Articles

Painting for Bollywood

The author on the set of the movie “Aiyyaa,” helping actor Prithviraj with a canvas (all images courtesy the author)

PUNE, INDIA — Last summer I was offered an interesting project by a good friend, film director Sachin Kundalkar. He was about to start shooting his Hindi film Aiyyaa and asked me to create paintings for the movie. Kundalkar is a brilliant storyteller and director, and before this major Bollywood project, he had directed and written a couple of award-winning films in the Marathi language. A fan of his directorial style, I agreed to be a part of the project. Last week, the film was released in India and also in some international cities.

The film tells the delightful love story of Surya (played by the actor Prithviraj) and Meenakshi (played by the actress Rani Mukerji). The protagonist of the movie is really Surya, an art school student, and it was my task to create paintings that he would be making in the film.

This project demanded that I set my regular studio routine and paintings aside for a while — I’m sort of a process painter who works on abstractions created with several layers of paint — and put on my art-school-student shoes again. Kundalkar briefed me about Surya’s character and gave me a walkthrough of the plot, and then he gave me complete freedom to decide the subjects and style of the paintings (which I made as predominantly figurative works).

Surya's studio in the film
Surya’s studio in the film

I went to work. I went on the streets for rapid sketches, snapped Polaroids, collected newspaper cutouts, and holed up in my studio. The film is wacky, and I went wacky on canvas and paper, making collages and painting in acrylics, oils, and pastels. I also helped Prithviraj get acquainted with the painter’s body language. He spent a day in the studio taking notes, actually trying his hand on canvas and observing my painting style.

The project became even more interesting when I had to pack up my studio material and go to the shooting location in Mumbai to complete one more painting. (I live and work in Pune, a smaller city about 100 miles from Mumbai.) This particular painting was more of Meenakshi’s imagination, a surreal and mystic blue work. I had to complete four stages of the same work on different canvases to show the gradual progression. This experience itself was a bit surreal, since the entire film crew was shooting around me while I was in a frenzy to finish the work in a makeshift corner studio.

Left: the author working on a painting in his on-location studio; right: the finished work

Bollywood, a term coined to describe mainstream Hindi-language films from India, is sometimes misinterpreted as an industry that only makes spicy movies with dance numbers. This is not true. A young, new breed of talented writers and directors is experimenting with different forms, stories, and genres. Aiyyaa belongs to this group, an innovative attempt to tell a story of falling in love and finding oneself in the process.

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