Monday, March 23, 2015

As True to Life As Possible

Sculptor Sunil Kandalloor's Celebrity Wax Museum at Kochi brings alive many notable people like MF Husain, K Karunakaran, Anna Hazare and Michael Jackson

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Sunil Kandalloor with the late Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran; with Angelina Jolie and Mr. Bean. Pics by Ratheesh Sundaram 

In 1995, artist Sunil Kandalloor met Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, at Cliff House, the official residence, at Thiruvananthapuram, and suggested that he could do a wax sculpture. But Karunakaran immediately said, “I have been to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London. Can you do something as good?”

Sir, I will try,” said Sunil. Then he told the Chief Minister he would need to take some photographs, videos and body measurements. Karunakaran agreed. The measurements were taken of the limbs, nose and hands, and the distance between the eyes and ears. 

Each person is unique,” says Sunil. “All of us have a mouth, nose and two eyes. How this is placed on a face marks the difference between people.” In the end, it took seven months for Sunil to complete his first wax figure.

This figure of Karunakaran, along with 38 others, are on display at the recently opened Celebrity Wax Museum in the Oberon Mall, Kochi. Some of the other notables include MF Husain, Subhash Chandra Bose, VR Krishna Iyer, Anna Hazare, VS Achuthanandan, the actors Innocent and Mukesh Khanna (Shaktimaan), and international celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Michael Jackson, Ronaldo, Queen Elizabeth, and Albert Einstein.

I chose these models based on two attributes,” says Sunil. “They should be famous and powerful in their particular fields.”

And over the years, Sunil has perfected the art of making these figures. First he makes a clay model. Thereafter, he sets up a mould. Then he puts the candle wax on it. On an average, he needs 35 kilos of wax per person. Then it is left to dry. Following that, he attaches the hair and eyes.

Interestingly, he says, the eyeball does not have any expression. “The expression is created by making dents in the forehead, cheeks, lips and eyelids.” Later, he adds the clothes, which are mostly gifted by the people who are being profiled. For long-dead celebrities, like Abraham Lincoln, Sunil studies images on the Internet and gets the clothes stitched accordingly.

Asked about the durability of the wax figures, Sunil says, “They will last for a long time. Candle wax melts only at 58 degrees centigrade. I only have to control the amount of dust, because it tends to get into the eyes and hair. That is why the museum is air-conditioned. As for the clothes, they are washed regularly. And I usually have two sets.”

The Mumbai-based Sunil says that he discovered his life passion by accident. One day, while working for an advertising firm in Bangalore, he came across a magazine which featured wax figures from Madame Tussaud's Museum. He was immediately fascinated. “I realised that no matter what technology or method is used, ultimately, to make a good figure, you would need the talent of an artist,” says Sunil, who has done a diploma course from the Madhava Fine Arts school in Kollam.

But when he realised that there was no institution in India which taught how to make wax sculptures, Sunil resigned his job and returned to his village in Kayamkulam.

Thereafter, for the next eight years, Sunil spent his time in learning how to make wax sculptures. He puzzled over what wax to use and the proper mix of colours to get the correct skin tone. Through trial and error, he figured out the way to fix the eyes and nose to the face.

During those years Sunil survived on his mother's pension. A widow, she lost her husband, a soldier in the Army, in an accident when Sunil was 16.

However, in the initial years, he struggled to get notable people to pose for him. But all that changed when Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan was featured at Madame Tussaud's. “Suddenly, everybody in India understood what a wax sculpture was all about,” he says. “Things became easy after that.” 

Sunil's first museum was established in the Baywatch amusement park at Kanyakumari, and the second one in Lonavala, near Pune. The Kochi museum is his third. Asked about his future plans, he says, “I want to recreate all the characters of my favourite painter Raja Ravi Varma.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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