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The Unsung Artist Of Silchar

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Bimalendu Sinha believes that a true artist must be a creator and has proved it throughout his life. He was part of the first batch of students trained by Dr Mukunda Debnath, a well-known artist of the undivided Cachar District.

He said that one day his uncle, who was very skilled with the pen and ink sketching asked him, “Can you draw better than me?” He took that up as a challenge and in the same year, Bimalendu took part in an exhibition where he won three awards in a row.

The year 1973 was a landmark in his life as he took part in a grand competition  – the ‘Nikhil Banga Sahitya Sammelan’. He received awards for the best painting, best pencil work and best exhibit in the under-20 age group category. He got confidence from this and started to exercise his own style and technique with the available colours at that time. Sometimes he even used his elder sister’s fabric colours as well. Similarly, he also started creating art for commercial use like film banners or pandal decoration.

Soon, at a very young age, he took the charges of pandal decoration for the South Bilpar Durga Puja Committee for only ₹375 in 1975. Unlike now, no one thought about hiring someone for pandal decoration during that time. Everyone used to believe only club or committee members could decorate it, the move to hire an artist was innovative for the public at that time. After that, he got the contracts for decorating the cultural foundation day of Silchar Women’s College in Social Week Celebration.

In 1974, Bimalendu went to Dr Mukunda Debnath to ask whether he could get admission in Shantiniketan. After observing his work, Dr Mukunda Debnath said, “Sure, you will get the chance.” After enquiries Bimalendu got to know that monthly expenditures would be around ₹700-800, which was extremely expensive at that time. Since he came from a middle-class family where his father was responsible for looking after the family as well as their native place, he could not afford the fee. Instead, he took admission in Gurucharan College to study commerce. He won all the best art awards at the yearly exhibitions in the college.

Bimalendu Sinha

He was busy with paintings and drama performances when a very interesting incident happened. There was a banner hanging in front of Gopinath Cinema Hall (now a banquette hall) which had been drawn by Bimalendu. Dr Mukunda Debnath saw it while buying paan from a shop nearby and told the shopkeeper, “This has not been drawn by a regular artist; I want to meet this artist.” The shopkeeper told him about the artist, using his nickname. Since Dr Debnath did not know Bimalendu by his nickname, he could not identify him. Then when they met again in 1978, Dr Debnath was shocked to find out it was Bimalendu’s work. He told him that he should take admission in his institution ‘The Fine Arts Academy Silchar’ and suggested not to waste his quality work in commercial projects. Dr Debnath did not take regular fees from him for his sincerity and love for art.

During a ‘nature study’ class from 10 am to 4 pm at Gandhi Bagh Park, Bimalendu was so deeply involved in his creation that he was still at it during the lunch hour and did not even respond to his teacher.

Dr Mukunda then decided to send him to Kala Bhawan at Shantiniketan. The application forms of Kala Bhawan were bought and in 1979, Bimalendu was selected on the first try. Among the 400 candidates, only 10 candidates got selected, and he secured the 2nd position.

Before he left, Dr Mukunda gave Bimalendu some advice, “Forget everything before entering Shantiniketan and start from zero as most people suffer from overconfidence. They cannot forget their style and technique and cannot adapt the new styles.” Dr Mukunda also predicted that he would secure the first position in Shantiniketan, which eventually came to be true.

There, Bimalendu adapted to many different styles and techniques from eminent personalities like Shukhomoy Mitra, Sukhen Ganguly (both of them taught Dr Mukunda Debnath too), Salim Munshi, Suhash Roy and above all, K.G. Subramanyan. In the sculpture department, he learned from Ajit Chakraborty, Sarbari Roy Chaudhury, Sushen Ghosh, Bikash Debnath and the great Ramkinkar Baij (Kinkar Da). He also gathered knowledge from the great Somnath Whore, Sanat Kar, Lalu Prasad Sau and a lot of famous personalities from other departments like art, history, pottery etc. As Shantiniketan is a well-known institution, he always got the chance to meet many eminent artists like great Haren Das, painter Ramachandran, veteran traditional painter Direndra Krishna Debburma (student of Acharjee Nandalal Basu and later a faculty member at Shantiniketan), and so on.

