Dance, music and painting are arts forms 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 too. Many artists have made their mark by painting various parts of Indian culture, tradition and heritage. Young as well as experienced artists have often brought dancers alive on canvas. There is this one young and dynamic painter, who at the very young age of 25, has achieved what many have only dreamed of.
Today, I would like you all to meet Debabrata Pal, a painter from Odisha who lives in Mumbai now 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 a painter and dancers share.
When did you discover the artist in you?
I come from the culturally rich state of Odisha. I started learning Odissi dance at three. As I grew older, my love for dance grew but my father was against a boy on the dance floor. 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 fees as my father never supported my creative side.
How difficult was it for you to convince your family that you wanted to be an artist?
As education is extremely important for every person so I did my engineering 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. All this was happening while the artist in me was still alive. Painting never ever took a backseat.
How did you start painting dancers while they were performing on stage?
I saw Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Sujata Mohapatra perform Odissi. I got spellbound by her ethereal grace, stylistic perfection and eternal charm. She evoked the dancer side of mine and I remembered my days of dancing. That is when I decided to get up and paint her while she danced. To my surprise, the artwork came out well and that is when my journey of painting live dancers while they performed began. Later, I got a chance to paint Odissi dance exponent Padma Shri Ileana Chitarist and that made me fall in love with the thought 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 the most. His perfection is dance is totally unmatched. He is a legend not just in the way he dances, sings and performs but even in this simple way of life. While he performed and I painted him, I felt a divine connection and my brush automatically started to move and the painting that came up is donned in his dance institute that shows how much he loved it.
Who was the most difficult to paint?
Padma Shri Hema Maliniji was performing her show, Namami Gange, at Pune Festival that is when I painted her. I feel it was the most difficult thing for me as I was nervous not because I was painting her but because 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 look if she descended on earth.
What was your most interesting experience?
I painted Padma Vibhushan Dr Sonal Mansingh on tussar silk. It was an interesting experience. I consider her to be the epitome of Odissi dance. She is like a bahu (daughter-in-law) of Odisha – a strong individual who embodies the heritage of India just like tussar silk fabric. So painting her not only as a dancer par excellence but as a human being was a completely thrilling experience for me.
Which one has been the most challenging painting for you?
I have always been painting Indian classical dancers because I have been an Indian classical dancer myself but when I recently painted you while you danced the Cuban Rumba on stage was a challenging task. Classical Western dance and Indian classical dance have totally different sensibilities. I had to think out of the ordinary and establish a man-woman chemistry into my painting which was very challenging experience for me.
Now without being diplomatic, which was the worst painting experience for you?
I will never mince words. Painting Padma Bhushan Zakir Husain was the worst experience. There is a very famous saying — Chai se zyada kettle garam (pot is hotter than the tea) was the case while I painted Zakir Husainji. I have painted the who’s who from the world of dance and received exceptional warmth and love but what I got that day was humiliation and that is when I decided I will never paint him again.
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 late MF Husainji but I do not care. I simply love Madhuriji and painting her while she moves would be a dream come true for me, I am hoping it will happen soon because I believe whatever we manifest in our mind with honesty from the heart always comes true.
What is more difficult — painting a dancer or a musician?
I find painting dancer more stimulating and thought-provoking. Musician are more still while they perform unlike dancers who keep moving all the time. So, capturing a movement and making it into a painting is exciting for me.
A painting you will always remember…
I am a huge Bollywood fan and love the work of national award-winning choreographer Saroj Khanji. I painted her in the award-winning Dola Re pose from Devdas while she was teaching the dance steps on a dance reality show. Also, I painted Bharat Ratan Lata Mangeshkarji while she was attending an event and sang a few lines. These two painting are my most favourites as they have the maestros in action. I simply love my art work of Bollywood.
Which musician inspired you the most?
It was Padma Vibhushan Pt Hariprasad Chaurasiaji for sure. His music is celestial. Panditji’s music is heavenly and painting him was a total bliss.
What has been the high point for you till now?
In 2018, I was invited by Odisha chief minister of Navin Patnaikji to his residence and felicitated by him and Gram Panchayat Minister Pradeep Maharatyeeji. This was like a pat on my back and it made me realise I have chosen the right path in my life.
Debabrata Pal is one artist who is steadily making waves in the art world. Recently, he was awarded by Parliamentarian Indresh Kumar in Delhi for popularising art and fashion of Odisha handloom and painting. He has also been awarded in Vietnam city for water colour painting by IWS organization and with Charkha China award at the Parliament of India. He has also won the Youth Icon award in 2018. Each art work 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 put on canvas and made immortal by this vastly gifted artist.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacifica University USA, 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 honored with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]