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After Hours: Santosh Padhi, the art enthusiast

Santosh Padhi, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu India, believes that there is art in everything and it is upon each of us to push art in India so that it reaches its full potential

After Hours: Santosh Padhi, the art enthusiast

Santosh Padhi, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu India, believes that there is art in everything and it is upon each of us to push art in India so that it reaches its full potential

Roshni Nair | Mumbai | February 23, 2017

Santosh Padhi Santosh Padhi

(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 and much more. We will bring a new adman-performer every Thursday.)


The lore surrounding Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) says that anyone who paints his eyes will lose their sight. Santosh Padhi, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu India, or Paddy as he is popularly known, was not to be perturbed by this piece of ancient belief. A Dadar (Mumbai) boy who has his roots in Puri in Odisha, Paddy is as much a devout believer of Lord Ganesha as he is of Lord Jagannath.

“Every year we bring the Odia mandal’s Ganpati and every year we try to do something different. So, this one year I decided to make Lord Ganesha in the image of Lord Jagannath. When I proposed this idea, everyone warned me saying not to do it because the lore had it that anyone who paints Lord Jagannath’s eyes losses his sight. There were a lot of people who warned me about doing this.”

But being an artist at heart Paddy still wanted to give it a shot. He then approached a sculptor close to his house and together they started work on this idol.

Ganpati-Jagannath“Every night after leaving office I used to go and work on this idol. I continued working for 15 days, the body was ready and five days before Ganesh Chaturthi I decided to paint the idol. I wanted a matte finish for the idol, so I painted it black and left it to dry. The next day when I went to check on the idol, the painted had started to peel!”

Confused by this Paddy sought the more experienced sculptor’s advice. Eventually, they came to the conclusion that the idol must be wet from inside and hence the paint had come off.

“Usually people use POP and in this case I had chosen solid clay and therefore the idol was wet from inside and because of the moisture, the paint was peeling. So we decided to dry it. We both sat down with blow dryers and started drying the idol.”

Having already lost one day, they applied another coat of paint to the now blow-dried idol.

“The next day in the evening when I landed up to check on the idol, I found out that because we had artificially dried the idol, it had started to crack. So then we filled up the gaps with some more clay and I took a day off from work. Luckily, that day there was some sun, so I took it outside and put it under the sun and burned some hay around the idol to naturally bake the clay. Now this was just one night before Ganesh Chaturthi, the clay had finally dried and we put another coat of paint. But now, because a lot of tampering had been done, the paint was patchy.”

Another friend of Paddy’s came to his rescue this time. He suggested using oil paint first to stop the water from seeping onto the final coat of paint.

“So we put the oil paint coat and on top of that we used the blackboard’s matte finish paint coat. By that evening I had all the voices who had warned me about taking this up inside my head and I started to feel that this might not work out. So I asked that sculptor who was helping me to keep one idol in reserve in case I was not able to finish this one on time. But he asked me to stop worrying and assured me that Lord Ganesha always supported creativity.”

Finally, the paint stayed but there was still some work to be done like the ‘mukut’ (headgear) and most importantly the eyes.

“When I was painting the eyes my hands were literally shivering because the warning that people who paint the Lord’s eyes go blind was ringing in my ears. Till the end I was thinking that maybe now I will go blind. Fortunately I still have my sight,” laughs Paddy.

The idol was an instant success and a lot of newspapers covered it too. But the world would not have got the chance to witness the brilliance of Paddy the artist if fate hadn’t played a role in it.

Paddy calls his admission into JJ School of Applied Arts a miracle. Interested in both sports and arts, Paddy wasn’t aware of his talent as an artist while he was in school. It was his teacher, Vishakha Raut, who encouraged him to pursue arts after passing out from school, Paddy in fact hadn’t even heard about JJ School of Arts until Raut had mentioned the name to him.

“A day prior to when I was supposed to have an interview at JJ for my admission, I was down with typhoid. I couldn’t even get up but somehow I managed to go to the doctor next morning. After taking my medicines I convinced my mother that I was feeling okay and went for the interview alone. But the interview was supposed to happen at 9 AM and I reached the college at 11 AM.”