Nature is the main theme and subject in his paintings. Sometimes it is realistic, sometimes abstract. Gradually, he started experimenting with colour and space in the first year at Shantiniketan, then came the blue-themed paintings. In the colour experiments, his first attempt was to control opposite colours. Maintaining a sense of balance between a hot and cool colour is very difficult. His logic was, “If the balance of hot and cool colours looks good in nature then why not on the canvas?”

This was followed by learning how to control space usage and he created a piece where a lonely figure is sitting and fishing in a large space. The use of colour is slighter as the atmosphere is foggy in the piece. In another painting, we can see a bunch of bamboos, damp climate, more moisture and he has used the same colour in some places in such a way that we can see the presence of smog in some places.

His batik work, tie and die, pottery and terracotta works are remarkable. He has a lot of knowledge about graphics like wood-cutting, lino-cutting, lithography etc. Sculpture is one of his favourite subjects. He has done wood carvings, as well as bronze, terracotta, plaster and cement sculptures.

Bimalendu has also learned about water-colour, egg tempera (a kind of painting which was only taught in Kala Bhawan at that time), transparent watercolours, frescos in dry and wet processes which we can see in the art of Ajanta and Ellora caves and Chinese calligraphy.

At that time, painting exhibition in front of Kala Bhawan was not encouraged as the teachers did not like the commercialization of a student’s works. On special permission the students could join in an exhibition. In 1981, two of Bimalendu’s paintings (only two paintings were allowed), were selected for a mid-summer exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts Kolkata. Even though there were a number of willing buyers for both paintings, he wasn’t allowed to sell them before he finished his course.

Apart from art, Bimalendu was also deeply involved in theatre. His first stage appearance was in 1968. He won the best actor award in a competition organised by renowned cultural organization ‘Ganasur’ in 1974. In the same year, the club offered him membership. His seniors were the veteran actors like Shri Bijoy Khan, Ashish Bhowmik, Pradeep Das, Swapan Chowdhury etc., who he shared the stage with after one year. Soon, he became the makeup artist and stage decorator for the club. This ended in early 1979 once he went to Shantiniketan.

Even there, he gave excellent performances in drama, mime acting and became the general secretary of the Kala Bhawan just nine months after from his admission. After getting the big platform, he utilised his talents in acting, direction, scripting and met prominent personalities like the famous Utpal Dutt, Badal Sarkar, Vijay Tendulkar, Dinesh Thakur, P.P. Jain, Purnendu Patri etc.. They also shared their experiences and gave him tips. That time, famous film actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Pankaj Kapoor, Annu Kapoor were in Shantiniketan for the shooting of Mrinal Sen’s movie “Khandhar”. He fully utilised that one month in learning acting from them whenever they visited.

Today, he has passed on his knowledge as a teacher. Although he is a fine arts teacher but the cultural department, mainly the drama section, is completely dependent upon him. He translates Bengali stories to Hindi, especially Saratchandra Chatterjee’s famous work ‘Mahesh’, Parshuram’s work ‘Bhushundir Maathe’, ‘Chikitsa Sankat’, Sibram Chakraborty’s famous comic strip and Tagore’s ‘Sasthi’ and so on. He won the best teacher award thrice.

Apart from art, he feels very proud of his birthplace Silchar.

We hardly know about this talented person from Silchar because he is from a remote place where people hardly ever get mobile networks. He is a fine arts teacher at Ramakrishna Mission School, Deomali.

Artist, performer, scriptwriter, carpenter, teacher, electrician, words are not enough to describe him. Probably ‘Creator’ is the best suitable title for him.

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