Amidst the hustle-bustle of congested Mumbai lanes, an artist attempts to make the passers-bys’ lives a little more colourful by transporting them to a world which they have loved and which has been the very essence of the city that screams creativity…
Chapel Street, Bandra. If you have passed through that narrow lane, you wouldn`t have missed two large murals of a landmark film in the history of the Indian cinema – K Asif’s Mughal-e-Aazam. Salim (played by Dilip Kumar in the film) and Anarkali (played by Madhubala) posing dramatically on one side of the wall would usually grab more eyeballs but it is the other side that intrigues the man standing next to me, while I admire the artwork.
“I just realized that her eyes are like those of the Mona Lisa. One second, you think that they are looking at you. The other second, you realize that they are actually looking at the neighbouring mural, perhaps longing for lost love,” Ranjit Dahiya points out at the graceful portrait of Madhubala that adorns the other side. I could disagree with him, but his observation carries some weight, probably because he happens to be the creator of those murals.
Dahiya, who is a graduate of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, has been creating similar murals under the banner of B.A.P. – Bollywood Art Project. His love for the Hindi film industry is quite evident from his in-depth knowledge of both the on-screen and off-screen aspects of the cinema. “Like her reel life counterpart, Madhubala also met a tragic end. But her serene image has lived on. I want to paint a tribute to her and what better a way to do it than on the very same bricks that immortalized her in the climax of Mughal-e-Aazam,” he says.
A word like ‘immortalize’ coming from him is quite a surprise as I`ve been watching him struggle with his Haryanavi accent for the past twenty minutes. “Since I am from Haryana, I didn`t have a strong command over English initially. But Mumbai does wonders to your personality. Now I even conduct lectures on ‘Principles of Design’ for architecture students in Mithibai College.”
Stressing more on his early days in Mumbai, he recalls surviving on the modest vada pao. He is proud to have had his share of the classic struggle stories in the City of Dreams. But he believes that he is destined to be there since it is the Tinsel Town of India. He quotes his favourite actor Amitabh Bachchan on that, “Mumbai ek aisa sheher hai jo aapko har subah thappad maar k uthata hai aur bolta hai kaam par ja!” (Mumbai is a city that slaps you hard out of sleep and sends you to work every morning!)
Bachchan is essentially the actor who pops up in his mind when he thinks of Bollywood. “He symbolized the anti-establishment streak of the 1970s in films like Deewaar, Sholay and Zanjeer. To paint him on the wall, in his Deewaar avatar, was in my mind a defining moment in the history of wall art.” Dahiya refers to the art of graffiti which has played the role of a rebel across the globe for decades. Instead of bold text in the case of graffiti, the image of Bachchan sitting on the chair in authority with crossed legs speaks volumes of the revolutionary nature of wall art.
Another actor who fascinates Dahiya, after an encounter last year, is Nawazuddin Siddiqui who had dropped by to inaugurate a promotional mural for his movie Manjhi. Dahiya is so impressed by the movie that he can`t get over the catchy dialog from the film – “Shaandar Zabardast Zindabaad”. He keeps on shouting that slogan every time we pose for a picture together in front of Siddiqui’s larger than life portrait (in his Manjhi look) that adorns the wall behind us.
Among other actors that he has brought to life include the superstar Rajesh Khanna, the vamp Naadira and the iconic Amrish Puri as Mogambo from Mr. India. Though there are several known faces that people the walls of his street, Dahiya considers his personal life to be relatively less crowded. While he agrees that his fellow residents of Chapel Street have been more than willing to lend their house walls for him to shower his creativity, there have been certain instances when he hasn’t received cooperation. “The other day, this lady didn’t allow me to paint a mural of Helen on the front wall of her house. I don’t know what her problem is. She rarely stays in this place anyway,” Dahiya says with an annoyed expression. An introvert at heart, he feels he gels well with animals better than humans. He has adopted more than a dozen cats and has also hired a maid who looks after them when he is away. However, he looks forward to connect with new people, especially those who have an eye for art. That is why I feel delighted to listen to him blurt out all the words, feelings and emotions that must have remained pent-up inside him for days.
While leaving in an auto rickshaw, I walk past his enormous canvas – the walls of the Chapel Street. I Google his name only to find about how the modest man missed out a mention of his biggest achievement yet – a 150*120 mural of the Father of Indian Cinema Dadasaheb Phalke on the MTNL building at Bandra Reclamation – unveiled by Amitabh Bachchan in 2011.
No surprise that he is the B.A.P. (father) of all murals!