There he found a senior peon called Patwardhan Kaka who took one look at him and realised he was unwell. Paddy related his story to the man and he promised to do something about it.

“At lunch hour I got another chance to give the interview. But the moment I entered the room, the interviewer started by asking how I could be careless about my interview and come two hours late. He then took a look at my certificates. I had carried everything I had and there were a lot of sports certificates there. He then started by saying since I was so good at sports I should apply to some college that would nurture my interest in sports. We were also supposed to bring in five original pieces of art and unfortunately my cousin and I had been practising our signatures behind some of those works. His surname was Sahu and mine is Padhi, so there were both Sahu and Padhi scribbled on the back of those pieces. The interviewer asked me whether the art belonged to Sahu and when I started to explain the situation, he waved me off.”

By that point Paddy was sure he wasn’t going to get into JJ. He collected his certificates and his work and left the interview convinced he wasn’t getting through. He also enrolled for a one-year course at Model Art Institute. He even started school there before the merit list for JJ was out. Since, Paddy was so sure he wasn’t going to get into JJ he never went to check the list when it came out.

“A few days after the list was out, there was an exhibition at JJ and we got a half day from college. So I and a few of my friends went to see the exhibition. Since, we were already there I thought I should go and check the merit list too. To my utter surprise when I went to check the list my name was there but as luck would have it that was the last day to pay the fee and secure the place. The fee was around Rs 250 and between me and my friends we could only scrap up some Rs 50. I rushed to the accounts department and explained my situation. The accounts person made it very clear that even if I managed to pay the fee on time he will not consider my admission because of my lackadaisical attitude.”

Distressed, Paddy then once again sought out Patwardhan Kaka who had helped him out the first time and explained his situation. The peon asked him to hurry home and get the required amount and assured him that he will ask the accounts person to consider his case. Paddy arrived with the money half an hour after the deadline to pay the fee, but thanks to the peon his payment was accepted and his place secured.

But within three months Paddy wanted to get out of the college. Filled with South Bombay kids he felt alienated from the crowd.

“Those days I was good at sports and my father was from an Army background. So I decided that I would get into the Navy. Every six months they have an entrance exam. There is a physical, medical, an entrance exam and finally the interview; it is a four-layer process. I made two attempts but was rejected because of being underweight. In the third attempt I cleared the physical, medical and the entrance but in the interview they asked for a bribe and I that is when I decided not to pursue it anymore.”

While he was trying to get into the Navy, Paddy was just trying to get over with his course and wasn’t very serious about it.

“I was already in my second year at JJ when the incident with the bribe took place. Till then I was just neglecting college but from third year onwards I started concentrating on my course and I was also was in the top three for three consecutive years.”

After doing five years of applied arts, he joined advertising. In the grind of the professional world, Paddy found little time to pursue his passion for art independently. But he has recently taken up sculpting, sketching, photography, etc., again. While it helps channel his creative musings, it also allows him to spend quality time with his children.

What does he love more? Painting, sculpting, sketching?

“I love everything. People these days think photography is easy but you need to have an eye for it. You have to keep the tone, the composition, everything in mind while clicking the picture. I think sketching, doodling are stress busters to me. Pottery or working with clay is a sort of an acupressure. I enjoy all of this. I always tell youngsters to learn every form of art because one day you will have to use it.”

Paddy believes that art today has got commercialised and has lost its sheen.

“In the commercial world art has been being used half-heartedly due to which it has lost its charm. It is upon all of us to push art as much as we can because in the end people are not buying brands or services. They buy something they feel connected to, be it stories, be it art, something that moves them. India’s legacy of art is very rich and as a nation I don’t think we have used even 10 per cent of it. We still have a hangover of the western world and we have not been able to blend tradition with modernity.”

But Paddy is optimistic that we will eventually find our art footing. He is doing his bit by presenting people with authentic Indian art.

“I had visited Warli Village and I collected some 10-20 pieces of actual Warli paintings. Whenever I go abroad for meetings or any other events, I gift them to my friends there and they go berserk over them. Some of my relatives are probably thinking when will this guy gift us something normal like a perfume or something,” laughs Paddy.

Not for a long time to come we hope.

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