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Beyond the canvas : With Prodipto Roy

Koral Dasgupta @KoralDasgupta

Updated: June 8, 2015, 1:13 PM IST
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It felt weird to call him by his formal name! When I joined Viswa Bharati, Santiniketan to pursue Economics, freshly independent from the strict shelters of home, he was all over the place stringing his guitar amidst a generous bunch of followers or laughing out loud with friends in the tea stalls or deeply engrossed in work at Kala Bhavan. His bohemianism spread easily among the onlookers. He was known among one and all there by a pet name, something that a quintessential Bengali reserves for close associates, but when you grow up in a small place like Santiniketan where everyone knows everyone, that thin line of difference between friends and acquaintances vanish, making you available for everyone more openly! He completed his course on Fine Arts soon after and disappeared. When we connected through social media some 15 years later, he had put on weight, grown his hairs, built up a magnificent multi-discipline portfolio and transformed into Prodipto Roy!

Taking a sneak peek into the life of an artist felt perfect for a summer-struck Tuesday morning, more so because the Monday blues had prolonged their stay and life seemed colourless within its chores. So how is the early life of an artist, I wish to know! What Prodipto pours in is no different a story than some of my students who sit inside air conditioned classrooms looking at the world with rose stained glasses, and thud back to the rough professional world one placement down! “Though I went to Patha Bhavan, the classrooms without walls at Viswa Bharati, admission to Kala Bhavan was difficult and twice I was rejected. It was during that period when I was trying to secure myself with a strong academic affiliation, and most of the times I would run out of money, I was introduced to this ad guy and bagged the contract to paint a hoarding at Park Street. One of the days after I had painted all night and colours were all over my body, I found my cousins coming out of The Park Hotel and ran to hide behind the closest available post!”

Coming from a generation that often treated any profession as the next-available-alternative and not a choice, unless you are a doctor or an engineer, I understand how unnerving it must have been to paint a hoarding amidst the snobs and elites of the posh and happening Park Street in Kolkata. But times are certainly changing and people are increasingly opening up to the fact that artists too can make money! “So other than some silly one-offs, artists are usually perceived as glamourous and inspiring. No? I had seen a guy sitting in front of Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata doing up a portrait, while a mother sitting with her child few steps ahead was whispering – see how he holds the brush; watch how he sits; note the concentration he puts in; this is what you have to do when you are drawing!” Prodipto laughs at my question and reveals another perspective of the almost-same story. “A friend of mine was sitting and sketching on the Academy campus, and a mother was feeding some left over tiffin that the child carried back from school. She told the child – see, if you don’t study then this is all that will be left for you to do in life!”

God! When will this country start accepting that art is more than an intellectual hobby or a source of income only for the uneducated and underprivileged? When will we generally and soulfully agree together that these crafts need academic support and have bread-bearing potentials as much as a degree in science? Coming from a family of artists and musicians, his choice of career may not have been too unconvincing or shocking for those around Prodipto, but half the world still looks at it as a “brave” choice which they would not like the kids in their family to go for! You can’t really blame them. The market is tough and insecurities are huge. It brings me to wonder whether the art scene in India is any different from that of the world. Is it a bigger or a lesser struggle in India? “India is far behind from world art scene,” laments Prodipto. “And there is no practical reason behind this! Other than M.F. Hussain there is almost no one who can really be considered a world artist. Even though my family had a background in art, I had opted for a secured life initially and wanted a career in the Indian Army. But my art college results came earlier than NDA and I got hooked for life”.

So what does art give him, which some other profession wouldn’t have? “Some unique experiences,” laughs Prodipto and goes on to elaborate further. Public art is something that this artist specifically enjoys engaging into, and once when he was painting the outer wall of a restaurant in Bhawanipore, people naturally came flocking in to ask, “Why are u doing this?” They couldn’t find reason behind a mundane wall being suddenly done up so explicitly with so much effort! Soon more people started coming, standing and staring as he worked from afternoon till late in the night, asking myriad questions that was none of their business! And before he realised, the place had become a joint for local people to loiter around judging and discussing the progress, the elderly people sat down for a Bong “adda” during evenings, tea and fast food vendors didn’t take long to catch up with their business opportunities in servicing the gathering! “Actually it became a road show,” recalls Prodipto. And it didn’t end there. The City of Joy extended its warmth as he started getting tea, peethey (Bengali sweet dish prepared at home) and other special preparations served by the neighbourhood “mashi ma’s” from time to time! “And then in another restaurant in Park Street I was designing the walls inside, standing on a ladder. I found some people standing down and watching, but didn’t bother to care more. After a while when I came down the ladder, I found there is a traffic jam around the place because of the crowd and cops had come to ease them out,” recollects the artist!

