Forget Madame Tussauds; these wax museums in India are no less than wonderlands

By: |
April 02, 2017 1:58 AM

Unknown to many, India has its own fair share of wax museums. Call them home-grown or inspired by Madame Tussauds, these wax museums will transport you to a different world.

Madame Tussauds, Madame Tussauds Delhi, wax museums, wax museums in India, Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum, Wax World Museums, Mother’s Wax Museum, Madame Tussauds brandUnknown to many, India has its own fair share of wax museums. Call them home-grown or inspired by Madame Tussauds, these wax museums will transport you to a different world.

Slated to open in the national capital in June this year, Madame Tussauds Delhi will be the 23rd edition of Madame Tussauds globally. However, unknown to many, India has its own fair share of wax museums. Call them home-grown or inspired by Madame Tussauds, these wax museums will transport you to a different world…

Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum
(Lonavla, Maharashtra, & Kochi, Kerala)

Mumbai-based artist Sunil Kandalloor has been making wax figurines for over 18 years now. In 2009, he started Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum in Lonavla, Maharashtra. Spread across an area of 10,000 sq ft, the museum has around 75 wax models, including those of actors Amitabh Bachchan and Sonu Sood, social activist Anna Hazare, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar, etc. Inspired by its success, the 43-year-old opened another museum in Kochi, Kerala, in 2013, which is spread across 8,000 sq ft and houses 45 wax figures.
Interestingly, Kandalloor doesn’t enlist the help of any other artist to create the figures. “I don’t have any other artist working with me. I handle the bulk of the work, but I do have a couple of people who help me make the moulding cast, etc,” he says.

Kandalloor uses candle wax and real hair to make a statue, which can take around a month for completion. Apart from clicking photographs and taking hundreds of measurements, Kandalloor also uses self-made acrylic eyes to give a life-like feel to the figure. For international celebrities, Kandalloor only has their photographs to depend on and hence the process takes more time, sometimes even two-three months. The approximate cost of every model is around `3 lakh, he says.

An aspect Kandalloor sets great score by is the subject’s facial expression. “The most important thing when making a wax statue is the expression of the subject. Also, apart from their measurements, I try and replicate a person’s mannerisms in my wax figures. So when I meet a celebrity, I try and mingle with them to observe all these things,” Kandalloor says. The average footfall at the two museums is around 1,000 people per day, the artist says. Ticket prices are reasonably priced at `150.

So whose is the most popular wax figure at the museum? “Rajinikanth’s model, which has been made in the Kabali style, is one of our most popular attractions. In international faces, there are Albert Einstein, Pierce Brosnan, Jackie Chan and Michael Jackson,” he adds. Coming soon are wax replicas of cricketer Harbhajan Singh and actor Jacqueline Fernandez. Kandalloor sees the coming of Madame Tussauds to India as a big positive. “Indians are not too aware of wax museums. Madame Tussauds will be a good marketing tool for us,” he says.

Wax World Museums
(Ooty & Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, & Mysuru, Karnataka)

Musical instruments, dance forms, freedom fighters and religious figures. It seems there is nothing 52-year-old artist Shreeji Bhaskaran wants to leave out. Bhaskaran opened his first Wax World Museum in Ooty in 2007, which houses 40 wax statues of eminent personalities and freedom fighters. Then in 2010, he opened Melody World Wax Museum in Mysuru, which has more than 470 wax figurines of musical instruments. Two years later, Bhaskaran started a wax museum in Kodaikanal for religious statues (the museum houses 40 such models). And in 2016, he started a dance museum in Mysuru, which has 64 wax statues based on Indian classical and folk dance forms.

Four wax museums by one person. What drove this passion, one wonders? “It started as a hobby. I first started making wax statues in 2002… the first statue I completed was that of APJ Abdul Kalam. I started the museums with the aim of preserving Indian art and culture,” says Bhaskaran, who studied electronic engineering and has an MBA in information technology. All four museums come under the umbrella of Bhaskaran’s Wax World Museums India brand. Bhaskaran prefers using photographs to complete his wax statues. “If I manage to meet them, that’s excellent, but getting even 15-20 minutes with a well-known celebrity is difficult. You have to follow a long protocol, so I depend on their photographs,” he says.

Getting appointments with celebrities is not the only problem he faces. With the entry fee for the museums a mere `40, maintenance and housekeeping are also quite difficult to manage, he says. Nevertheless, his museums provide free entry to children from government schools, orphanages, etc.

Mother’s Wax Museum
(Kolkata, West Bengal)

With life-like figures of Rabindranath Tagore, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mithun Chakraborty, etc, Mother’s Wax Museum in Kolkata is sure to keep you engaged with its diverse collection of wax figures. Located in Finance Centre, New Town, it is spread over an area of 5,000 sq ft.

How Madame Tussauds does it?
At Madame Tussauds, each wax figure is created with the expertise of over 20 international and local artists. “The sitting with a celebrity takes around three-four hours,” says Marcel Kloos, director, new openings, Europe & Emerging Markets, Merlin Entertainments, the Britain-based company that owns the Madame Tussauds brand. “We take hundreds of measurements… we check the colour of the eye, skin tone, colour of hair, etc. All this is captured through thousands of photos. For this, the celebrity has to stand in a particular pose for quite a long time. All these measurements are then taken back to our studio in London, where the artists get down to work.”

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The process of sculpting a wax figure starts with clay. The whole figure is built out of the material. If a model requires facial hair, the process takes longer since every strand of hair has to be manually inserted. Naturally, each figure takes up to four months to complete. All this hard work, though, can easily be undone by one act of unruly conduct by visitors. To ensure that the figures stay in perfect shape, Madame Tussauds has special teams for maintenance and repair work. “The wax figures require a lot of maintenance after the visitors have interacted with them. We need to work on recolouring, repainting and even re-doing the hair, wardrobe, etc. We have a maintenance check every morning,” says Petra van der Meer, regional studio manager, Europe & EuroAsia, Madame Tussauds.

For Madame Tussauds Delhi, which will have more than 50 statues, including those of actor Amitabh Bachchan, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, PM Narendra Modi, pop icon Lady Gaga, etc, the statues will be made in London and then brought to New Delhi. There will be a local team in-charge of maintaining the figures, which cost `1.5 crore each.

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