ACROSS A LARGE PUDDLE that fills the centre of an unpaved alley in Delhi’s Khirki Extension there’s a gate labelled “KHŌJ”. It’s the first Friday of July, and the art space KHŌJ is hosting a screening of Pakistani horror films as part of its (Re)building Project Series, ongoing as the venue renovates and expands.
But after leaping over mud to reach the building, it becomes clear that the entrance is locked. No light is on inside. Behind the cracks in the gate is a room filled with plywood and assorted metal junk. Just then, a fruitseller hanging out along the low wall to the right of the closed gate decides to push his bicycle cart onward. A previously unnoticed side entrance appears behind him—and a volunteer materialises to usher confused visitors past scaffolding to the first floor.
Inside, digital projectors sit ready to begin the show, lighting up empty rooms. As rain begins to drizzle into KHŌJ’s courtyard, Bangalore-based writer and researcher Achal Prabhala steps up to introduce the movies and briefly sketches out the three feature films that will be shown simultaneously that evening, along with a documentary on subcontinental horror.
A crowd of serious-looking women in flowing white clothing, and bearded, cigarette-smoking men end up in a breezy open room on the first floor, watching Zinda Laash (Living Corpse), a 1967 take on the Dracula story, complete with jazz-fueled nightclub scenes, trench coats and long drives set to ‘La Cucaracha’. Meanwhile, a ground-level passage filled with metal support struts hosts Zibahkhana (Hell’s Ground), a 2007 gore film directed by Omar Ali Khan (an Islamabad-based horror aficionado and the proprietor of a chain of ice-cream parlours). The story of affluent young Pakistanis on a road trip gone wrong catches the attention of the men working on KHŌJ’s renovations. Across the courtyard, Aurat Raj (Reign of Women) flickers by in a side room where an old piano and a few dismantled shelves sit in the corner. Its bizarre collision of crossdressing, midgets and military stock footage attracts a sparser crowd.
But the (Re)building Project goes beyond B-movies. KHŌJ Studios in New Delhi has been under construction since late April, when workers started knocking down walls to combine the two buildings that the art association acquired room by room after moving to Khirki in 2002.
Sipping chai in KHŌJ’s temporary office a few blocks from the main building, co-curator ‘Andi’ Asmita Rangari explains the new theme: “The genre of horror films lent itself very well to this whole building which is under construction.” Fellow curator Charu Maithani adds: “We had been talking about doing it for the longest time, and I think now we just got the right setting.”
Just as the films complemented the site’s strange atmosphere, the other participants of the (Re)building Project have tailored their contributions to the present state of the building. For De-Construction Hymns, which Maithani curated in May, sound artist Hemant Sreekumar filled the space with audio and video feedback, and Akshay Raj Singh Rathore played with metaphors of construction. “Akshay was doing a sound and live art performance of breaking bricks,” recalls Maithani. “He was breaking bricks and powdering them, making a really fine powder so he could make a bigger brick out of it.” In an installation in place for one night in June, Asim Waqif played off the ongoing construction in KHŌJ’s courtyard by building a frame of dried elephant grass and filling the space with sound.
Work on the building will likely be finished by October, and KHŌJ should fully reopen by January 2013. Hopefully, one more (Re)building event will be held before work is wrapped up, but in a reversal of the fraught dynamic behind many renovations, the curators are facing slight opposition from an unlikely source. Andi explains that their contractor can get frustrated by the “day’s disruption or two days’ disruption” as they host each event. “He creates a lot of fuss,” says Maithani, laughing.