Such experiences are surreal; not something you gather every day from a mundane existence. But how enigmatic does it remain when you conduct that regular journey into a make-believe world of colours and back? Prodipto explains to me the source of his inspiration. “Art keeps me alive. I am exploring my language in art; I think visually. There is inspiration in learning and simultaneously applying it in my work, which makes it an on-going journey. I never get bored, neither do I have to restrict myself in a particular discipline. I experiment with sculpting, painting, animating, cartooning, photography… whatever comes along the way and is the need of the moment! This constant change of medium keeps me on my toes. I never get stuck; I never have to repeat myself. But in the process, I recycle my learning. What I learn while creating a cartoon, I can apply it while working on a film. Even in the same discipline, every art is different. You can’t paint the same image twice! And with each stroke of the brush, you create opportunities. If you try to influence art with your contributions, art will always inspire you back,” he says adhering to the Tagorian philosophy that Art is a result of surplus energy!

Unable to digest that he is actually living the life he loves, I ask sadistically, “Don’t artists have to compromise constantly to strike that balance between satisfaction and acknowledgement?” What Prodipto has to say makes huge sense. “Artists only work for satisfaction. Unfortunately today, art has become a ruthless business. You can attribute it considerably to the Art Boom around 2002, when I found unqualified people getting into this space because paintings were selling well! It was a temporary economic boom. Of course passion does not matter if you are in such a space. There is also an impact of socio economic changes in society. Today people have small houses; so art lovers want small canvases which they can hang on the walls. This changes the entire mind-set towards art. Large houses and rich fancies are not that prevalent any longer. So as much as he loves a broader canvas, the painter might have to compromise and give the takers what they want. Talk about sculpture for example. It is a physical thing, is space taking and is the toughest medium of expression. Since it requires space, which is getting increasingly narrower with time, a sculptor today finds it much more difficult to break even. But treating art as a part of your life is a different ball game altogether. If the artist is not happy with what he has done, trust me, neither would you be!”

It still hovers in my mind that with technology constantly replacing human expertise, what would be the future of artists in the days to come? “Technology is a two way sword,” says Prodipto. “Technology makes life easier but kills human skills considerably and deprives you of that philosophical satisfaction. Thanks to photo shop and mobile phone cameras, or professional cameras that can take numerous shots in a moment, today everyone is a photographer. But imagine the days when you would take a shot at a particular time to get the light correct, else you lose it. Such works are still more real and is worth an achievement. With technology, that satisfaction is largely traded out”.

We had started talking in the morning and I still feel that there’s a lot more I wish to know. But the artist has to go back to his world of colours. Before winding up, I chirp the last question of the day. “Do artists have their favourite colours?” “White and black,” says Prodipto. “In these colours you can see a lot of life. Think of a black and white movie. While watching it you would try to imagine colours and place it on the moving objects of the screen. They don’t reach you in grey scale! You would perceive them partly with your knowledge and partly with your sensibilities. You would imagine the grass as green because you know that grass is green; and while you believe the sari the lady is wearing is red, I might feel it is blue! That’s how you and I might see the same thing differently, because a neutral base gives you space to think.”

With a palette full of work and CV full of achievements, Prodipto Roy is generously blessed with a craft he can explore on his own terms. Starting with him, I too have taken upon myself a self-imposed journey to discover art and its impact on life through the sensitivities and sensibilities of artists, delving deep into the truth behind their creative pursuits. And we’ll see how far we can travel together on this!
First Published: June 8, 2015, 1:13 PM IST
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