Life & Style

Achyut Palav believes in pushing boundaries as a calligrapher

Achyut Palav

Achyut Palav   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

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The National Award-winning artist, whose clientèle includes the who’s who in the country, completes four decades in the field

Mumbai-based master calligrapher Achyut Palav paints visuals with letters of the alphabet. In the city as part of ‘Ka Cha Ta Tha Pa’, the first-ever National Calligraphy Festival in Kerala, he entertained a small group of admirers gathered around his table with the magic of his articulate lines.

“It looks simple, but simple is difficult,” he says. With a flourish, he pens ‘Rain’ in black ink on a white paper and splashes droplets of water on the design. “Those are the first drops of rain,” he says with a chuckle. Then he splashes more drops of water and, as the ink spreads, he adds, “Now, there is a tsunami.” Before the laughter dies down, he draws two strokes and lo! An umbrella appears. “Have that madness inside you to play with the tools and your designs. Leave everything behind and have fun,” he advises the onlookers.

Achyut Palav at an umbrella painting workshop

Achyut Palav at an umbrella painting workshop   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Be it the letters of Devanagari or English, Achyut’s hallmark has been his free-flowing creativity. A reason why the who’s who in the country has his works in their private collection — the Ambanis, political bigwigs, sportspersons, Bollywood stars, musicians, industry giants, corporate houses...

As he is all set to celebrate his four-decade-old journey in calligraphy next month in Mumbai, Achyut goes back in time to where it began: a high school in Parel, Mumbai. “I was a backbencher, as I was bad in studies. Yet, one of my teachers wanted me to write a ‘thought for the day’ on the blackboard daily. I was surprised by his confidence in me. That exercise eventually made me realise that I could make my writing attractive, clean and aesthetic,” he recounts.

Fact file
  • He started Achyut Palav School of Calligraphy in Mumbai in 2009. An annual event of the school is Callifest, featuring workshops, exhibitions, lectures and demos on calligraphy
  • Achyut is credited with creating the title font of Shahrukh Khan-starrer Asoka and lettering for AR Rahman’s song ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’
  • At the launch of Boman Irani’s production house by Amitabh Bachchan, a shawl was gifted to the latter in which Achyut had written the meaning of Big B’s name in 19 scripts
  • His book Aksharanubhava: Book on Calligraphic Expressions has won two national awards
  • He has conducted exhibitions and demonstrations in California, South Korea, Paris, Moscow, London, Dubai, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Germany
  • Sonia Gandhi, Gulzar, Sachin Tendulkar, Asha Bhosle, Jackie Shroff and Shankar Mahadevan are among those who’ve his works in their collection
  • ‘Letterospective’, an exhibition collating his four-decade-long career, begins at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, on January 21 and will be on till January 27

Achyut, a month away from turning 60, says he had no clue about calligraphy until he joined Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai. After passing out with a first class, the turning point was earning a scholarship to do a thesis on Modi script, an ancient variation of the Devanagari used from the 15th to the 17th century. And he remembers with gratitude RK Joshi, who guided him always.

Credited with taking calligraphy to a broader spectrum of people, Achyut points out that it was a deliberate decision. “I thought, ‘Let’s work with people’ because that gives you respect. First I met publishing houses. Later, I started creating opportunities and mediums for my art — saris, T-shirts, pots, bags, wedding cards, interior décor, jewellery, watches, accessories, calendars....” he says. His calligraphy on the exterior of a building in Pune is one-of-its-kind, so too his experiments with “body calligraphy”.

Achyut Palav at a workshop

Achyut Palav at a workshop   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

He was also instrumental in popularising umbrella painting. “I lost my studio in the Mumbai floods of 2005. Monsoon became an anathema for the public and I wanted to change that impression. That’s why I invited people to unleash their creativity on umbrellas and since then, it has become a regular affair.”

However, the revolutionary attempt from his part has been blending music and dance with calligraphy. “Music has been a part of my growing up years since there was one celebration or the other every day in our chawl. I loved singing and was also part of a friends’ orchestra,” he recollects.

Calligraphy fusion

His first successful experiment of using music and calligraphy together was at the launch of his website, in the presence of classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj. “I wanted to do something other than just calligraphy demonstration. So I worked on the canvas as music played in the background, much to the delight of Panditji. What happens is that I take the music and transfer it on to paper simultaneously,” he explains. A memorable event was one with santoor exponent Rahul Sharma at the Red Fort. In dance-calligraphy combos, the dancers apply colours on their feet and perform on a canvas. “It’s beautiful to see the movements through colours,” he adds.

The veteran never ceases to surprise when it comes to his tools as well, be it a toothbrush, wooden sticks, mops and, now, syringes. “The idea to use syringes came when I was invited to do a demo at a doctors’ conference. I wanted to try something unique and the syringe turned out to be apt. Once I could control the pressure after filling the syringe with colours, it was fun,” he exclaims.

Achyut says instinct comes into play often. Once he was at an art school in Maharashtra and they had put up 15 canvases for him to work on. “I brought in a band from a nearby school and since it was a rainy season, I asked them to play songs about the rain. When the music played, I splashed colours on to the canvases from one end to the other. Wherever the colours fell, I created new designs. I could do that because I was confident about my art. It took 10 years for me to master the basics,” he explains.

Achyut Palav using a floor mop to make designs at a workshop

Achyut Palav using a floor mop to make designs at a workshop   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Achyut’s advice to aspiring calligraphers and designers is to experiment with the tools and change their attitude and approach to calligraphy. “They prefer working on the computer to manual work because there is always the undo option to correct their mistakes. They don’t have that luxury when they work on paper,” he points out.

He now uses calligraphy as a therapeutic tool as well. “I work with dyslexics, the differently-abled, slow learners and those with depression. Calligraphy calls for control over your tool. Once the control sets in, there is an improvement in your creativity, concentration and confidence,” he explains.

Even though calligraphy is gaining rapid strides in regional languages, he rues that it hasn’t got the patronage it deserves from the government, when compared to countries such as Russia and France. “I am doing my bit. I have crossed several boundaries with my art, but I know there is more to be done,” he says.

‘Ka Cha Ta Tha Pa’ was organised by Kerala Lalithakala Akademi with the support of Tourism Department and Information and Public Relations Department

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 7:36:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/achyut-palav-on-pushing-his-boundaries-as-a-calligrapher/article30296699.ece

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