Dilkashi (attraction), uns (infatuation), ishq (love), akidat (trust), ibadat (worship), junoon (madness) and maut (death) – these are the seven stages of love outlined by Khalujan, played by Naseeruddin Shah, in the 2014 Bollywood film Dedh Ishqiya.

Almost a year ago, Saksham Verma was watching the film again and while the two central characters – the other, Babban Hussain, was played by Arshad Warsi – on his television giggled about how most of these stages ended in sex, an idea was brewing in the artist’s head. He started re-watching films that had made an impression on him and picked a film that best corresponded to each of the seven stages listed in Dedh Ishqiya.

While the films chosen by him range from 1980s releases to recent ones, his artwork always reminds the viewer of vintage Bollywood poster art. The series is titled Stages of Love: A VHS Series and it evokes memories of old video cassettes, those beloved precursors of CDs. Posted on his Instagram page and Behance profile before Valentine’s Day, each work has been made to look like a cover of a VHS tape box, worn and dog-eared from prolonged use.

The first stage of love: Dilkashi, or attraction. Credit: Sakhsam Verma.

Wonderfully nostalgic

The films in Verma’s project include Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar for attraction, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for infatuation, Maine Pyar Kiya for love, Barfi! for trust, Raanjhanaa for worship, Darr for madness and Lootera for death.

Each of Verma’s seven films is popular. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, the 1992 Aamir Khan-starrer, explored the dynamics of school crushes and young love. “Everyone considers this a sports film because the cycling race is the main plot point, but then the film had so many other layers about school kids experiencing attraction probably for the first time in their lives,” said Verma. “Aamir Khan’s character is in the middle of a love triangle and is going through several realisations of what it means to be in love and to trust.”

The second stage of love: Uns, or infatuation. Credit: Sakhsam Verma.

In his work based on Darr, a villainous Shah Rukh Khan bares his chest on which junoon is carved out in blood. In another, Salman Khan from Maine Pyar Kiya is shown having a loving phone conversation with the lady he is trying to woo.

Verma picked the 2013 film Barfi, a love story between a deaf and mute man and an autistic woman, for the fourth stage of love because of their quiet acceptance of each other. “In the movie, each can’t really tell the other that they trust them, but they follow and stick by each other no matter what, and that’s what trust is to me,” said Verma. “Everyone talks about how much they love another person, but the real deal is to show it in a meaningful way.”

The third stage of love: Ishq, or love. Credit: Sakhsam Verma.

The choice of VHS tape art too was deliberate. “That era, the 1980s and the 1990s, did not have the technology that is so linked to dating these days,” said Verma. “These days if I like someone, I can log on to Facebook and Instagram and instantly find out so much about them, but back then, they had to actually come out of their comfort zones and say things, make an effort and do things to pursue love. I wanted people to talk more about the small efforts real love takes.”

The budding contemporary artist and graphic designer is often inspired by popular culture and politics. In 2017, he drew a series of comic book covers, titled Love Charzer, which satirically portrayed Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the leader of the religious group Dera Sacha Sauda, as a superhero.

The fourth stage of love: Akidat, or trust. Credit: Sakhsam Verma.
The fifth stage of love: Ibadat, or worship. Credit: Sakhsam Verma.
The seventh stage of love: Maut, or death. Credit: Sakhsam Verma.