process involves looking at a particular craft technique as design inspiration. I then do a fair bit of research into the craft, its techniques, the design repertoire, the cultural background, and the craftsmen. This involves travelling to places where the craft is popular and interacting directly with the artisans, sometimes documenting the process. I see how best I can expand the products of the craft to a contemporary context, and I try to marry my aesthetics with functional design and tradition.

 Tekku Stool with brass inlay pattern, in the making. Source: Ira Studio


We do a few samples or prototypes and proceed with the final piece. The process is often very organic and usually the final design isn’t set in stone. So, during the process the design often changes with either inputs from the artisan or with a bit of experimentation. It’s often holding back on creating too much and letting things just be. 

For example, our Dokra Lights were inspired by the simple process of construction of typical Dokra moulds with beeswax and their thread like texture. The designs of our Copper Tables were inspired by the way huge copper and brass pots are indigenously and crudely made. We asked the artisans to stop their process half way, to achieve the ridges. The Hand Beaten Brass Lights are an obvious inspiration from nature.

 Dokra lights. Source: Ira Studio


Who are your clients?

Our clients are world over, mainly from Europe and India. I find that there is a real, true appreciation for the handmade. Since we keep our products original and limited in numbers, this adds value to the product. There’s a special appreciation for the unique characters of a handmade product- the sublime marks of the maker, and the fact that no two pieces can ever be alike. They are happy to know the product they keep in their home cannot be found very easily everywhere else. Our products are designed to be global, with subtle reflections to the Indian artistic heritage. Hence, they suit a variety of spaces, despite the geographical boundaries.


Where does traditional handcrafting based design stand in a world of low cost fast fashion, 3D printing? Do you think handcrafted holds commercial promise?

I think it’s unfair to compare the two. Mass production and hand production are two very different kinds of processes. However, it is unfortunate when designers mass manufacture utilising skilled artisans, as cheap labourers. The essence of handcrafted products is entirely different. And, I am confident there is a market for it. People do appreciate and value handmade. There is a certain quality and aesthetic that is achieved by handcrafted products, the labour intensive techniques, and the attention and love given to each piece makes the product soulful; a machine made, mass manufactured product lacks this quality.


 Making lights using the Indian sheet metal technique. Source: Ira Studio

We use technology to promote our work, and bridge the gap between designers and consumers. Not everything can be handmade nor should everything be driven by technology. There is a space for slow design and one for fast production. We require both, so there shouldn’t be a competition between the two types of production. I believe both kinds can co-exist in harmony in today’s market.


What learning can you share with those starting out an independent craft-based design business?

Be patient. Working with crafts, that are hand-driven and not machine driven can be unpredictable. Artisans sometimes can be unpredictable; the design outcome can be unpredictable. Making a product takes time. Embrace slow design in all its glory. And, I cannot stress this enough- be original, be authentic. Your designs and your business should be your unique voice. 


What are your ambitions for Ira Studio?

Explore more crafts and make bespoke products for beautiful spaces. And perhaps, someday, open a quaint little retail space.






Posted in Architecture, crafts, Decor, India, Interior design, Person of Interest

Curiosity: Chettinad's connection with The Straits

Posted on April 13, 2016 by Vyshnavi Doss | 1 Comment


No, that isn't a picture of a Chettinad mansion, but it just might be a close relative.

I spent Saturday afternoon looking at Karaikudi architecture on the internet. Chettinad vignettes have found their way into my consciousness quite incidentally: through the mainstream of cinema, grand wedding halls, homes of affluent family-friends and restaurants. I haven't actually visited the heritage towns of Karaikudi. My most intimate interaction with the Chettiar legacy has, interestingly, been here in Singapore: through the streets named after them, temples they built, the restaurants they started and the Thaipusam festivals they championed.

{ Perspectives of an enthusiast, not an expert. I'd like to hear from you if you have something to add or clarify. Leave a comment! }

There are some fascinating stories on the internet about the community if you so wish to read (a few links at the end of this post). The Nattukkottai Chettiars were the venture capitalists of their time; they sailed to trading hubs in Southeast Asia and Africa and established themselves as trusted financiers with a structured money lending practice.  They were a wealthy, progressive lot, with a fondness for risk taking that extended to design and decor.

Chettiars in Singapore conducted their business on Chulia Street and Market Street, in shop houses which combined European and vernacular architecture. Source

While browsing pictures of the mansions, I instantly recognized the ceramic tiles. And you would too, if you’ve ever visited Singapore, Malacca, Penang or KL.

 Periya Veedu in Chettinad with Majolica art nouveau tiles and European style floor tiles Source

They're known as Peranakan tiles in parts of Southeast Asia, but they’re actually Majolica art nouveau tiles from Europe (there were varieties imported from Japan too). The Peranakans – another fascinating community born of immigrant-local marriages and transformative cultural cross-pollination – espoused them in this part of the world.

 Shop house on Petain Road with Majolica art nouveau tiles, Singapore

Their shop houses are a playful composite of European and vernacular styles. Full length windows co-exist with local wood carving; the stucco features local themes; and European floor and wall tiles and pilasters populate the basic vernacular construction. There are several variants of shop house ornamentation, making it nearly impossible to present a single one that typifies the style.

 Straits Eclectic Style with ornate stucco, Lorong Bachok, Singapore Source

The Chettinad mansions follow a similar syncretism it seems: with eye-popping colours, stained glass and heavy stucco ornamentation, possibly emulating the Straits Eclectic style of Southeast Asia. 

 Inner hall of Periya Veedu with paintings, ceramic tiles and stucco Source

Art nouveau railings stand alongside local style balustrades; and some bungalows use both European and Athangudi floor tiles.

