Wax modelling is both a passion and a profession for Kandalloor, who hails from Alappuzha district in Kerala.
When Mumbai-based bank employee Raghunath decided to visit the picturesque hill resort Lonavala on a weekend with his family, he anticipated nothing more than a few days spent in lush green surroundings and returning home with a bag of chikkis.
But the family ended up with a lot more pleasant moments than that… his daughter got to pose for a photograph with Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie, while his mother and wife were snapped receiving the blessings of Shirdi Sai Baba and Mata Amritanandamayi, and his father bagged a photo-op with his idol Anna Hazare. And all of it under one roof, at The Celebrity Wax Museum set up by Sunil Kandalloor.
Wax modelling is both a passion and a profession for Kandalloor, who hails from Alappuzha district in Kerala. “Working on wax models calls for a lot of patience and technical expertise, such as fixing the hair, making the eyes look natural, getting the skin texture and the complexion right,” he explains.
He uses natural human hair for his models, implanting one strand at a time — which, he says, can be very strenuous and time-consuming. For the eyes, he relies on certain chemicals that are used for lamination. He fashions the eyeballs after studying the shape and colour of the personality’s eyes. Even the small veins in the eyes are conspicuously visible.
Armed with a diploma from Madhava Fine Arts College in Kollam, he ventured into wax modelling without any formal training. “I was inspired by wax modelling after reading about Madame Tussauds wax museum (in London).” After more than three years of experimenting he finally grasped the technique of making wax models.
He opened his first museum in Kanyakumari in association with Bay Watch Amusement Park in December 2005. The second was opened in 2008 on the banks of Periyar Lake in Thekkady, but it closed down within a few years. His next venture was at Lonavala, in a rented premises in March 2010.
The first-ever wax model he made was a bust-size idol of Lord Krishna, which is housed in the museum of the famous Guruvayur temple in Kerala. The first human figure was of the late K. Karunakaran, former chief minister of Kerala. “Karunakaran himself was a good artist, and when I approached him for taking his measurements and photographs, he encouraged me,” says Kandalloor. He also received encouragement from his father, Sukumaran, a military officer and artist, and his mother, Saraswathi. Unfortunately, his father is not alive today to see his dream project take shape.
“I have never been to Madame Tussauds, and I have never seen a wax model sculpted by any other artist,” he rues. However, he plans to visit the Londom museum soon. “I received an offer to work with Hollywood Wax Museum in the US four years ago, but turned it down. I never wanted to be employed by others as it will curtail my freedom,” he says.
Over the past 14 years he has made more than 75 wax models, including those of personages such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, politicians Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Rajiv Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, pop star Michael Jackson, Oscar-winning music director A.R. Rahman, and Carnatic singer M.S. Subbalakshmi.
Filmmaker Dadasaheb Phalke’s statue was unveiled by actor Amitabh Bachchan in the presence of thespian Dilip Kumar in May 2012. Activist Anna Hazare unveiled his own model, much to the amusement of the gathering. In fact, it was difficult to distinguish between the real Anna and the wax model. “Anna’s idol is in a sitting posture and is 3.8 ft tall. I used 15 kg of wax to make it, and it took about a month,” says the artist. Anna donated his clothes and cap for the statue, he says.
The Lonavala museum houses 40 works. “For making a wax statue, I need an appointment with the celebrity to take body measurements and photographs. I had a tough time making (Maratha warrior) Chhatrapati Shivaji’s statue as I had to rely totally on history books. I researched extensively online, and Pune-based historian Dadasaheb Purandare helped me with the finer details.” It cost nearly Rs 2 lakh to make each model. Maintaining a wax statue is not easy as human hair and fabric is used, he adds. “Once a month, the garments are washed and every day we have to clean the fine dust settling on the surface.”
Residing in Lonavala with his wife and two daughters, Kandalloor says his ultimate dream is to open a wax museum in Mumbai with support from the Government. He has received the Dadasaheb Phalke special award. His museum is unique as an independent venture in Asia, as most other wax museums in the region are branches of Madame Tussauds. He gets nearly 2,000 visitors every day.
With Amitabh Bachchan giving the go-ahead for his wax model, the Lonavala museum is set to welcome a new inhabitant soon. But Kandalloor’s wish-list continues to grow, as he now eyes South Indian film stars such as Rajnikanth, Kamal Hassan, Chiranjeevi, Venkatesh, Nagarjuna and many more.