Kottayam Nazeer, one of Kerala’s leading mimicry artists, makes a sparkling debut as a painter in a show curated by the veteran Asif Ali Komusons
Photos by Albin Mathew
By Shevlin Sebastian
As you walk around Kottayam Nazeer’s recent exhibition, ‘Dreams of Colours’, at the Durbar Hall Gallery at Kochi, one painting above all catches the eye. It is a black-and-white image of an elderly man, with oversize black spectacles, piercing eyes, a lined forehead and wavy white hair, apart from a walrus moustache.
But a closer look gives a shock: the moustache is actually two white polar bears, the nose is the back of a frog, the eyes are two fishes, the eyebrows are two falcons, while the frame of the spectacles is actually two entwined king cobras. There are also giraffes, dinosaurs, and an owl. And the wrinkles on the forehead are actually several snakes lying next to each other.
“The qualities of all these animals are inside every human being,” says Nazeer, one of Kerala’s top mimicry artists, who was holding his first-ever painting exhibition, which was curated by the veteran Asif Ali Komusons. “And we are the only animals who can live anywhere.”
The polar bear, he says, cannot live in a place where it is hot and humid. “But a man can survive in a hot or a cold place,” he says. “We also eat meat, snakes, dogs, frogs, hens and even elephant meat. We are flexible.”
Since Nazeer is also an actor, he has also given a bow to the two superstars of Mollywood. Standing next to a painting of a lion in repose, he says, “Mammootty is the lion for me: calm and determined.”
Another image, of a tiger, also has numerous animals in it, including a fish, birds, an elephant, dog, goat, cat, rabbit, rat, a kangaroo with its baby, as well as an image of scientist Albert Einstein and writer Rabindranath Tagore.
“I wanted to show that Mohanlal can play any role,” says Nazeer. “To me, he is a complete actor.” Incidentally, Lal’s blog is called ‘The Complete Actor’.
In total, there are 54 works on display. It is a mix of acrylic, oil and watercolours. Nazeer’s strongest gift is his ability to draw piercing eyes, that hold your attention wherever you stand in the gallery. And he has an explanation for it. “I have focused on the eyes because I feel that people express all their emotions through the eyes,” he says. “No matter how you draw the face or the body, if there is no life in the eyes, then the painting will not come to life.”
When an ordinary person looks into an eye, he sees a black and white colour. But in the iris, there are different types of colours. “It is only when you look at an HD [High Definition] photo and zoom in, you can see a bit of brown and blue. For older people they have a bit of green, too,” says Nazeer. “I did online tutorials on how to draw the eyes and that’s why it has become so effective.”
Meanwhile, when asked the pleasure of painting, Nazeer says, “A creative profession like mimicry or acting has a lot of stress because you are performing in front of the audience or on the screen,” he says. “So when I paint, the stress just melts away. I feel I am doing something meaningful and not wasting my time.”
Interestingly, Nazeer, the son of a dentist, had shown an interest in painting from his childhood. He would spend time with professional sign people at the town of Karukachal where he grew up. “I learnt how to draw figures using enamel paint,” he says. Later, for three years, he learnt watercolour drawing at the AP arts school in the town.
He has also done oil paintings in his childhood, apart from cartooning and clay modelling. “I received a lot of prizes at that time,” says Naseer. “Then I became interested in mimicry and that became my career.”
However, Nazeer did not stop painting altogether. Whenever he was on a film set and there was some spare time, he would draw images on a piece of paper, using a pen.
And when he would go for international tours, there would be a three-to-four day gap between events. So, he started painting.
And today, he has made an acclaimed debut as a painter.
A new career beckons.
(Published in Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India editions and Delhi)