The Bollywood Art Project began its brush with Bollywood in April with a mural of the 1953 classic, Anarkali
The men, both film enthusiasts have begun to brighten up Mumbai’s landscape with murals — as a tribute to Indian cinema’s centenary celebrations which will begin next year.
The iconic image of a cigarette-smoking Amitabh Bachchan (was he copying Humphrey Bogart?) in all his freshness of youth has been recreated on a roadside wall. Interestingly, while his character of Vijay from the 1975 Deewar that now adorns the wall represents the city’s sordid underbelly, the painting itself is seen on the hip Mumbai suburb of Bandra, which has been the home of movie stars for as long as I can remember.
The scene from Deewar has been hand painted with oils – an art that has been long forgotten, its artists pushed into the crevices of memory by slick new posters printed on modern machines.
One of the two film buffs – both artists themselves – Ranjit Dahiya says he was pained to witness the eclipse of this great art.
“Also, I couldn’t see any Bollywood outside the cinemas in Bombay. Yet this is the city of Bollywood,” Dahiya avers, using the city’s old name which many are still comfortable with. “So I thought I should paint the walls on the streets.”
The Bandra mural is the second to be completed as part of the Bollywood Art Project, funded entirely by Dahiya and his friend, Tony Peter. They are determined to create an artwork that can be seen outside the art galleries, one that can be seen by everybody.
As one walks by or even drives along, the murals will be a sight to behold, each reminding us of a frame that flashed by a long time ago.
The two men hope to finish several paintings before May 2013, when India will celebrate the centenary of its cinema. Raja Harishchandra opened in Bombay in 1913, and this is being officially recognised as the country’s first movie.
However, Dahiya and Peter have not always found their “walls” even; their brushes have not always stroked smooth surfaces.
In some cases, securing permission to paint has run into rough canvasses. Their plan to recreate a 21-metre high dancing girl (what is Bollywood without its twinkle-toed damsels) was thwarted by the local people, who were not impressed with the idea of art on their walls. They were probably more comfortable with seeing paper posters, some positively hideous looking.
The Bollywood Art Project began its brush with Bollywood in April with a mural of the 1953 classic, Anarkali. One of the greatest boxoffice hits of the decade, the movie traces the doomed love between a beautiful courtesan in Akbar’s court and his son, Prince Salim.
That Anarkali was given cursory significance by most established historians is a fact, and the only sign of her very existence is a decrepit gravestone in Pakistan’s Lahore. But Anarkali and Salim are legends that no love story can overlook. They are romance personified, and Anarkali’s mural may well capture the essence of all that Bollywood has been known for.
Its mush, its melody, its drama and its dance that have enthralled millions not just at home, but across the seas.
Peter and Dahiya rue the fact that many traditional Indian arts, including cinema poster painting, is dying. It stands little chance against the onslaught of digital technology and printing that have the power to turn out hundreds of posters in no time.
Hand painting may be a laborious process, but none can deny that it has the essence of a great art. The artists here have no models posing for them. They have to rely on photographs to recapture the very spirit of a scene. And there are some in Mumbai who want this traditional form – which in its glorious heyday offered a livelihood to many — to live.
Dahiya and Peter are now at it with their brushes to turn dull walls into colour and cinema .
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.