At 10 am on Thursday, commandos-in-the-making are busy with their regular workout at the Police Training Centre in Kalina. However, the monotony of their routine is broken occasionally as some of them steal a glance at a facade of their training centre. The looks are directed towards a freshly-painted, 50×22 feet mural. It has been painted by artist Ranjit Dahiya of Bollywood Art Project, an initiative that has been decorating Mumbai with wall paintings of iconic film personalities.
The mural has three children soaring through the sky clutching a bunch of colourful balloons, while a pile of narcotics lies on the floor. The project is the brainchild of artist collective Visual Disobedience. Saurabh Kanwar, the president of Flarepath Digital, which owns and runs the collective, says, “The biggest problem street artists face is permissions. Also, there are very few walls in the city that are conducive to street art. We thought if we get permission to paint over police property, it could open a few doors and maybe change the minds of a few people in the city.”
Though a joint collaboration between artists and the police is not unheard of in India, this one is the first of its kind in Mumbai. Street artist Anpu Varkey and German artist Hendrik ECB Beikirch painted a 150-foot mural of Mahatma Gandhi on the facade of the Delhi Police Headquarters in January 2014. Permissions for the mural were readily given, but Dahiya had to submit multiple sketches that fit into the anti-narcotics theme given by the police.
Instead of focusing on the effects of drug abuse, the artist has painted a picture of a healthy and drug-free society. “We wanted to avoid using darker characters. The idea was to communicate the message on a positive note,” says Dahiya. Written across the mural are the words, “Choose Happiness, Not Drugs”.
For Dahiya, who has painted large murals of Amitabh Bachchan, Madhubala and Sachin Tendulkar, among others in Bandra, it was unusual to get approval for designs for a street art project. “Usually, we go to the venue and improvise according to the structure, locality and size of the facade,” says the artist, who had just 72 hours to complete the mural after getting the permissions.
Deputy Police Commissioner (Anti-Narcotics Bureau) Kishor Jadhav inaugurated the mural on Thursday, which was timed to be unveiled on Anti-Narcotics Day. “Why would we refuse permissions? Our walls have been brightened up and it was a zero-budget project. We support any endeavour that is in the interest of the public,” he says.
The artist collective has plans to paint over seven such venues in the city, starting with the twin facade on the same building. Jadhav says that if Rakesh Maria, Mumbai Police Commissioner, likes it, the artists will get a green signal to start work on other such murals.
This story appeared in print with the headline Mural Duty