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Bollywood ka bap

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CLASSIC: Amitabh Bachchan's character from 'Deewar' is one of Indian cinema's most iconic images

If you espy a larger-than-life portrait of Amitabh Bachchan or Rajesh Khanna staring down at you from a Mumbai street wall, credit it to Ranjit Dahiya. The passion of this 32-year-old - along with that of designer and Bollywood enthusiast Tony Peter - is what's aiming to add a dollop of stardust to the dull walls of the Maximum City.


But who is Dahiya and why is he painting Mumbai? The trained artist from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, is currently engaged in an urban public art venture called the Bollywood Art Project (BAP) that aims to transform the walls of the city into a celebration of Indian cinema during its centenary year. It is, according to him, one of the biggest street art campaigns in India to date.


Perhaps it is the sort of tribute that was inevitable for someone wtih Dahiya's background. The youngster might have graduated from one of the most prestigious design institutes in the country, but he journeyed into the world of art via painting large posters. Born in a village called Garhi Brahamanan, near Sonepat in Haryana, Dahiya, after finishing Class X, wanted to be an artist but his desire clashed with the multiple life pressures he had to encounter. His father Krishan Dahiya's salary as an employee with the Haryana State Agricultural Marketing Board was not always enough to meet the needs of the family, and the young Dahiya had to consequently start whitewashing public areas like the Sonepat railway station on a contractual basis to support the family.


It was then that a chance encounter with a school principal resulted in him taking a big decision in life. The principal gave him the job of painting a large Goddess Saraswati on a school wall, and it was during this time that Dahiya "decided to get into painting and widen my horizons". "I approached a relative who was a painter in Panipat and worked with him for a while, " he says. "I learnt the basic techniques of painting and typography. My work included painting street advertisements on walls, facades and vehicles. "

He also started feeling the need to study further but prominent fine arts colleges would not admit a Class X pass-out. While studying through correspondence for a degree from IGNOU, he was approached by bigger contractors who wanted advertisements of big cola brands and tractors and family planning campaigns painted on the walls of large motels on highways. "Painting a 1, 600-sq-ft area in a single day gave me the confidence that no teacher could, " he says candidly. "I soon got to know about a man who painted posters for Bollywood movies in Delhi. I was fascinated and my skills came in handy with large-size paintings. "

Simultaneously, Dahiya pursued graphics in the Government College of Art, Chandigarh and from there went on to complete a Master's degree in graphic design from NID in 2007. "Here, I explored and imbibed the aesthetics and science of arts, " he says. "NID taught me the system of design thinking, " he says.

In 2009, the artist travelled to Paris to make a live 32x12 ft poster of Sarkar Raj (2008) at the Salon Du Cinema. "Here I realised that Bollywood was not just an Indian phenomenon but a global one, " he says. "In 2010, I was invited by the city council of La Rochelle France to hold an exhibition at the La Rochelle International Film Festival. " 'History of Bollywood', a collection of 31 posters made by him, later travelled to Durban for the 28th Durban International Film Festival.
In the Bollywood Art Project, Dahiya is painting the walls of Mumbai with colourful renditions of India's favourite actors and characters. The first one was Anarkali and Salim, followed by a classic Amitabh Bachchan from Deewar. The third and most recent mural is a sudden but very emotional tribute to the first superstar of Bollywood, Rajesh Khanna.

"In this centenary year of Indian conema, BAP aims to commemorate Bollywood through various artworks and campaigns, " he says. "Till now, no one has spat on or defaced these walls. What they do with my very public works is also up to them.
"I grew up during the monopoly days of Doordarshan and the VCR era, " he adds. "Bollywood was the ultimate mainstream entertainment back then. As a Bollywood freak, it is only natural that BAP takes centre-stage right now. "

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