Kumily, Kerala: Nestled within the premises of Rose Park at Kumily in Kerala’s spice capital, Idukki district is something as distinctly appealing to art connoisseurs as the spices are to taste buds: a wax museum that features full-length statues of Indian and international celebrities from Bollywood stars to politicians to religious and social leaders.
Push open the glass door of V.S. Harikumar’s wax museum and you find an array of luminaries in life-size versions, all in a room, giving you the feel of having suddenly landed amid an assemblage of VIPs.
A surprise in the middle
Right at the door is Hindu reformer Swami Vivekananda, and one glance around the room makes your eyes fall on Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan, Malayalam matinee idol Mohanlal, Tamil superstar Rajnikanth and the late US singer, Michael Jackson.
There are also life-size figures of those from singer Michael Jackson to that of Most Rev. Philipose Mar Chrysostom, Metropolitan Emeritus of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.
But the surprise is right at the centre – a life-like wax image of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, flanked by models of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha Jayaram.
Harikumar has been a long-time admirer of Sheikh Mohammed, and had been turning the idea of the Dubai Ruler’s wax image in his mind for a while. “I’ve heard so much about him, how in Dubai there is emphasis on equality for all citizens. Above all, that he is a caring and humanitarian person,” Harikumar told Gulf News, explaining why he picked the Dubai Ruler to be his first wax model in 2021.
“I’ve never been to Dubai, but I’ve heard of Dubai’s Ruler from many people including my younger brother who worked in the UAE for a while. With all those inputs I got about Sheikh Mohammed, I decided to go ahead and have his statue in my collection.”
Harikumar is far from well-off and lives in Kumbanad near Thiruvalla with his wife and two children, his mother, his brother, sister-in-law and their three little children.
His profession of sculpting is an expensive vocation. “Each wax statue takes upwards of two months to create and costs more than Rs 150,000 (Dhs7,500) each for the material itself. Coming from a financially modest family, it hasn’t been easy for me. There are people who say I’m mad to be doing this when my house is in such a dilapidated condition”, says Harikumar. He makes some money from exhibitions and from TV channels that invite him for festivals and shows.
His wax museum is housed at the Rose Park in Kumily, one of Kerala’s more popular tourism destinations, but the footfalls have been lean ever since he opened the museum in January this year, owing to the impact of COVID-19.
Years of hard work
Unlike sculptors who use cement or stone, Harikumar is only one of a handful of wax sculptors in Kerala, and says there are no training schools for wax modelling. “You have to pick up the skill on your own. It requires oodles of patience and years of honing your skills. And at the end of it all, if by accident there’s a damage to any part of a wax statue, repair is a long-winding process, if at all that is possible”, says he.
So it is a veritable minefield to be working on wax models at his home where five little children – two of his and three of his brother’s – aged nine years to ten months, playfully frolic around.
The hair and moustache on Harikumar’s wax statues are real human hair, and he has a few obliging friends growing beards so that he can harvest them for his statues.
Harikumar admits that it is really tough getting white facial hair for statues like that of Narendra Modi because it isn’t easy asking seniors to give a crop of grey hair.
Getting facial hair is one thing, but fixing the hair strands on to the wax models is both taxing and time-consuming. As far as possible, Harikumar tries to get real clothes of the model, like he managed in the case of Mar Chrysostom, getting his clergy’s robe and his spectacles.
But the toughest part and what makes Harikumar’s work distinctly different is that unlike the famous wax model makers around the world, he works with no help from the models themselves.
“I can’t get the celebrities to pose for me, and I don’t even have physical measurements of the celebs whose statues I’m working on. The very basic requirement is their photos from the front and sides, in the same emotional mood. Most often even that is not available, not even on the internet”, he says.
It took Harikumar nearly a decade of hard work before he could make his first wax statue, that of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan in 2016. The road was always tough for the sculptor ever since he picked up the basics of sculpting from his late father, Sukumaran, and became the state champion multiple times in inter-school sculpting competitions. His mother Radha Sukumaran now lends him a hand with the sartorial aspects of each model.
In 2017 Harikumar had an opportunity to go to Dubai with his creations, but that was when he realised his passport had expired and there was no time to renew it.
He rues that missed opportunity, but his dedication to his art and stamina to achieve perfection keeps him going as he prepares to add another celebrity to his collection – the latest being Tamil superstar Vijay.