 Eye-popping colours and art nouveau inspired balustrades seen in the courtyard of the Chettinad Mansion Source

Clearly, imported ornamentation was a status symbol, as in the case of the Straits Eclectic houses. And according to some sources, the Chettiars employed local artisans who expertly reproduced some of the European accents used in their mansions.

 Vivid colours and art nouveau balustrades of the Pinang Peranakan Museum Source

Now I haven’t really managed to find material on the origin of Athangudi tiles. Could it be, then, that the tiles that Karaikudi is now famous for, is a cultural import from Europe via Southeast Asia?

Further reading/viewing:

Asia One: Singapore’s First Venture Capitalists

Chettiar’s Temple Society, Singapore: About Nattukkottai Chettiars

Charukesi Ramadurai: Film Trail in Chettinad

WSJ: The End of Punjabi Baroque

Thukral and Tagra: Punjabi Baroque


Posted in Architecture, Decor, Interior design, Singapore, Southeast Asia

Person of Interest: Nitya Rao, Visual Ethnographer

Posted on April 01, 2016 by Vyshnavi Doss | 1 Comment


NITYA RAO is a Boston/Bangalore based multimedia journalist, specializing in documentary and wedding photojournalism. She's also my college friend and a fellow Bangalorean. And I love that she brings contrasting worlds and disciplines together in her work in meaningful ways. 

PERSON OF INTEREST is a continuing series of informal chats with fellow independent thinkers bound by a common desire to create new meaning. Dvibhumi Lunch Box is my dabba of mental nourishment and I'm sharing it with you. Tuck in! - Vyshnavi 


How does a journalist, documentary photographer, wedding photographer and UX designer, fit into one person? 

I like meeting new people, so that is the driving force behind all the work that I do. I thrive off traveling alone, making conversation with strangers, and I am often consumed by a sense of restlessness when I have stayed in a place for more than a few months. I think these personal quirks lend themselves really well to the kind of work that I enjoy doing. I'd say that curiosity and propensity for risk-taking and a love for art and artifacts are the dots that connect each of these creative pursuits. And of course there are technical aspects common to journalism, photography and UX research - like good interviewing skills, building a narrative and the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the other. I'd really like to be known as a visual anthropologist and ethnographer whose preferred medium is photography.  


Which has been your most fulfilling assignment so far? 

It is still a work in progress, but the election project I have been working on since 2014 has been a lot of fun. I have been traveling around the country photographing prospective MP's and MLA's on their election campaigns. I've hung out with Rigzin Jora in Nubra and Leh, with Kiran Bedi in Krishna Nagar, Delhi, with Arun Jaitley in Amritsar, Smriti Irani in Amethi and Shashi Tharoor in Trivandrum.

Each journey has been special and really humbling. I have seen so much of India, yet there is so much more to see, and so much that I don't understand. Campaigning is incredibly high octane, exhausting work, so it is a bit of a physical endurance challenge as well to keep your energy levels up through the process. Eventually, I hope to produce a body of work that documents my 'Great Indian Road Trip', viewed in the context of politics, electoral campaigns and the quest for power.


Your wedding photography is very different.  

I approach wedding photography as social or cultural anthropology. I'm not really interested in focusing on individuals. My motivation has never ever been to make pretty pictures of anyone. That's just a byproduct of what I do and it helps fund my travel and personal projects. I use weddings as an opportunity to observe how families function as units, to study the effect of income, education, technology, pop culture, fashion on how people celebrate.

Anthropologists call this participant observation and it just so happens that my participants are brides and grooms. I have no formal training in anthropology or social science research, but I try and practice all the techniques anthropologists use while doing fieldwork when shooting a wedding i.e. fly on the wall observation, rich media documentation, contextual inquiry etc.

Birth, death and marriage rituals are the ultimate agni pariksha of what an individual, family or community stands for. What's interesting is that this process of observation has helped shape my own identity, so it goes much deeper than following the bride. Indian weddings in the U.S. are especially interesting to document, because NRI's are often caught between the demands of their own culture while navigating a new one. Weddings then become an excellent opportunity to observe social phenomena like assimilation, cultural appropriation etc. I always leave these events feeling richer for the experience.



You work alone. What guides you? 

I use close family and some friends as a sounding board for ideas. I also invest in a lot of workshops and master classes for mentorship from other established artists. I also like going to museums and galleries, read books and watch films for inspiration. I do like to photograph on my own - in fact, I think it is necessary for photographers to work alone. Where I like getting help is at the editing table and figuring out what form the photos should take. A really good editor makes all the difference in helping you sequence and refine your work. I still haven't found that person. 


What other challenges do you face as an independent creative? 

Career-wise, I suffer from the paradox of choice. I am envious of people who can focus on one thing and do it well. I don't have a lack of talent or drive, but there are so many things I think are cool that I am in constant fear that I'll end up being a dabbler in each and a master in none. 


Guilty pleasures?

Watching The Newshour with Arnab Goswami (there, I said it!), Corner House Ice cream, Ice N Spice burgers and random Netflix TV shows. 


And finally, what's next for Nitya Rao?

As far as my career goes, I have decided to focus more on being a UX researcher and acquire some formal training in social science research. 

As much as I'd like to be a full-time photographer, my reasoning is that if I had some other job that could provide me with a steady flow of income, I could use that to further my artistic pursuits without the pressure of taking on commercial and editorial assignments. I am also learning how to code and am currently thinking about creative ways to use the web to present my election-related work. 





(All images belong to Nitya Rao and have been used with her permission)

Posted in Ethnography, India, Multimedia artists, Person of Interest, Photography, Visual Arts