Rishi Majumder meets the Vishwakarma brothers, who have made a mark in creating pop art for three-wheelers in the city
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Naresh (names changed) has a giant Emraan Hashmi face stuck on his auto-rickshaw because he’s his favourite star. Surjeet symbolises his devotion in a full body image of Sai Baba with “Sai Kripa” written in Hindi. Sanjay has a sticker reading simply “Chintu”, his son’s name. Raju has a large pistol with a bullet coming out of it. Mannu, a married man, has in proud defiance stuck the name of his “Chaavi” – a woman he’s in a relationship with. Kailash has gone one step beyond – he’s stuck on the name of a woman he wants, but cannot have. “So when we ask him where he is going, he says ‘I’m going to ride *****’.” The auto-waalas laugh.
“Marking their identity” and “Drawing customers attention” are two reasons Suresh Vishwakarma, co-owner of DK Arts, cites for auto drivers purchasing these stickers. D K Arts is one of the oldest makers of the stickers, and one of the rare ones in of the breed who continue their art by hand. Forty per cent of autos in the suburbs, according to Suresh, brandish stickers by DK Arts. But there’s a third reason that drives this need: In the city of aspirations where many an auto-driver is a migrant, each sticker is representative of a desire. So interpret the above listing respectively: Bollywood, God, home, power, love and sexual repression.
Dinesh Vishwakarma set up DK Arts in 1992. He was a “paint brush artist doing posters and banners” before he spotted potential in this trade. His brother Suresh, also “having a creative mind from childhood”, left the interior design dhanda to join him in 1996. In 1994 as radium stickers gained in popularity, DK Arts redefined ‘pop art’. Suresh recounts: “We had complete freedom – we applied everything we’d thought about ‘painting’ to carving through radium and sun-control film.” With the advent of computerisation and the mass production of stickers supplied at cheaper rates, the brothers have bought a computer and cutting machine. “But any complicated work still has to be done by hand,” Suresh insists. He displays a popular godman’s face – where the hair, moustache and facial wrinkles are executed by cutting each feature intricately out of a different colour of radium and sticking one layer on the other.
“We use a system of dots to create face shadows, where required,” he explains. “Give us your photograph, and we’ll make an identical sticker,” Girish Kumar, Suresh’s assistant, challenges. “Our best handwork – done by Dinesh (Vishwakarma) Bhai is that good!” Their subjects are each as different as a trishul and lion can be from a Bollywood star. “Earlier, we had a huge demand for Amitabh Bachchan – especially post Kaalia,” Suresh observes. “Today it’s Salman Khan or Emraan Hasmi.” Machismo, among autowallahs still determines their icon’s ultimate appeal.
The price for each sticker ranges between Rs 300 to Rs 3000. “And even if we charged Rs 160 where others charged Rs 60, we’d have six autos lined up and waiting constantly,” Suresh boasts. But today the price as well as demand for his work has fallen. While an auto-driver attributes this to so many cheap ready-made stickers being sold all over the city, Suresh has another argument: “Permits are given easily now-a-days, so the number of auto drivers have increased—lowering individual income. They can’t afford our art.” Also, government restrictions on windshield stickers bring down heavy fines on an autodriver with the desire to experiment. But even as Suresh grumbles, a rickshaw wallah places an expensive order. He asks for the hand-crafted reproduction of the 1983 film Hero’s poster—with Jackie Shroff and Meenakshi Sheshadri in the fore-front and a bike in the background. The customer claims the dated film was a “favourite past memory”… which he has used an old art to preserve.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/ifjo