A painter, cartoonist and Hindustani music aficionado, Partho Sengupta, National Creative Head, Times Response, talks to Best Media Info about his almirah painting adventures and his plan to die a famous death
Roshni Nair| Mumbai | February 2, 2017
(This is a weekly series on advertising professionals who have enriched their own lives and their audiences as performing musicians, artists, painters, actors, singers, mime artists. We will bring a new adman-performer every Thursday.)
All of us have, at some point in our life, gazed at the old imposing almirahs occupying a corner of either our houses or our grandparent’s houses and wondered what mysteries they hold in their gaping metal bellies. But probably only the creatively impatient mind of Partho Sengupta could have envisioned ‘Tintin in Gurgaon’ looking at the almirah in the house.
“A gift from my father-in-law, the almirah in our house weighs tonnes. Every time we shifted our residence, at least five people went back with back issues after having lifted the hefty almirah,” laughed Sengupta.
Tired of it, Sengupta wanted to sell it but since it was a gift from his father-in-law, his wife promptly refused. That is when he asked her if he could paint it; his wife acquiesced to that demand.
“I sat down to paint it and took the theme of ‘Tintin in Gurgaon’. After I was finished painting, I put pictures of it on Facebook. I was flooded with requests from people who wanted me to go to their house and paint their almirahs. Everyone was living with those almirahs, they were pushing them inside beautiful wooden cabinets but couldn’t throw them. This almirah has now sort of become my signature. Everyone who comes to my house has to see that almirah.”
A Delhi boy who grew up in erstwhile Calcutta, Sengupta wasn’t always appreciated for his creative streak. In fact while growing up, his art often got him into trouble.
“I was never good at maths, science or physics. I used to hate these subjects. But I was completely in love with literature and arts. I passed my standard 10 exam without much hassle but in class 11 and 12 I felt I was wasting my time. I was itching to get into arts. I would draw cartoons of my teachers on blackboards and I was thrown out of class because of them. Even my parents were called in a few times. I was a trouble maker with my art.”
After completing his higher secondary education, Sengupta decided to take up arts. There were two options in front of him, the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad and the Government College of Art and Craft in Kolkata.
“NID Ahmedabad would have meant staying there and studying there would have had a lot of cost attached to it and I was a self-sufficient guy from very early in life. So I got into the Government College of Art and Craft.”
But that didn’t quite work out for Sengupta. He hated the college and the fact that being a Bengali he could neither read nor write Bengali did not work in his favour either.
“I started losing interest in the course and started bunking classes. I would sit in a graveyard, a dockyard or a railway station. Draw ships and trains. Because of attendance problems I failed and lost a year. This is when the realisation hit that I was losing years and it was not a good thing.”
But like every cloud has a silver lining, this one too had one because the Government College of Art and Craft is where he found the girl who would be his wife.
“I always say that I didn’t go to art school to study arts but to find myself a wife. She was a textile designer and I was pursuing graphic arts. We started off as friends and started doing a lot of things together.”
This is when Bombay International Film Festival or BIFF, as it was called back then, happened to them.
“I have worked extensively on something called the cameraless animation film. So, both I and my wife submitted our entry, which was a cameraless animation film, in 1992 for BIFF. This film was hand-drawn on 35 mm negatives. A laborious and back-breaking task but we got a lot of accolades for it. We were just experimenting and heavily inspired by a filmmaker called Norman McLaren. It was a game changer for me and wife.”
It was also during this time that Sengupta started meeting a lot of filmmakers and his horizon started expanding. The fact that his paternal uncle, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, is a renowned filmmaker from Kolkata didn’t hurt either. His uncle helped him meet a lot of people too. But fate had another twist up the sleeve for Sengupta.
“I ran away from home with the girl who is now my wife. We ran away and got married at a very young age. This meant I had to get a job and my first job was with Lintas Calcutta. It was a good place, there was lot of work but very little money. Both my wife and I were earning peanuts but we always dreamed big. I also used to play cricket those days and then my boss at Lintas shifted to Enterprise Delhi. He called me there and though they took me as the Art Director, the real reason behind hiring me was because of my cricket. Once hired, I was the opening bowler for Enterprise at Media Transasia matches, and we were winning those matches as well.”
Sengupta believes he has inculcated a lot from his bosses and superiors. Having worked with big names like Mohammed Khan, Naved Akhtar, Freddy Birdy, Josy Paul, Ravi Deshpande and Prashant Godbole, if there was one thing he took away from them then it was that there is a world beyond advertising.
After his stint with painting the almirah, he started painting walls.
“I am also a wall painter. I love and adore wall painting. I of course also work on paper but walls are a bigger canvas and a lot more people get to see it. So, I would love to do more wall paintings and make my city look pretty. I want to leave the world having done something like that.”
His son too has taken to wall painting. There is a wall at his home that both he and his son have painted together. Sengupta accepts that he finds women mesmerising and that 95 per cent of his paintings are an ode to them. He also loves cartooning.
“I started making cartoons when I was in college. I started contributing sports cartoons to The Telegraph. When I shifted to Delhi I was contributing cartoons for The Asian Age and continued cartooning for them for about a year and a half, my strip was called ‘True lies’.”
But what he had not foreseen was his meeting with Jug Suraiya, which happened when he joined Times of India.
“I am smitten by Jug Suraiya and his razor sharp wit. Fortunately, when I joined Times of India, his cabin was in the same office as mine and I used to see him working in his cabin. One day I gathered all my courage and went and wished him good morning. I had also carried some of my paintings along to show him my work. After seeing my work, he asked me to go and meet a friend of his who owned a gallery and that is how we started talking.”
Today he works along with Suraiya for their Facebook page ‘Jest in case’. He has had a couple of exhibitions both in Kolkata and Delhi, the latest one being in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. His paintings have also been sold world over and he counts Swapan Seth and Gitanjali Sriram among his patrons.
So what does art really mean to him?
“Art is my life. It is also my escape button and somewhere I think it is also my door to a famous obituary. I don’t want to die as some insipid advertising guy, I want to die a famous man.”