Rishi Majumder meets Ramakant Fadte, a man who can put you next to the stars, thanks to his honed hoarding artistry
Photographer: Satish Malavade
Those entering Mad O Wot for their hair cut are greeted by a large film hoarding. It is painted, pretty much as film hoardings used to be once. But it bears images of a masked Hrithik Roshan in Krrish, an intense Sanjay Dutt in Mission Kashmir, and a saree draped Vidya Balan smiling innocently in Parineeta. Strolling casually into this whirlpool of Bollywood’s most dramatic images is another painted image… of Sapna Bhavnani (who runs the salon) in characteristic boots, cool haircut, hoop earrings and a hat. A signature next to her reads: “Ramakant: 9322883435”.
Ramakant Fadte’s ‘studio’ in Matunga is a tiny shack, bequeathed by his father (also an artist). One wall is occupied almost entirely by a huge fish tank (also inherited). The other holds a pin-up board with prints of Fadte’s paintings, some of film posters manipulated like this one to include a commoner’s face in place of Munnabhai’s or Dev Anand’s; some straight out somber portraits of distinguished old world gentlemen (mostly bankers) who still believe in being portrayed in an old school way. “I do portraits any which way. As per customer’s order,” says 44-year-old Fadte, seated by these extreme poles of his talent, mulling over an empty canvas. Fadte’s father, who eked out his living painting signboards and banners, sent him as an apprentice to a banner company when he was in Class 7, “not to earn money, but to learn something”. He went on to supplement this practical sense with a diploma from Bandra’s L S Raheja School of Art and a subsequent degree from the JJ School, before returning to signboards and banners mostly, to earn a living. Soon computers hogged the frame, quite literally. “I was only one of so many struggling artists, whose only means of subsistence (banners and signboards) was snatched because their five day work could be done in 15 minutes by a machine,” he remembers. He struggled on in the field however until eight years ago, when he got a contract from Studio Plus to paint boxes for Abu Jani’s London fashion show with a Bollywood theme. “I was given the freedom to ideate, and I wanted to do something different,” he explains. He struck upon what so many were using in that time to survive: the remix. “I used a young Dilip Kumar with a young Sanjay Dutt, and painted alongside the name of an ’80s film which none of them were in.” And so on, till he took this idea further: painting ordinary customers into the films as well.
Fadte’s latest film banners were painted for filmmaker Sudhir Mishra, not to promote his film, Khoya Khoya Chaand, but to star in it. The film promises to be as much a reminder of a bygone era as Fadte’s filmy murals and canvases, which today adorn many a socialite and celebrity’s house. “I’ve done many for foreigners too,” he mentions, opening an album to show us prints of a blonde couple painted to strike a Rajesh Khanna-Nutan pose in mid-dance; the film title reads Ek Duje ke Liye. Hidden in earlier pages are impressionistic portraits Fadte won State and Bombay Art Society awards for in his younger days: a friend painted with only a wall and blurred switchboard in the background; a middle aged working class woman passing by a gully bustling with the activity of the Bambai Sangeet Kala Mandal, and pausing to look. “The same amount of creativity can go into a banner too, if you’re allowed freedom to experiment,” Fadte says, picking up his helmet as he readies to leave. “I remember my gurus who painted banners, obsessing for hours over composition, making the colours play.” He’s painted his helmet over with portraits as well, from Hindi films of differing eras, but juxtaposed names of popular Marathi movies. “My next helmet will be painted with Marathi film stars, and Hindi movie names,” he grins before leaving.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/b9os