The artistic persuasion of Bollywood

Indian art gets a boost as movie stars turn buyers and investors

Sussanne Khan
Sussanne Khan

Paul Gauguin’s When Will you Marry? was sold privately in 2015 for around $300 million (around Rs2,000 crore), becoming the most expensive piece of art.

Another artist renowned for his use of natural light and colour, Claude Monet, is known to have said that colour was his day-long joy, obsession and torment; anyone who has ever laid eyes on a Monet painting knows how beautifully he could transform colour into a myriad of emotions.

Art is that which brings colour and form into our lives, builds imagination and offers us a world we can escape into. The feelings and emotions in cinema offer a similar escape, so the link between paintings and cinema would seem to be a natural one.

But does one exist when we think about Indian art and Bollywood? One artist who did have a deep connection was the late Maqbool Fiza Husain, who painted Bollywood billboards at a young age, went on to direct at least three movies and made Madhuri Dixit-Nene—one of the most graceful and popular actresses of the 1990s—his muse.

The lure of Art

Today, there are many artists who paint profiles of famous Bollywood actors and movie moments. A lot of this art is available on online art websites for sale.

Farah Siddiqui, a Mumbai-based art consultant says, “The link between art and actors comes about thanks to similar artistic expression. Moreover, power and wealth attract a good life and art is an important part of that.” Artworks dominate the walls of the lavish houses of Bollywood actors. One Bollywood family known to collect art is that of Anil Kapoor. His daughter, actor Sonam Kapoor, can be sighted frequently at art shows, including the India Art Fair.

Sussanne Khan, an interior designer and owner of The Charcoal Project, a Mumbai-based design store, believes that celebrities are no different from others when it comes to choosing what sort of art to buy. “Looking at art as a ratification of star status or as a symbol of money is a shallow way of approaching art. The only way sensitive human beings respond to art, whether they are celebrities or not, is through an appreciation of the artist’s skill,” she says.

"People look at art and react to it individually and in the way it impacts them. Some do get swayed by trends but I don’t think celebrities buy specific types of art. "- Sussanne Khan

Art for the wealthy

Yet, without monetary value, art’s appeal might not be the same for buyers. According to Kotak Wealth Management’s “Top Of The Pyramid 2016” report, Indian HNIs (high net-worth individuals) have always been passionate about art, but now many also consider it a safe investment and a means to preserve family wealth.

Their survey shows that for 68% of ultra HNIs, art is an impulsive buy. Passion and status drive the purchase for over 80% of them.

Christie’s started its auction house in India three years ago, holding its first auction here in December 2013. In 2015, Sotheby’s too entered the Indian art auction market.

It’s not just Bollywood celebrities, other HNIs’ families in India too have displayed a heightened interest in art over the last 10 years.

Unlike developed markets such as the UK, which have formal, organised and regulated art investment funds, the Indian art market is still in a nascent stage.

Nevertheless, Indian artists are finding fame. It’s not just modern Indian art, but also classical Indian art—like Mughal, Rajasthani, Odisha pattachitra—that art buyers seek out. According to the “Top Of The Pyramid 2016” report, Indian art has become a common feature in global auctions in the last few years.

Indian contemporary works also sell at record-breaking prices in prestigious auction houses.

Siddiqui says: “The landscape has seen a lot of change in the last 10 years. There is a better ecosystem and infrastructure that encourages Indian artistes. The Indian government too offers support and there are various private and educational enterprises which support the growth of the art culture in India now.”

Siddiqui is encouraged by the interest that well-travelled young Indians are showing in their own country’s art history and culture.

“The museum-going culture of the West is rubbing off and being brought back here,” she adds.

Ultimately, though, art remains a form of expression and trying to define that in terms of the art style or genre, monetary value or popularity could often become an exercise in futility.

Sussanne Khan believes that art is a matter of reaction and perception: “I would love to attend art shows and auctions but I can’t speak for others. People look at art and react to it individually and in the way it impacts them. Some do get swayed by trends but I don’t think celebrities buy specific types of art.”

They certainly seem to be buying more art. And it’s possible that celebrity endorsement of art and artists could be emulated by fans and followers, ushering in a wider appreciation of art.

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