The life of the great Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) is to be made into a Malayalam feature film. Lenin Rajendran, the award-winning director who had made ‘Swathi Thirunal’ a couple of decades back, is busy finalizing the script and other arrangements for the shooting of the movie, which is to start in September. Suresh Gopi, a ‘super star’ of Malayalam films is to play the lead role. The film is expected to be released around Christmas.
Raja Ravi Varma was born into the Kilimanoor royal family of Kerala. His talent was evident at an early age from the charcoal drawings he did on the palace walls. His uncle who used paint in the Tanjore (Thanjavoor) tradition was quick to spot the potential and gave the lad his first lessons.
The then Maharaja of Travancore, Ayiliam Thirunal, took the boy to Trivandrum and arranged for his training, first in water colors, followed by Tanjore style and then oils. The young artist was highly impressed by the by the European paintings in the royal collection and he developed a fusion of Indian traditions with Western techniques.
Raja Ravi Varma came into the limelight when he won the first prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition in 1873. The same year he became internationally famous by winning at Vienna Exhibition.
Raja Ravi Varma’s great creations can be classified into three - portraits, groups, compositions based on epics. He did a few landscapes as well. He painted gypsies, milk maid, aristocracy, British officers, and maharajas, among others. Strangely, his portrayals of the epics gave the lead to what came to be known as ‘Calendar Art’. Many people came to believe that his paintings depicted gods and other characters as they really looked.
Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings had their influence in more serious fields also. It is said that the coiffure of Mohiniyattam performers was changed to the hairstyle of the Kerala ladies in his paintings. In Kathakali, the style of the mask for certain characters was modified according to what the royal painter depicted.
Photographs of some Raja Ravi Varma paintings are reproduced below. To the best of my knowledge, these are public domain.
A village artist
Popularizing Raja Ravi Varma