Raja Role-Play


Nikhil Chopra is a diverse artist who blurs the boundaries between theatre, performance, photography, sculpture and painting. Chopra creates fictional characters which form the basis of improvisations and photography, sometimes inhibiting performance characters for days on end (perhaps a contender to Daniel-Day Lewis’ Oscar hat-trick?). Born in Calcutta, in 1974, Chopra’s world of make-believe actually addresses serious questions regarding India’s colonial past.

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Chopra’s dressing up box is a larper’s wet dream. Top hats, tailcoats, jewelled turbans, crinoline dresses, twentieth century suits, flapper dresses and swords are just some of the props featured in his performances. So immaculate and exquisitely dressed are the characters that they look like ghosts of a bygone era, haunting galleries, disused warehouses and occasionally outdoor environments.

One decadent character you have to meet is Sir Raja, a flamboyant Indian prince. Sir Raja II (2006) sees the prince seated at the end of a 350 ft wine-red carpet beneath an ornate chandelier. Next to him is a table laden with exotic fruit. But Sir Raja is pensive, almost sad; for all his riches he seems unhappy and dines alone. The 350 ft carpet one must walk to reach the table suggests a walk into the past. Yet when the viewer arrives at the lonely table of the melancholic prince one questions the validity of revisiting bygone ages. Nostalgia is well and good but the prince’s dissatisfaction comments on the ultimate price of colonialism and excess.


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Chopra revisits the character of Sir Raja several times. What will I do with all this land? is a series of dramatic black and white photographs depicting the prince riding through his inherited estate in Kashmir. Once more, Sir Raja is alone.

But Chopra’s work is more than escapist role-play; much of his work is semi-autobiographical and questions India’s rich but troublesome history. Though fictional, Sir Raja was created from the artist’s personal memories, family history and folklore and ancestral homes.

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Chopra’s latest character, Yog Raj Chitrakar, is loosely based on his grandfather. Yog Raj Chitrakar appears in many guises throughout time; soldier, cartographer, artist, lover, draughtsman and, most compellingly, queen.

Nikhil Chopra will be performing Coal on Cotton from 5-7th July at the Manchester International Fesitval.

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