Sunil Kandalloor kept looking at that magazine story over and over again. It was a time Kerala’s Communist chief minister EK Nayanar was alive and healthy. The magazine had carried a story of his visit to the London wax museum (Madam Tussauds), and Sunil, an artist who graduated with a Fine Arts Diploma from Kollam, knew he could not rest till he figured out how to make one. He did of course, in time, and got known for it. In 2010, he, with his brothers Sujith and Subash, opened Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum in Lonavala, Pune. Now, in 2019, the famous wax sculptor has opened another museum with his brothers, in Kerala’s capital city.
“There are 27 sculptures here,” says Sujith, Sunil’s younger brother. Among them are the more photographed absolutely lifelike replicas of Mohanlal – Lucifer-like, sitting on a chair, and Rajinikanth, on another chair, wearing a suit and mostly grey beard, as we saw him in Kabali.
There are quite a few Kerala personalities – late Justice Krishna Iyer sitting behind a table that he used when he was alive. “The family had kindly donated it,” Sujith says. Sunil, the sculptor, is away.
Sree Narayana Guru, Renaissance leader of early 20th century and Raja Ravi Varma, world-renowned artist are the other Malayali icons in the museum.
“Most are sculpted exclusively for the Kerala museum,” says Sujith.
Once you take the 100-rupee ticket and enter, late Congress leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are the first you see sculpted in the museum– one sitting in his trademark dharna way, the other standing with his famous red-rose-on-shirt-pocket. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is in a corner chair. The next generation leader and India’s first woman PM Indira Gandhi sits on a chair, her son and the PM after her, Rajiv Gandhi, stands. Architect of India’s constitution BR Ambedkar is there, social activist Anna Hazare is there. And for sculpting Dadasaheb Phalke, the Father of Indian cinema, Sunil has won an award, says his brother. One of the final rooms contains the wax sculptures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Tamil Nadu’s former CM, late MGR.
“We have got permission to begin another museum inside the new Patel statue,” Sujith says of the Statue of Unity, opened in 2018, and got recognised as the world’s tallest statue at a height of 182 metres.
In total, Sunil has made over 250 statues, more than 100 of them at his Lonavala museum. On the walls of the Thiruvananthapuram branch, you could see old pictures of Sunil taking measurements of Oscar winning composer AR Rahman (‘must have been 15 years ago’), former Indian captain Kapil Dev, pictures of former Communist chief minister Achuthadanandan pointing at his wax replica and actor-dancer Prabhu Deva putting an arm around his.
Sunil (middle), Achuthanandan and his wax statue
Sunil has spent years learning the trade and the first wax statue he made is the bust-size sculpture of Lord Krishna, Sujith recounts. The first full statue came after that, of former Congress chief minister K Karunakaran. And afterwards, the man who inspired Sunil to take wax in his hands and create art – Nayanar. Both Karunakaran and Nayanar, he met for measurements, but the leaders could not see Sunil’s wax replicas of them. They had both passed away when he, along with his brothers Sujith and Subash, opened the wax museum in Lonavala. There was another museum before that in Kanyakumari – opened in 2005 – but it is not there anymore. The more popular one is the Lonavla one, visited by celebrities and hailed for being India’s first such museum.
Sunil (middle), Anna Hazare with his wax statue
It took him time but Sunil had opened a wax museum in his home state a few years ago – not in Kandalloor, Alappuzha, where he was born, but in Kochi. Somehow it had the same fate as the one in Kanyakumari, and Sunil and his brothers had to wait a few more years before opening another in their home state of Kerala – Sunil’s wax museum — in the capital city, along an East Fort street.