Tattoo artist Olly Alva, who has successfully inked more than 30 cricketers and Bollywood celebrities, talks about his journey.
Remember Milind Soman’s tattoo in Alisha Chinai’s song Made In India or the tattoo sported by Shefali Zariwala of Kaanta Laga fame? Well, the source of these iconic designs is 40-year-old Olly Alva, owner of Al’s Tattoo Studio in Bandra, Mumbai.
The artist is no stranger to stardom, as tinsel town stars such as Bipasha Basu, John Abraham, Riya and Raima Sen would drop by to go under the needle during their modelling days. He now has an in-house training academy where students get learning through hands-on practice.
“We started our tattoo studio when there were only a few people around, and designer tattoos were done abroad, and I wondered where these designs are coming from,” reminisces Olly.
In two decades, Olly has successfully inked more than 30 cricketers and Bollywood celebrities. The list includes all the current Boys in Blue except Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni. Actor Ali Fazal recently got a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol inked on his calf. “It stands for the supremacy of God. Fazal is well-read and has fantastic ideas. But he is also very chilled out and allows you to do your thing. So is Malaika — she got love inked on her finger and a rosary with a cross. She was not sure of the design and said that she wanted ‘something small’. This happens often. We need to discuss deeply with clients, so that the right ideas get expressed,” he says.
Olly, whose clientele includes the likes of dancer Terence Lewis, comedienne Bharati Singh and actors Saif Ali Khan and Sushmita Sen, has also inked a swastika on Shilpa Shetty Kundra, which looks like SK and stands for her initials, and a mother-daughter symbol for Sakshi Dhoni.
It was the sight of traditional tattooing being done on the streets that sparked his inquisitiveness and led to this career path. His family, however, initially had their doubts. “My mother was always insecure because there was no professional tattoo-designing market.”
Olly credits himself for ushering in a now-ubiquitous trend. “The trend of professional tattooing started with our venture 20 years back, because, before that people were getting those old marks on the body from the roadside,” he smiles.
The artist cannot overstate the importance of music to his craft. “Music is an essential part of our being. I had many musician friends and I used to draw sketches for them and then they wanted me to etch the art on their body,” recalls Olly. He reminisces, “I started with normal ink and disposable equipment and outsourced the tip of the needles from local manufacturers. But then I met with many trainers from abroad who helped me understand this art better, and then I used to have an ink-manufacturing team.”
Speaking about his experiences with celebrities, the artist says, “They are nice to deal with and they come up with their ideas but at the same time they are ready for suggestions.”