Published: 15th May 2018
PunchMittai is bringing Tamil pop art into the limelight and to your doorstep
Raghavi Chinnadurai’s eco-friendly pop art merchandise isn’t just good for Earth, but is doing its bit to popularise Tamil pop culture
I once overheard someone say, “In India, you become an engineer first and then decide what to do in life.” That didn’t make much sense to me a decade ago, but today, I acknowledge that the uncredited, long-forgotten owner of that quote is right. A few years after that moment of ‘enlightenment’, I met Raghavi Chinnadurai, an illustrator.
The 27-year-old has an art start-up called PunchMittai in Chennai, where she sells illustrated posters (both framed and unframed), mugs, bookmarks, story books and other quirky artsy products — that bring new-age zing and yen by using Tamil words and etymology.
Her art is catchy and if you’re a woman going through your quarter-life-crisis, no one will relate to these illustrations more than you. Now, wait for the best part — her products are eco-friendly and plastic free. She even uses recycled paper. Beat that! And by the way, Raghavi is also an engineering graduate.
I want to promote the concept of artist brands here in India. Many people have asked me to hire artists to do the illustrations, but I want to make sure that each product has a piece of me. This is a popular trend abroad
Raghavi Chinnadurai, founder, PunchMittai
Growing up as an only child, it is a given that you have a lot of free time. Little Raghavi used all that time to draw Pokemon characters and other designs on her bedroom wall and read Tamil literature. She never learnt art during her childhood, she tells us. “I never attended drawing classes. I could never do the normal landscapes. Art was always there in me, but I didn’t know that this could be a career. How ignorant I was!” she exclaims.
It was during her engineering days that she seriously considered a career in art. But by then, she was placed in an MNC. “I took up the job because my mom wanted me to give it a shot. But I quit it in six months,” Raghavi says. The next destination was Australia to study a design course at RMIT University, Melbourne. By then, she was certain about what she had to do and wanted to majorly deal with the design market. Soon after completing the course, she started doing freelance illustration and design. Her mother too was very supportive at this point.
All the art and merchandise are made out of eco-friendly materials. While the art popularises Tamil pop culture, it also uplifts local artisans
But that had its own drawbacks, especially from an artist’s point of view. “You usually don’t get to follow your style while working for clients. So I wanted to do something on my own, where I could exhibit my own style,” she says. And that’s how PunchMittai was born.
The market is flooded with doodles, illustrations and design merchandise. Raghavi wasn’t living under a rock and she was well aware of that. So she wanted to do something different. “I didn’t want to litter the market with plastic. So I used wood for all the frames and recycled paper for all the notebooks and posters. Also, I collaborated with a few artisans in my locality who are good, but aren’t very well off,” she says, adding, “The wooden frames are made by one such artist. He usually makes plastic frames, but makes customised frames for me.”
Story time: Raghavi has also illustrated a book called Little lizard’s ten fun tales, written by Prakrithi Anand
When we glance through the range of products, we see a lot of illustrated phrases in Tamil. Raghavi tells us the reason. “I always did my designs in my own style. That often reflected me and the things in my mind. I’m neither an extrovert nor am I very funny. Also, as an unmarried woman in her mid-20s, you go through a lot. Art is the only way through which I express myself. Tamil is my mother tongue and that helped me connect more with my art,” says the ardent admirer of Tamil literature. She also tells us how she doesn’t get much time to read many books these days, owing to which, she makes a lot of spelling errors — Something she isn’t proud of at all.
Why is the start-up called PunchMittai, I wondered. “I thought of panjumittai, which means candy floss in Tamil. But that domain name wasn’t available. So, I tried some wordplay here and finally came up with PunchMittai,” she laughs.