KOCHI: Till Saturday, anyone walking into the majestic Durbar Hall Art Gallery will be greeted with a blitz of 333 paintings of Kerala’s favourite superstar Mohanlal. Painted on jute with henna and framed in bamboo, the series of organic artworks by artist and fashion designer Nikhil Varma attempts to capture the entire oeuvre of the acting legend.
Inaugurated on the Mohanlal’s birthday, the exhibition is Nikhil’s homage to the hero he has grown up admiring. “I have been a huge Mohanlal fan since childhood. While my friends in school would doodle guns and cars, I would try sketching his face from magazines and newspapers. I was obsessed with mimicking the spectacular image of Mohanlal getting off a truck from Spadikam,” says the artist.
The entire project took Nikhil eight months to complete. With every frame, he has tried to recreate an iconic moment in Mohanlal’s films. The subject remains the same but the actor looking back at you from each painting is distinct. Exclusive from one other, it is the character and not the actor you see lined up on the walls. “Having tried my best to reproduce expressions, it is like Mohanlal is emoting differently in all 339 movies he has acted in,” says Nikhil.
Nikhil’s choice of using henna and jute as the medium is unique. When asked, he says his fashion designing background made him conscious of using sustainable and natural fabrics which he has implemented in his art as well. “Many artists have previously experimented with organic colours like coffee beans. I chose henna in order to be innovative, also I really like the colour it gives off on ochre green,” he says.
And because of the medium he uses, Nikhil’s portraits exude an old-world charm as if they have been seasoned with time in sepia tones. His work is also surprisingly not self-conscious. Nikhil is unafraid of making mistakes, some portraits are askew but according to him, as a self-taught artist, he is still learning.
“My ambition is to give back to society. I believe one can help fellow beings even through art,” he says.
Through his previous exhibitions in Thrissur, Nikhil raised funds to help financially-backward, visually impaired students.
This is perhaps why when quizzed about his personal favourite, Nikhil points to the reproduction of Mohanlal’s look from Oppam, in which he acted as a blind man. And just like the actor, every painting by Nikhil’s seems like it has aged tastefully with grace.