We have an interesting Guest this issue. A person who is a performer of a unique form of art, he is talented and a representative of Indian culture. He has given wonderful stories through his form of art, known as 'sand animation'. Guwahatian is pleased to have a chat with Mr. Badal Barai, Indian sand animation artiste. He speaks about the interesting qualities of 'sand animation', story of getting involved in this art form, and of messages through art.
Q: Basically regarding sand art, we see that the forms practised or performed on Indian beaches is quite different from what you do? So, can we say that the form of sand art you do is your innovation?
A: It is a worldwide famous art form right now. Actually, it is not ‘sand art’; the terminology is different: it is called ‘sand animation’. The art form you are referring to, the one performed on a beach: that is ‘sand art’. That is static because you cannot move those creations from the beaches. You need plenty of sands which are only available on beaches. In that case, sands are used to make a form of sculpture, so to say.
Now, the one I do is ‘sand animation’. In this case, we create a story. We have a storyline and we create different images with the help of sand. Firstly, we create an image, say, then swipe out the sand, and then, proceed to making the next image. A number of images follow in succession. The picture which I make on the lightbox has a short longevity, and that thrills the spectators or the audience. You watch the process with full concentration, and each picture lasts only for a few seconds. With the help of this art, we can easily describe events like glorious past of the Indian Army or any Indian ethnic story.
Q: The ‘sand animation’ which you do comes with a story, and also with background music with which you sync your actions or images. So, what is the amount of work behind one ‘sand animation’?
A: Surely, it needs a huge amount of practice and hard work. When you make a piece of art using paper and pencil or pens, it is the general form of art and follows a conventional method of using an ink to express something. But in the case of ‘sand animation’, you only have grains of sand, and they do not have an adhesive property like ink. The grains are scattered and you have to pattern them in order to create something beautiful. So, it is different from the normal form of art, and so, it is difficult.
Q: Suppose someone wishes to practise this art form and take it up as his hobby or passion. What basic skills must he possess to become a performer?
A: Actually, this is still a mystery to me. My involvement in performing ‘sand animation’ started with an interesting story. I have a friend, Mr. Chandan Bhattacharya, who is well versed in poetry recitation. He used to organize shows of poetry recitation, and once he got very interested to do a performance of poetry recitation illustrated by ‘sand animation’. At that time, he was not having the budget to invite a professional sand animation artiste as the charges of performances were high. So, he came up to me said, “You have a lot of friends learning Fine Arts, and let’s have a check if anyone is good for the show.” I called a few of my friends who were learning Fine Arts to my home. During that time, coincidentally, there were some construction works going on in my house. So, I had no dearth of sand.
Before that, when I had worked in school, one of my colleagues showed me once how sand art is done, and it was interesting. But I had never thought that I would do this. It was two years after that that Chandan Da came to me with this idea.
I was confident that someone from amongst my friends would be able to do it because all of them were from a background of Fine Arts. I brought some sand and filtered the fine articles using a flour strainer. I took the case of a harmonium, and placed a sheet of glass over that after fitting the inside with LED lights. Chandan Da also arrived and I introduced him to my friends. Then I asked him to watch them practise and make a decision. My friends started practising on the temporarily built lightbox (a part of sand animation). Chandan Da watched, but he was not satisfied. He said, “They are making the art, that’s okay, but it doesn’t seem like sand animation. This is not like the ones I have watched on TV.”
Chandan Da was not satisfied. He left with a heavy heart. I too felt bad for the man as he came with a lot of expectations. Then, when everyone left that day, at night, I decided to give it a try myself. I felt somewhere that the task was easy and simple, because, it was happening spontaneously when I tried. Then I called Chandan Da at around 1:30 AM, and asked him to come over and have a look.
He came that day, and after seeing my work, he said,”The way in which you move your hands, that makes me feel that you can do it. Okay, you shall perform with me for the show.” He had also released the information that his poetry recitation shall be accompanied by ‘sand animation’. He motivated me, and I began practising. The event was one month from then. And since then, I have been doing this lovely art.
The most interesting thing about my story is that all artistes, be they singers or dancers, practise their art forms before fixing a show, whereas I fixed a show first, and then practised the art (laughs).
And when I first stepped on the stage to perform, I realized that the 2000+ audience in front of me was expecting something exciting from me, and that made me real nervous. My fear even pushed me to the thought that I promised never to perform ‘sand animation’ again (laughs). But after I finished the performance, the response I received from the audience truly touched my heart and made me the happiest man on earth. It was up to God how he brought me to this world of art.
Q: It is said that art forms are quite helpful in combating social evils, and you have been doing this. You have done shows on Indian culture and social aspects. So, can we say that in the long run, ‘sand animation’ can be a medium to reach out to illiterate people in the country, mostly villages?
A: Sure. Sure. See, I have a daughter who is just one year, seven months old. When I practise, she wishes to come near me and see what I do. In fact, when I take her in my lap and draw an ‘A’ on the lightbox, she feels so excited, and tries to speak out ‘A’. So, if a one and a half year kid can be drawn by this art, then anyone belonging to any age or any section or language of the society can be connected to the messages in the art. Actually it is so simple that the story reaches out to everyone. I feel this art form is universal in its method itself. Without a word, it can speak many, and this strikes me very much.
Q: Is this your first visit to Assam?
A: No, previously I visited Guwahati. Also, I had the opportunity of visiting a North Eastern state, Tripura.
[Guwahatian thanks Dr. Wasim Arif, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Technology Silchar for helping with the interview. Courtesy of three photographs used in this article: 'Obiettivo', Photography Club NIT Silchar.]