Celebrity Sweat: An interview with the man behind Lonavala’s Celebrity Wax Museum
Images courtesy Meera Ganapathi
I looked into Sharad Pawar’s eyes and realised something important. I had to meet his maker. The man who spends his life replicating the sheen of sweat on celebrity skin; Mr Sunil Kandalloor. Widely known, as the talent behind Lonavala’s Celebrity Wax Museum.
I was curious about Sunil Kandalloor. What drives a man to perfect frizz on Baba Ramdev’s head? What makes a man want to create a second Baba Ramdev? Isn’t one Baba Ramdev enough for the world?
My curiosity took me to Lonavala and I found myself sitting across him in a sandalwood scented office, interviewing him.
Awards and certificates cover the wall behind him. But the only adornment on his desk is an acrylic model of a hand, with the index finger pointing accusingly at the sky. (Yes, God, it’s your fault).
Mr Kandalloor is an affable sort of man with a mild but unmistakable pomposity. He offers me black coffee, I accept and we begin to chat.
Me: What made you start a Celebrity Wax Museum in Lonavala?
SK: I am originally from a village in Alleppey. But I had a dream, to start something in Mumbai. I’ve always been fascinated by celebrities, politics and media and Mumbai is the hub of everything. But it’s hard to start off in Mumbai, so I moved as close as I could, here in Lonavala.
Me: Was it an obsession with celebrity culture that made you start a wax museum?
SK: No, no. 17 years ago I saw the photograph of a wax model and I was stunned. The eyes were so life-like. I thought how did they make this? This kind of work couldn’t come from a machine; it could only come from a true artist.
Me: Was this Madame Tussauds?
Me: What do you think of Madame Tussauds?
SK: It’s a waste. I saw it recently in Hong Kong.
Me: Do you think you’re better than Madame Tussauds?
SK: I am better. You see, I do all this work on my own. I don’t have a team like Madame Tussauds.
Me: Where did you learn?
SK: There are no institutions to learn this. I am self-taught. It took me six years to learn. First I worked for an amusement park in Kanyakumari, but these people were typical businessmen. They made me create statues of their friends and would make me work really fast. But I am an artist and I am dedicated to my vision. So I quit and started my own museum.
Me: What is your style?
SK: I don’t have a style. I replicate human beings. Everyone knows how a celebrity looks. I cannot make my own version of a famous person. This is not creative work, this is copying. I take 20 days to copy a human being perfectly.
Me: Most important question. Where do you get the hair?
SK: I have farms. I make my friends grow beards and when I want it, I harvest it. (laughs)
Me: How do you choose your muse?
SK: They have to be famous.
Me: Do you sometimes pick people who have inspired you?
Me: According to you, what would be your best work?
SK: Prabhu Deva.
Me: And worst?
SK (hesitates): Indira Gandhi was not very good.
Me: Who was your most beautiful muse?
SK: Jaqueline Fernandez. She’s pure white and very beautiful.
Me: Have you faced criticism over your work?
SK: Many times. Someone said Rajiv Gandhi is not good. But this doesn’t affect me. If there’s a fault with one of my works, don’t blame me, blame the parents.
Me: How does the public react to your work?
SK: People say I have done a great job. A common man can never hug Modi or take a selfie with him, but I’ve made it possible here. Otherwise you’ve to go to London. Here in Rs. 150, I’ve given the public a great experience.
Me: Have you ever considered making a wax statue of yourself?
SK: Of course, it’s my dream project.
Sunil Kandalloor is a full-time wax sculptor and makes his living off various wax museums across the country. The Lonavala celebrity wax museum charges visitors Rs 150/- per entry and is a popular tourist attraction in Lonavala.