Statues bowl over visitors to museum

Statues bowl over visitors to museum

Many mistake the statues for real person standing in museum.

It is probably easy to catch a “selfie” with celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly. It would not be an easy task but not that hard either. Clicking one with Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore or Swami Vivekananda would be an improbability; unless, of course, you are walking down the aisles of Mother’s Wax Museum in Kolkata.

The latest addition to the city’s tourist attractions, the wax museum, which boasts of a variety of life-like statues made out wax, offers visitors not only a glimpse into the life of great and famous personalities but also allows one to click photographs with their statues. Soumendra Moulik, who came all the way from fringes of the metropolis’ southern suburbs, along with his family, made the best of his visit by clicking photos with all the personalities depicted in wax figures. The museum has been named after one of its prominent occupants, Mother Teresa.

Set up on the sixth floor of the Finance Centre at Rajarahat Newtown in east Kolkata, about 10 km from the city airport, the museum has already amazed visitors in the last few days. Inaugurated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in the presence of Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan on Novem­ber 10, the museum is eliciting significant interest among people and museum authorities say they have been receiving visitors even in the middle of the week.

The wax museum in Kolkata is clearly inspired by the legendary and internationally-acclaimed Madame Tussaud’s in London, with its other source of inspiration being veteran wax sculptor Susanta Ray. While he is the man behind all the 19 figures on display at the museum, he has already shown the way with a similar wax museum he set up at his hometown of Asansol in Burdwan district, where he has his home and studio. Working out of the small coal town, he has already created wonders.

Looking at Ray’s dedication, the chief minister decided to give him the job of helping government officials to set up the museum. With Ray’s imagination and dexterity, the wax museum became a fruitful idea and the chief minister’s dream of turning Kolkata into London received a boost with both cities sharing a similarity in the form of the wax museum. “While Kolkata, in its heydays, was the second most important city of the British Empire after London, the wax museum will give the eastern metropolis something to talk about,” says a senior government official involved with the setting up of the museum.

The wax museum presently features personalities such as Bengali matinee idols Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, Mahatma Gandhi, cultural icons like Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Kazi Nazrul Islam, prominent scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, popular singers Manna De, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, along with sports personalities Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev. According to visitors, the statues are so life-like that it is easy to mistake one as the real person standing there.
“I took a photograph of the Manna Dey statue and showed it my friends. Most of them found it hard to believe it was a wax figure and not an actual photograph of the singer. This is my third visit and many of my friends have come with me to have first-hand experience,” said Sukhen Sarkar of Delhi, who is in the city on a vacation.
Sarkar cited as an example the statue of film star Mithun Chakraborty, who is a major celebrity in Bengal, after enthralling audiences of Hindi films for decades. While Mithun’s statue stands in his avatar from the hit film of 1980, “Disco Dancer”, he stands next to Bachchan, whose baritone fills the room.

Even the chief minister has found her place among the statues as her life-like figure is seen sitting at her office table with a cell phone in one hand and a pen in another. Mamata’s is one of the most photo­graphed statues, with people lining up to capture selfies with it or just click a photo. Her statue is seen smiling, making a visitor comment that she looks “younger, happy and, glamorous”. 

Ray sculpted the figures using photographs as reference. A gold medalist of the prestigious Indian Art College in 1980, Ray’s journey began like any other sculptor, giving shape to things, real and abstract with his fingers. Sometime in the early 1990s, he decided to shift to wax as a medium and honed his skills with it to such an extent that when Ray gifted President Pranab Mukherjee with a wax statue, the first citizen exclaimed at the likeness.

Ray, however, is reticent in sharing details of the statues. One statue takes a few days to complete and then add the finishing touches. The sculptor is keeping the upcoming list of figures close to his heart.

Debashis Sen, chairman and managing director of West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation said the footfall has crossed 1,000 just on its first week. The state-run corporation is the owner and manager of the museum. Although the entry fee is somewhat high at Rs 150 owing to high maintenance costs, the next step is to have a dedicated website for the museum, the official said.

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