“I was really sad when I heard about the demise of Rajesh Khanna. And so I decided to pay a tribute to my favourite Bollywood hero,” with that Ranjit Dahiya went looking for the perfect canvas on the streets of Bombay. A resident of Bandra, he knew the landscape quite well and soon found the wall he was looking for. It was a private house not very far from the sea which seemed apt for what he had in mind. He rang the bell, a lady answered. He made his case and she agreed. And after about four days of hard work that involved endless hours of standing on a rickety ladder with rains lashing down, Ranjit gave Bombay, its king of romance back.
Ranjit Dahiya is the founder and the artist behind India’s first urban street art project – Bollywood Art Project or BAP. I met him last Saturday for coffee. BAP aims to transform the walls of Mumbai into a living memorial of Bollywood to commemorate 100 years of Hindi cinema. BAP is also trying to revive the dying art of traditional hand painted movie posters and hoardings which were the norm before digital technology took over.
I had half expected meeting a quiet, intimidating artist who wouldn’t give me more than an hour of his time. But Ranjit is a pleasant, down-to-earth, friendly guy. As we sat chatting in the coffee shop, Ranjit graciously shared stories about his life. Below are some excerpts from our conversation:
Ranjit grew up in a small town in Haryana, drawing his favourite Bollywood actors to pass time. He started working as a painter and painted shop signages. He knew he had an eye for art and eventually got admitted to National Institute of Design. In 2008, after graduating from NID, Ranjit came to Bombay to work as a graphic designer with an advertising agency. It was here that he found his true calling.
“When I first came to Bombay, I was a little disappointed to see that the the city lacked the Bollywood charm that’s so unique. Bombay is the birthplace of Bollywood. Millions of people visit the city every year to ‘see’ Bollywood and yet there is no visual representation of Indian cinema here. I started BAP with the aim to bringing the essence of Bollywood on the streets of Bombay and make it accessible to the common man.”
Thus began BAP:
His first mural was ‘Anarkali‘, a film from the Golden Era (1953). Located on Chapel Road in Bandra, this is easily one of my favourites. This was followed by the piece on ‘angry young man’ (Amitabh Bachchan) from the movie Deewar (1975) and then came the tribute to Rajesh Khanna after his demise in July 2012.
Ranjit eventually quit his full time job to pursue this passion. BAP is slowly giving Bombay a much needed makeover. Each painting is a sweet reminder of an era gone by. The streets suddenly have more character, a charm which Bombay so desperately needs. While the pretty Madhubala painting at Chapel Road makes passers by fondly reminisce the queen of Bollywood, there’s a wall dedicated to the famous villain ‘Mogambo’ from the 80′s cult movie Mr. India near Carter Road.
As I walked down the streets of Bandra with Ranjit, I noticed how popular he is in the neighborhood. People smile and wave at him, passers by ask him about his well being, and everyone is happy to see him. I asked him if he planned to take BAP to other areas of Bombay – “I would love to! But permissions and logistics are difficult to manage and I don’t have a team currently,” he replied promptly.
Ranjit now works as a freelance graphic designer and even designs mobile apps. The money from these projects is used to fund his paintings. Each painting costs around Rs 35000 and funds are hard to come by. But Ranjit plans to continue for as long as possible. “There is a long list of stars I still want to paint starting from Guru Dutt, Johny Lever, Helen, Raj Kapoor..”
Ranjit’s work is being noticed and well appreciated by national and international media like the The Hindustan Times, New York Times among others. He has also done exhibitions in Paris. I asked him what does his family have to say about his success. “I called up my mom the other day and asked her if she saw my picture and read the article in The Hindustan Times. She said yes but what’s the big deal? Earlier you used to climb ladders to paint shop signages and now after all these years you’re still climbing ladders and painting walls!” Well, mothers always have the last word.
You can follow BAP via Facebook and Twitter.
Photography by Krupali Rajyani.
Bharti believes that every suitcase tells a story and she likes sharing these stories on her blog ‘Suitcaseofstories.wordpress.com‘. In addition to writing about travel, she also likes taking street photographs with her phone camera.