Mumbai is cinema central. The city screams Bollywood, and yet it doesn’t have a public tribute to Bollywood,” says Ranjit Dahiya, taking a drag from his cigarette. Dahiya’s Bollywood Art Project (BAP) is trying to add the filmy flavour through wall murals.
Dahiya, with Tony Peter, started BAP to mark the centenary of Hindi cinema this year. While Peter wanders the streets looking for house walls to paint on, and then asks owners for permission, Dahiya puts his skills as a poster artist to use. BAP’s first mural, an 11x15 ft smiling Bina Rai and moustachioed Pradeep Kumar, is a tribute to the 1953 film Anarkali. It adorns the wall of a two-storey house in front of Noronha Stores in Chapel Road, Bandra.
“We always thought that the city should have the essence of Bollywood,” says Dahiya, meaning, visible signs of its film heritage. “And we chose to go with Anarkali first. I am glad we did, because we had people from that generation coming up to us and saying ‘Subhan Allah’,” appreciatively.
Their second subject was the original angry young man. Amitabh Bachchan sits in blue-uniformed glory on a wall in Bandra Reclamation. Since this wall is wide rather than tall, 35x24 ft, BAP decided on a pose from 1975’s Deewar (“Wall”). The landlady, having seen their Anarkali, had invited them to paint her wall, and waited patiently two weeks for them to finish. After Dahiya tweeted about the Deewar mural, Bachchan sent his photographer to take a picture.
For Deewar, BAP had fewer volunteers. Some were Dahiya’s juniors from an art school in Chandigarh and the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. BAP gives its volunteers only food and paint.
Even so, each mural costs Rs 35,000 or more. The spray paints are expensive, and the painters need equipment like ladders and stools. Dahiya foots the bills. He is a graphic designer whose work includes Noteworthy, an iTunes app, and an Android phone app. Digital Moustache, his start-up, does branding projects.
“People often come up to us and say that they want to join. In a way it’s great to see that yesteryears stars are still popular.” But he can’t allow just anyone to paint. Basic skills are required, especially as these are very large works. Dahiya gained his own skills painting advertisements next to highways and working as a whitewasher.
NID student Swati Rai, who came to help, says, “We were so scared to even draw one line. Ranjit is so perfect, you see. But he pushed us to give it a shot. And look how beautiful it turned out.” She helped BAP with the Anarkali mural, as did Mallika Chabba and Shruti Visweswaran from the Government College of Fine Art.
In the past Dahiya has collaborated with German graffiti artists to paint shops in Bandra. He hopes to invite foreign artists to help. Both BAP murals so far are in Bandra, but the group is looking for suitable walls in other areas with more passersby. Fortunately, BAP need not ask the municipality or police for permission. The house owners themselves give the go-ahead.
Painting commercial property is more difficult, partly because BAP refuses to use company logos. Dahiya has had to pass up some sponsorship opportunities. “We don’t want to promote companies,” he says. “All we want is to bring back the hand-painted poster style, which has been replaced by digital photographs.”
He plans to use the murals along with film screenings — Anarkali was shown in front of the mural in May — as well as booklets and small programmes to promote Bollywood “flavour”.
The target is three murals a month; the long-term goal is 200 murals in all. Even with Mumbai’s heat and heavy rains, Dahiya says, the murals will last four or five years. After they fade, he will paint new murals over the old ones rather than just touch them up.
Seeing at a big paan-spit stain on BAP’s new mural, Dahiya sighs. “People will not dirty a wall which has any religious poster, but sometimes art work goes unappreciated.” Nevertheless, he will not give up. Dancing Helen is always rejected, but other subjects, to be tackled after the monsoon, are decided: heroes Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor, villain Amrish Puri, legends like Lata Mangeshkar and Dadasaheb Phalke. A larger-than-life tribute to Bollywood for everyone to see.