Click army captures idol hub

IN KUMARTULI FOR THE PERFECT FRAME

By DEBRAJ MITRA AND ISABELLE VERHEES
  • Published 18.09.17
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Shutterbugs try to capture the one unusual frame that would give them the bragging rights. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Sept. 17: Kumartuli artist Srikanta Pal's heart almost does a 360-degree flip at the sight of people outside his studio looking for "the right angle".

"If an arm breaks, who will pay for it? There is not enough time to rebuild one, not to forget that I have been paid in advance for all orders," he told Metro as a scrum of camera-wielding visitors went click-click on a hot afternoon.

It is that time of the year in Calcutta when, if you have a camera and photography as a hobby, you must be either lazy or unimaginative or both to be not at Kumartuli pointing the lens at goddesses and gods in the making.

American Harry Carnes had gone to the traditional artisans' quarter last Friday expecting to see "potter's wheels and similar stuff". He came back bedazzled by the artistry on display and amused by how the craft of idol-making has given birth to a new paparazzi.

Harry, a retired communications consultant, was carrying a camera too. He shoots Canon. Bishal Dey, a mass communication student, was beside him with one eye on the viewfinder of his Nikon. Like everyone else, he was looking for the "right angle" to shoot an idol.

"I don't have a particular subject in mind, but I don't want to click idols only," said 19-year-old Bishal, who is from Shillong but lives in Salt Lake.

The artists, struggling to be tolerant of this seasonal admiration of their craft, have a stock warning every time an over-enthusiastic photographer comes too close to an idol. " Thakur dekhe (watch out, the idol)!" is a phrase familiar to anyone who visits Kumartuli around this time.

The problem with amateur photographers, according to veteran Asish Mitra, is that most of them treat it as a competition. "Shooting in Kumartuli in the run-up to Durga Puja is the in thing to do. The trend started a decade ago and has grown," he said.

Associations of artists in Kumartuli issue tickets to cope with the rush. The money that comes in goes towards community welfare.

Three types of tickets are available at the stall set up by the Kumartuli Mritsilpi Sanskrity Samity. A "season ticket" that is valid for the entire Puja period costs Rs 50. A daily ticket cost Rs 10 and a seven-day ticket Rs 25. "We have been selling more than 500 tickets a day," said the man at the stall.

Harry, who was at Kumartuli with his 23-year-old son Franklin, described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The American has a keen interest in ceramics and pottery. "What I saw was surreal," he said, the Canon slung over his shoulders.

He found it hard to believe that the idols, created through months of hard work, would be immersed in the Hooghly after the festival.

The crowd of visitors to Kumartuli swells over the weekend, as it did yesterday and today. Some of the artists depute workers to keep the shutterbugs in check, lest they get too close to the idols.

"The last couple of Sundays before Puja are a worry not only because of the crowds. Several Puja organisers turn up to see how the idols they have ordered are turning out to be. After Mahalaya (on Tuesday), most idols will make their way to the pandals," said artist Srikanta.

Calcutta might be desperate for some rain to drag down the heat and humidity, but idol makers would rather bear the Celsius than the chaos that a shower might cause.

"With all these people around, there will be chaos if the skies open up. All the photographers would want to shield their expensive cameras and get into our studios, which are already cramped with idols," said idol maker Sanjay Pal.

Trilok Pal was in the middle of chokkudan (painting the eyes of the goddess) inside his studio when a swarm of photographers arrived to capture the moment that makes for great portraiture.

"I and some friends are working on a short film on Durga Puja. I have waited almost a couple of hours for this shot," said 24-year-old Krishnendu Palit, looking pleased with the result of his effort.