Hands that mould masters

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 14.02.03
(From above)
i) Utpal Dutt and ii) Lady Ranu Mukherjee: Two of Dhar’s subjects.
iii) Discussing a point with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
iv) Taking the measurements for a Pandit Bhimsen
Joshi sculpture

He has found a way to cement ties with his passion for music. Ananda Kishore Dhar, who sculpts veteran musicians, tells Nisha Lahiri about prized moments at sittings

bhimsen joshi suddenly pointed to his bag after a couple of hours of ‘sitting’ for Ananda Kishore Dhar and told him: “Beta, will you please pass me the bag? I need my dum to give me the energy to continue at my age.” It turned out he wanted his khaini. So, Dhar waited while the master vocalist intently prepared his dose of ‘dum’. He then popped it in his mouth, sat back in style and shut his eyes. Bhimsen Joshi was tired, but he insisted on sitting for the full four hours that it took for the sculpture to finish. “He refused to leave it incomplete,” recounts the sculptor, fondly.

Dhar has a passion for Indian classical music and a love for sculpture. He has found a unique way of combining the two — he sculpts musicians. However, it’s not just classical melody makers that he makes images of. In his repertoire of busts, he has names ranging from Bismillah Khan and Hari Prasad Chaurasia to Mrinal Sen and Utpal Dutt.

The 46-year-old head of the sculpture department at the Academy of Fine Arts has a veritable treasure trove of anecdotes — to go with the array of busts — that reveal a facet of the subject’s personality often very different from the public image. “Like Lady Ranu Mukherjee. She was a very strict disciplinarian on the surface, and often quite tough and haughty. But she had a good sense of humour when she allowed it to bubble up. During her sitting for me, she said: ‘Don’t make any abstract images. I like me to look like me. The problem with young artists these days is that they don’t have the skill to make a lookalike, so they term it abstract’. When the sculpture was done, she said she definitely approved, because she could recognise herself. She called in her staff, too, just to make sure,” smiles Dhar.

Sarod legend Ustad Vilayat Khan spent most of his time ‘sitting’ holding forth on Rabindrasangeet. “He told me that Rabindranath Tagore’s song Tumi kemon kore gaan koro… was written by the Nobel laureate for Khan saheb’s father,” Dhar reminisces. “Khan saheb really loves to talk. He told me how he went to an exhibition of a famous person once, but had to hide his dislike for the insipid nature of the work.”

There is no one person that stands out or a particular moment that was perfect, because each project has its own memories that are special. Pandit Jasraj singing for him; Jogesh Datta spontaneously breaking into mime; Ustad Ali Akbar Khan waiting patiently for him at a hotel, determined to see himself in stone, and scolding him for being late; freedom fighter Ganesh Ghosh posing for him on a hospital bed, with other patients crowding around for a better view, oohing and aahing over his work; Suchitra Mitra singing; Soumitra Chatterjee reading some of his favourite poems and prose; V. Balsara perching his glasses on the nose of the sculpture to test the likeness and pronouncing it a success… It is these recollections of the three or four hours he spends with his famed subjects that make Dhar’s work worthwhile.

“Utpal (Dutt) jethu was one of the most humorous men I have ever had the good fortune of meeting. His joy in life was making people laugh. During the sitting at his home, he kept repeating: ‘Bhaskar (he called me that because I am a sculptor), why are you taking so much time to sculpt me? All you have to do is put four papris (petals) together.’ Much later, I figured out that ‘Utpal’ means lotus,” Dhar laughs.

From making Kali and Saraswati idols for a club in Howrah, where his home is, the graduate from Indian Art College progressed to sculpture as a teacher at the Academy, spurred on by his mother. “I was hooked on my first visit to Kumartuli, where my father took me at a very young age. Then I became interested in portraiture, and I realised that was my calling.” With lady luck by his side, blessings from his mother and the support of his mentor, Sunil Pal, vice-principal of Government Art College, Dhar never looked back.

“I only do live sittings, because I don’t believe in making sculptures from photographs. And each encounter has its own story,” says Dhar. So, it has been a journey of one exhilarating experience after another, from his first sitting with Pandit Gyan Prakash Ghosh to Kanan Devi, Hiren Mukherjee, Pankaj Ray, Tapas Sen, Amala Shankar… the list is endless, and yet not complete. “I have not had an exhibition so far, because I have been waiting for government assistance. Now that I have waited this long, I want to finish my list before I show it to the world,” he explains, adding that Lata Mangeshkar is next, and she has already agreed to a sitting.

At the moment, however, Dhar is busy with two nine-foot cement sculptures, one to be placed in front of the Academy, and the other at Bangla Akademi, both this April. Although he is passionate about both projects, the bearded man admits that his first love will always remain portraiture. And he is confident of continued success, “because I know my subjects enjoy the time spent just as much as I do”. Proof lies in the fact that they often take the unassuming sculptor along on their visits to the city, or invite him to their performances. “That is all the job satisfaction I need,” he smiles, hands caked with wet clay.


(Vilayat) Khan
saheb loves to talk. He told me how he went to an exhibition of a famous person once, but had to hide his dislike for the insipid nature
of the work