Ajay Chhabra on Nutkhut & The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Actor and director, Ajay Chhabra, spoke to DESIblitz about the company Nutkhut and their involvement in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pageant.

Ajay Chhabra on Nutkhut & The Queen's Platinum Jubilee

"We decided from the onset to make the greatest show possible"

With the celebration of The Queen’s prestigious Platinum Jubilee, many British companies are honouring Her Majesty in the Jubilee pageant, including Nutkhut.

The art-focused company was founded by British Asian artists Simmy Gupta and Ajay Chhabra.

Nutkhut mixes all crafts such as dance, film and performance, bringing inspirational stories to life about the British South Asian experience.

Fusing humour, mischief and eccentricity, the company have been impressing audiences for over 10 years.

Their performances span from Norway to China, from festivals to milestone events, presenting truly British and eccentric productions.

Therefore, as such a world-class platform, Nutkhut were invited to perform at The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pageant.

Her Majesty is the first British Monarch to celebrate over 70 years of service. So, Simmy and Ajay are producing a section of the procession titled ‘The Wedding Party’.

Inspired by The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Wedding, Nutkhut’s performance will feature a six-metre-high wedding cake as the stunning centrepiece.

The four tiers of the cake will represent the Silver, Golden, Diamond and Platinum Jubilees.

250 participants from all around the UK will bring an electrifying atmosphere to the ceremony.

Also, the show will have a vibrant Bollywood style featuring a specially designed Platinum Jubilee sari. This is to commemorate the strong South Asian presence within Britain.

As a focal point of the four-day celebration, Nutkhut will cleverly tell the story of the record reign and how society has evolved over this period.

So, DESIblitz caught up with Ajay Chhabra to talk about this monumental occasion and what he hopes the company will bring to this auspicious event.

Can you tell us a bit about Nutkhut and the type of work you do?

Ajay Chhabra on Nutkhut & The Queen's Platinum Jubilee

Nutkhut is led by two artists – myself and Simmy Gupta who work across art forms.

The work is immersive, participatory led and engages with both contemporary culture and hidden histories.

Nutkhut means ‘mischief’ in Sanskrit and both Simmy and I grew up with very few formal artistic opportunities or cultural experiences.

Nutkhut experiences are joyous and playful.

How did the company get involved in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant?

We were invited by Pageant Master Adrian Evans, to put forward ideas on how we may wish to mark The Queen’s 70-year reign.

Nutkhut creates large scale outdoor performances and the company has created performances for members of the Royal Family.

“Simmy Gupta was invited a decade ago to create a piece for The Queen in the Ballroom of Buckingham Palace.”

It was the first time an artist was invited to create a bespoke piece within the Palace Ballroom since Mendelssohn in 1847.

Can you tell us what the performance will entail?

Ajay Chhabra on Nutkhut & The Queen's Platinum Jubilee

Everybody loves a party – that’s our mantra.

With all that families and communities have endured during Covid, the opportunity to gather, meet, play and laugh was utmost in our minds when creating the theme.

Therefore, we came up with this performance titled ‘The Wedding Party’.

Simmy and I, from the onsite, were clear on identifying with a universal theme. A theme which would immediately engage people across the world.

We have created the world’s first sustainable sari. It will feature on the parade along with a unique digital experience: a Bollywood Bop Snapchat lens.

Along with this, we have a giant four-tiered wedding cake inspired by the wedding of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

A key feature will be the Platinum Jubilee Sari, can you tell us the importance of this?

The Queen has long been a style icon in her own right.

We wanted to explore how fashion can be both elegant and playful whilst considering the unique cultural footprint we inhabit and our environmental responsibilities.

The sari, a timeless garment, was first mentioned in the ‘Rigveda’ 3000 years ago.

Worn by half a billion people globally, in its simplicity and elegance, it is one of the world’s most identifiable and enduring fashion items.

Simmy has an eclectic sari collection from prints to silks, from the simplicity of cotton to the flowing wonder of chiffon. Some bought and gifted, others inherited.

“We both have a passion and determination for considering the environment and decisions around sustainability.”

So from the onset, we were focused on creating a sari that was designed exclusively for the pageant, that is both playful and fun and at its heart, considers the environment.

The Platinum Jubilee Sari will be printed on sustainable fabric, recycled from plastic.

What kind of things can people expect to see within your section?

Ajay Chhabra on Nutkhut & The Queen's Platinum Jubilee

Simmy Gupta has choreographed a unique dance style.

From her foundation in Kathak, she has infused Bollywood dance and developed a dance floor soundtrack with Panjabi Hit Squad.

A collection of Bollywood anthems will take people on a journey of an eclectic range of musical styles.

We’ve taken the best parts of a wedding party and simply exaggerated all the elements. A giant cake, a huge part of guests, and oversized puppets.

250 performers – key workers, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors and shopkeepers will all come together – this is our opportunity to say thank you.

What has the creative process been like?

We decided from the onset to make the greatest show possible, with the best people and the most generous and enthusiastic performers.

We have a committed team of professionals – dancers, volunteers, acrobatics, and puppeteers.

“We’ve brought all these elements together through a soundtrack created by the Panjabi Hit Squad!”

We love the idea of telling a single story through a range of lenses.

Choreography, music, circus, installation, and fashion all converge together to create a jigsaw of energy.

The challenge has been to ensure all these elements sync with each other – creating a giant jigsaw with many tiny pieces!

What’s it been like working with the performers?

Ajay Chhabra on Nutkhut & The Queen's Platinum Jubilee

Our performers come from a range of backgrounds.

Many simply entrusted and enthusiastic volunteers from across the country with global routes in Africa, Asia, the USA and South Pacific.

Having a range of performers from across the diaspora has created a unique choreographic language.

We’d love viewers to feel proud and excited by our creation.

Bollywood is sensational, global and all-encompassing and we’d like to bring this energy to the streets of central London.

How does it feel to be a part of such a monumental occasion?

We are honoured to be invited.

The Pageant Master Adrian Evans has been generous in supporting our vision. He’s also been a source of information, introducing us to our rock, our producer, Kitty Ross.

The South Asian community was hit the hardest during Covid and this story often gets lost in our public narrative.

Nutkhut was directly involved in running Covid test centres in some of the hardest-hit areas.

We take our responsibilities very seriously and our participants are our community.

We have always felt a responsibility for the vulnerable, those with little to no opportunities by working together as a creative team.

“So, we learn from each other, share skills and most of all create a harmonious joyful atmosphere.”

As the only South Asian led company we take our responsibilities seriously.

Authenticity and integrity toward our heritage and to project this to a global audience of a billion-plus people is both exciting and humbling.

This exciting ceremony is befitting to all those within Britain and not only honours The Queen but the unique cultures that make up the UK.

Adding to Ajay’s excitement, co-artistic director, Simmy Gupta revealed:

“Born in Wolverhampton and from a working-class background, I am honoured to be invited to curate a section of the Platinum Jubilee Pageant…

“…to now bring this celebration to the streets of London along with a diverse group of people, from all walks of life, this is a special moment in time. My grandmother would be proud.”

Nutkhut’s colourful, elegant yet mesmerising showcase of the relationship between Britain and South Asia will be incredible.

Thus, The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pageant will be a spectacle like no other and Nutkhut are a major part of that.

Balraj is a spirited Creative Writing MA graduate. He loves open discussions and his passions are fitness, music, fashion, and poetry. One of his favourite quotes is “One day or day one. You decide.”

Images courtesy of Nutkhut.