Chintan Upadhyay: There’s More Than Meets the Eye

Currently incarcerated in the Thane Central Jail, Chintan Upadhyay’s several art projects have been put on hold.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Artist Chintan Upadhyay

A movie addict, Chintan Upadhyay had once made it known that he would like Priyanka Chopra to sit for a portrait, which he would then gift her. The actress didn’t heed the request which the artist tried to convey through her PR agents.

A portrait of Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, highlighting her swimsuit publicity still from the movie <i>Dostana. </i>(Photo provided to the <b>The Quint</b> by Khalid Mohamed)
A portrait of Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, highlighting her swimsuit publicity still from the movie Dostana. (Photo provided to the The Quint by Khalid Mohamed)

When he couldn’t meet the actress, he assembled mixed media images of Priyanka Chopra, highlighting her swimsuit publicity still from the movie Dostana. Like MF Hussain, Chintan Upadhyay has nursed a deep regard for movies, especially for charismatic heroines, right from Madhubala to Madhuri Dixit to Priyanka Chopra.

He is currently incarcerated in the Thane Central Jail, for allegedly plotting the murder of his estranged artist wife, Hema and her lawyer, Haresh Bhambani. His friends averred that the 43-year-old artist is facing a harsh reality – in an overcrowded general section housing over at least a 100 criminals. For his backache, he is being given a painkiller.

Portraits of Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities, designed in the form of postal stamps. (Photo provided to <b>The Quint</b> by Khalid Mohamed)
Portraits of Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities, designed in the form of postal stamps. (Photo provided to The Quint by Khalid Mohamed)

Twists and Turns in the Plot

Chintan Upadhyay’s close friends and artists have started a parallel ‘investigation’ into the dual murder, with the media flip-flopping every new day, on the stand taken by the police.

News reports have described Chintan as a ‘prime suspect’, and at times have maintained that the police have no incriminating evidence. Indeed, the situation is quite akin to a Bollywood potboiler, with twists and turns which boggle the imagination.

Although his accomplices were arrested, Vidyadhar Rajbhar, the fabricator who is suspected to have committed the murders on December 11, continues to be at large.

That the artist community has chosen to stand and, through a whatsapp group, demand a thorough investigation, is one consolation point for the artist who has frequently spoken out for the need of solidarity among his peers.

It is learnt that the supportive artists intend to meet the highest governmental authorities to plead for an investigation which is free of any form of “police overreach.”

Chintan Updhyay’s sketches. (Photo provided to <b>The Quint </b>by Khalid Mohamed)
Chintan Updhyay’s sketches. (Photo provided to The Quint by Khalid Mohamed)

An Uncontrollable Artist

Meanwhile, obviously Chintan Upadhyay’s several commitments for art exhibitions, including Gandi Baat – a tribute to the combative spirit of women against male chauvinism, are on hold. As is his assignment to design stage backdrops for an upcoming theatre musical, set against the backdrop of Bollywood in the 1970s. The artist had agreed to do this assignment without any professional fee, given the shoestring budget endemic in the theatre world.

Unbeknownst to many, ten years ago the artist had served as an executive producer on a low budget film titled Kya Tum Ho, directed by his friend Ashish Ahluwalia. Since it didn’t feature any marketable faces in the cast and wasn’t accompanied by any publicity fanfare, the film remains unreleased.

Alongside his Smart Alec series, featuring children in myriad moods, Chintan Upadhyay made his initial impact with portraits of Bollywood and Hollywood celebrities, designed in the form of postal stamps. The ‘stamps’ were instant hotsellers. Some of those and other canvases are to be found in the collections of showtown stars, including that of Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan.

Three years ago, Chintan had resumed making visuals of Bollywood stars – through photoshopped superimpositions – but had chosen not to put them up for sale.

Portraits of Bollywood celebrities, designed in the form of postal stamps, inspired by Indian cinema. (Photo provided to <b>The Quint</b> by Khalid Mohamed)
Portraits of Bollywood celebrities, designed in the form of postal stamps, inspired by Indian cinema. (Photo provided to The Quint by Khalid Mohamed)

I’ve just done them for myself. Why commercialise them? I would rather do fresh images. I must be seized by an idea which comments on the stronghold of Bollywood on the public imagination.

Chintan Upadhyay

For a documentary on Shyam Benegal, whose films Chintan Upadhyay has admired, he completed a set of charcoal sketches, within a day. Since the documentary was made on lean resources, he refused to charge a fee.

At one point, the artist had contemplated making T-shirts and household accessories like curtains and mugs inspired by images of Bollywood stars. That turned out to be an unrealised dream. Far too many permissions from the stars, extravagant fees and legal issues would have had to be dealt with.

He had shot and edited two video short films – one on the unchecked boom of salacious content accessible on the internet and the other, on the pressures of metropolitan life. These were screened at art gallery shows to packed houses.

The artist’s friends inform that some of his sketchbooks and artworks are being studied by the police for clues to the shocking double murder case. Meanwhile, Vidyadhar Rajbhar has to be apprehended. And the artist’s believe-it-or-not story has to arrive at a conclusion.

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