Many artists have made their mark by painting various parts of Indian culture, tradition and heritage.
Dance, music and painting are arts that enhance the soul of our country. Dance and music have been a part of our lives for centuries and painting has not been far behind. Many artists have made their mark by painting various parts of Indian culture, tradition and heritage. Young and experienced artists have often brought dancers alive on canvas. There is one young dynamic painter who at the very young age of 25 has achieved what many have only dreamt of. Today I would like you all to meet Debabrata Pal, a painter from Odisha who currently lives in Mumbai and has painted almost all the big names in the field of dance. I had a heart-to-heart talk with this young and highly gifted boy and he told me a story that will make you fall in love with the bond that the painter and the dancer shares.
When did you discover the artist in you?
I come from the culturally rich state of Odisha. I started learning Odissi dance at the tender age of three years. As I grew older, my love for dance grew with me, but my father was totally against a boy being on the dance floor. Soon, he forced me to stop dancing. That is when I moved to painting under the expert guidance of my teacher, Nilanshu Bala Shashmal, who often paid my fee, too, as my father was never supporting my artistic side.
How difficult was it for you to convince your family that you wanted to be an artist?
I do understand that education is extremely important for everyone, so I did my engineering. I also took up fashion designing and completed my course from INIFD. My family was thrilled when I was selected to represent my college at the prestigious Lakme Fashion Week. But painting never ever took a backseat.
How did you start painting dancers while they were performing on stage?
When I saw Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Sujata Mohapatra perform Odissi, I was spellbound by her stylistic perfection and ethereal grace. She evoked the dancer in me and I remembered my dancing days. I decided to paint her as she danced. To my surprise the artwork came out well. Later I got a chance to paint Padmashree Ileana Chitarist, another Odissi dance exponent. It made me fall in love with the idea of painting dancers while they performed live on stage.
You have painted many dancers. Who has been your most favourite?
I have enjoyed painting Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj. His perfection in dance is totally unmatched; he is indeed a legend in not just the way he dances, sings and performs but even in his way of life. While he performed and I painted him, I felt a divine connection. My brush automatically started to move and the painting that came out today adorns the walls of his dance institute. That shows how much he loved it.
Who was the most difficult to paint?
Padmashree Hema Maliniji was performing her show, Namami Gange, at a Pune festival. I was extremely nervous and not because I was painting her but because her beauty is unreal. I wanted to do full justice to her dream girl exquisiteness. Dressed in white and silver she looked absolutely divine, just how Maa Ganga would actually look if she descends on earth.
What was your most interesting experience?
I painted Padma Vibhushan Dr Sonal Mansingh in tussar. I consider her to be the epitome of Odissi; she is like the bahu of Odisha, is strong individual who embodies the heritage of India just like the tussar fabric, so painting her not only as a dancer par excellence but as a human being was what was completely thrilling.
What was most challenging painting for you?
I have always been painting Indian classical dancers, but Sandip sir, when I recently painted you while you danced the Cuban Rumba on stage was most challenging for me. Western dance and Indian classical dance have totally different sensibilities. I had to think out of the box and establish a man-woman chemistry in my painting.
Now without being diplomatic tell me which was the worst painting experience for you.
I am an artist and I will never mince words. Painting Padma Bhushan Zakir Hussain was the worst experience for me. There is a very famous saying “chai se jada kettlee garam (the kettle is hotter than the tea)”. That was the case while I painted Zakir Hussainji. I have painted the who’s who of the world of dance and I have received exceptional warmth and love from all but what I got that day was humiliation and that is when I decided I will never paint him again.
A painting you will always remember?
I am huge fan of Bollywood films and I love the work of National Award winning choreographer Saroj Khanji. I painted her in the award winning “Dola Re” pose from the film Devdas while she was teaching the dance steps on a dance reality show. Also, I painted the Maa Saraswati herself, Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar, while she was attending an event and sang a few lines. These two painting are my most favourite. I simply love my artwork of Bollywood.
You have painted all the big names in the world of dance and music, who would you like to paint now?
My dream is to paint Madhuri Dixit, I know I might sound like I am trying to copy the late M.F. Hussianji but I do not care. I simply love Madhuriji and painting her while she moves would be a dream come true for me.
What is more difficult — painting a dancer or a musician?
I have painted both dancers and musicians but I find painting dancers more stimulating. Dancers keep moving all the time. Capturing a movement and making it into a painting is both hard and exciting.
Which musician inspired you the most?
It was Padma Vibhushan Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasiaji for sure. His music is celestial. Even while I paint dancers, apart from the movement it is the music that inspires me the most, and Panditji’s music is heavenly. Painting him was bliss.
What has been the high point for you till now?
In 2018, I was invited by our chief minister of Odisha Shri Navin Patnaik to his residence, Naveen Nivas, and I was felicitated by him and gram panchayat minister Pradeep Maharathy. It was a moralebooster, and made me realise that I have chosen the right path in my life.
Debabrata Pal is one artist who is steadily making waves in the art world. He was honoured recently by parliamentarian Indresh Kumar. He has also been awarded in Vietnam City for water colours by IWS organisation and conferred with the Charkha China Award at the Parliament of India. He also won the Youth Icon award in 2018. Each artwork of Debabrata is unique as it brings alive the dancer on canvas. So, if you are an upcoming dancer or a musician, start dreaming that one day you will be immortalised by this vastly gifted artist.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacifica University, USA, and an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University. He is a World Book Record holder, a well known ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and a Dadasaheb Phalke award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.