Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Phadke Studio in Dhar

“If you are going to Dhar, you should visit Phadke Studio,” before leaving Indore couple of days back many friends had told us.

The name Phadke Studio at once evokes the feeling of Phalke Studio. Your imaginations run backwards, the digital colours of memory pixels fade into chemically washed sepia tones. You linger somewhere around Maharashtra and look for the studios that made silent movies. Then you remember the works of K.M.Madhusudhanan.

Dhar lies south-west to Indore. Located between Indore and Mandu, Dhar is a transit station and most of the people know where Phadke Studio is. Ruled by Dhar Maharajas, the place has a frozen nature of history.

Though it is still winter, days are really hot here. We reach Phadke Studio around afternoon and to our surprise we see three non-descript sheds, which resemble railway quarters, for the famous Phadke Studio. Somu parks the car under a lonely tree and we walk towards one of the gates.

“Hey there, have you come to visit Phadke Studio?” an old man in pyjama and banyan comes out one of the quarters and asks us. We nod in unison. “Give me a minute, I will join you there at the last shed,” he says and disappears into the house. In a minute he re-emerges in pants and shirt. He is a small man and he introduces himself as Krishna Dev, a retired official from Indian Railways. Now he takes care of the Phadke Studio and doubles himself up as a curator and guide. He leads us to the last shed.

Krishna Dev, painstakingly opens the old doors and the panels opens with a creaking noise. Till then we are bit impatient as we don’t know what is there inside. We don’t have any clue about the things that we are going to visit.

Inside the shed there is a veranda kind of room. It leads into a main hall, which is approximately fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long. We look around and we take a few minutes understand what is in there.

If I look for a parallel of what I see, I would say all the displays ‘works of art’ together look like a Bomma Kolu, the kitsch sculptural ensemble done during the Diwali days in North and Pongal days in South. Here we see the portrait sculptures of recognizable and unrecognizable people. Some are larger than life size, some are life size and some are exaggerated and minimized busts; the kinds that you see in city squares and public places.

But they are different in a way. They don’t look like pure kitsch. Academically perfect, these sculptures have caught the personality of the model in a royal way. I see Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehur, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Ram Mohan Roy and all those recognizable figures from our national movement. There are portrait sculptures of Kings, queens, local chieftains and spiritual leaders.

“These are the plaster of paris copies of all what Phadke saab and his disciple had done,” Krishna Dev tells us.

Things become clear to us. This is one of the famous studios in Madhya Pradesh, which is famous for portrait sculptures.

The history of this studio goes like this: the Maharaja of Dhar was a patron of arts. He invited several artists to his kingdom during the first half of the twentieth century. He came across the name of Raghunath Krishna Phadke, who had received the fame as a great sculptor.

R.K.Phadke was an accomplished portrait sculptor. He had a studio in Vasai, Maharashtra. In 1933, one of his creative sculptures titled ‘Tatva Chintak’ had received the Golden Medal from the Bombay Art Exhibition. Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda had collected this work. Maharaja of Dhar wanted this reputed sculptor as his courtier and he sent the invitation to Phadke.

Meanwhile Phadke was mourning the death of his wife. He was lonely and was contemplating about relocating himself. The invitation from the Maharaja was a blessing in disguise. He decided to shift his base from Vasai to Dhar. The King allotted a small strip of land and three small buildings to start his studio.

Phadke was an accomplished artist. That means, he was well versed in different forms of art including music and literature. Besides, he had got the renown as a great palmist also. With no immediate family members around him, Phadke adopted four boys, who showed artistic talents, from Dhar. These boys were known as Dev Brothers and Mehunkar Brothers.

These four young boys were taught in different areas of art. Two of them became portrait sculptors and other two became musicians. Dev and Mehunkar had trained a few sculptors from the Northern India. Some sculptors from Jaipur were also trained by these brothers, passing the legacy of Phadke to new generations.

Phadke’s studio flourished under the royal patronage till he died in 1972 at the age of eighty eight. His disciples carried on their mission. However, in the meanwhile, patronage for public and commemorative sculptures had diminished considerably. The studio started faring through bad weather.

“Now, the main source of income is from the visitors,” says Krishna Dev. But there is no ticketing system. “The visitors give some money and I never ask for more,” says he.

What about the studio practice? “The studio is almost shut down as we are not receiving any commissions from anywhere,” Dev ruminates.

This studio was once patronised by the business houses like Hukumchand, Mafatlal, Holkar family of Indore and Devas royal families.

Phadke studio used to make sculptures in Marble and Bronze. The modelling and moulding are done in the studio itself. Marble carving also used to be from the same premises. Now fallen from grace, the studio does not have full time artists. However, when a commissioned work comes in they invite artists like Ashok Jaimini from Jaipur. If the commission is for a bronze sculpture, it is done in Kolhapur.
“How much do you charge for a sculpture?” I ask.

“It depends. If it is a two feet tall sculpture, we charge Rs.45000. If it is bronze a few thousands will be more,” Dev says.

I want to tell him that they are abysmally low prices. But he continues, “Now very rarely we get work. If at all we get work, we take the commission and outsource the work.”

The collection of Phadke sculptures need protection, I feel. They may not be aesthetically great. But they have a history of their own. It has a lot to do with the early sculptural practices of Sir.J.J.School of Art. Phadke has affinities with M.H.Mahtre and other sculptors of late 19th and early 20th century.

But nobody pitches in. The city administration seems to be totally unaware of what is going on here. Dev complaints that nobody cares to extend patronage.

Phadke Studio is now run by a five member trust, in which Krishna Dev is a member. The trustees do not seem to have any long time plan for the collection. “It will remain as it is now,” says Dev.

These works need to be documented and preserved. Something which has become just a tourist attraction should be given art historical validation.

PS: There is no electricity in Dhar either. We are impatient as we cannot upload the site and blog. Suddenly Krishna Dev tells that the power supply has come back. Somu asks whether he would allow us to use the plug points in his house for sometime and the old man invites us into his house. Immediately we set up our office there. I start working on my write ups and Feroze continues with his photo editing, which he had left in Mandu thanks to power failure. Somu takes a nap and snores away to bliss. In one hour we finish our work and upload all the stuff from there. We thank Krishna Dev for allowing us to work from his home and give him some money, which he receives with a smile.

1 comment:

Pierre des Indes said...

Very interesting post.
After reading it, I went to Phadke Studio - even posted today something on my blog. This happened thanks to you...