People Mohammed Ilyas has sung to many celebrities while drawing their portraits.

Artist Mohammed Ilyas combines his love for music with his artistic prowess and has impressed top film personalities with his skill

Even as you converse with him, Mohammed Ilyas observes you quietly, grabs a paper and pencil, sketches furiously and hands over an accurate portrait he has made of you. He does this in the matter of a few minutes. What is striking is that he does all this while singing the popular Illaiyaraja tune “En Iniya Pon Nilave,” aided by Karaoke music in the background! Mohammed Ilyas is slowly beginning to get recognition all over the country for this unique skill.

He has brought together two of his favourite hobbies, music and art to define his identity and has become a recognisable face in a span of just four years.

Humble beginnings

Ilyas completed a diploma in fine arts from Kerala University in 1992, but struggled to find useful work for a few years. He moved to Dubai in 1998 to work as an art teacher at a private school. He then participated in mimicry shows conducted by South Indian associations in the evenings, which caught the audience’s attention. This was his first real experience of performing on stage.

Post marriage in 2001, his wife, supportive of his efforts accompanied him to the Middle East. However she returned to Kerala in a couple of years with their children. While the mimicry acts gave Ilyas the recognition and teaching art a basic salary, he yearned to come back home to his family.But when he returned to Mannarkkad in 2007, there was no job in hand and he had to find ways to make ends meet. He went to Kochi and worked as a freelance designer, with limited success.

lyas then approached his college friend R. Thangavelu, who is the creative director of a printing and publishing firm in Coimbatore. Thangavelu suggested he make a career out of singing and drawing at the same time!

“It seemed a really strange idea, as I am not a trained singer and had never performed on stage,” Ilyas says. However, Thangavelu was persistent and took him along to sing and draw at an event in Tirupur in 2009.

Things have looked up ever since. Ilyas started getting more offers and his talent was captured by many Tamil and Malayalam television channels. He also performed along with playback singers Harish Raghavendra and Mahathi in the city and held his own.

“I sang just a couple of songs while sketching at the same time, and received great applause. Prominent music directors came up to me to find out from where I had received vocal training ,” says the self-trained Ilyas.

The artist has since wowed the best in the industry with his work and tunes. Music directors Gangai Amaran and James Vasanthan, playback singer Mano, actors Prabhu, Sarath Kumar, Mohan Lal and Amitabh Bachchan are some of the big names who he has drawn.

Drawing a portrait of Amitabh Bachchan at the closing ceremony of the Chennai International Film Festival last December, while singing “Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein” counts as his proudest moment. But Ilyas remains undaunted by big names. “For me, the focus is on drawing portraits as accurately as possible. I don’t keep in mind the fact that they are big stars or leaders, as that will affect my work,” he says.

Ilyas has also found mention in the Elite World Records for drawing portraits of four different people in the span of 10 minutes.

Building awareness

Since manual art is not seen as a very lucrative profession by youngsters in the digital age, Ilyas and Thangavelu plan to go on a road show and travel to the remote villages around the country to demonstrate the beauty of hand drawn art.

“I will also visit schools and colleges and show them how important art is in life itself. Music and art have no language and invariably they bring people together,” Ilyas concludes.