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A famed art director whose heart lies in painting

Wednesday November 23, 2011 03:15:06 PM, M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

New Delhi: He is a highly acclaimed art director in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu movies, decorated with a Padma Shri. But with more than 10,000 works to his credit, painting remains Chennai-based Thota Tharrani's first love.

It is a passion he picked up at age six when he first drew a Buddha. By the age of 12, he had achieved the distinction of contributing a number of drawings towards the Madras Art Club, winning accolades.

"My painting is my life. That is my passion. There is nothing like doing a drawing," Thota Tharrani, 61, told IANS as his first solo exhibition of paintings opened in the capital this week.

From when he drew his first Buddha, Thota Tharrani has drawn an envious more than 10,000 drawings and paintings. Of these, he says, only 500 to 1,000 are left with him.

He has no clear idea what happened to the others although he recalls, with a tinge of sorrow, that some were quietly retained by the very galleries that hosted his shows.

He adds that many also got damaged over the years because he could not store them properly.

There was another reason too.

His family home also hosted about 40 dogs, 20-30 fowls, 20 ducks, 10-15 cows and a monkey! Each had a name, all of them were his mother's pets and they had the right to explore the house. Then there were rats, constantly chased by cats, which always had problems with the dogs. The animals and birds contributed to the damage.

Thota Tharrani's water colours, oil paintings, acrylics and serigraphs on display at the week-long exhibition here cover some of his best works, images from Rajasthan, a state he fell in love with in the early 1970s.

For a long time, life wasn't easy for Thota Tharrani, more so since his parents did not approve of his passion for art. He would be grateful when he got paper and colours used by others to work on.

There were days he slogged, sleeping only while travelling in buses. "For 40 years I suffered," he said.

Today too he is struggling but only "to find time for my first love".

Thota Tharrani took to movies a long time ago with one aim: he would get to travel and thus get exposed to new regions which he could capture on canvas.

Thanks to his talent and hard work, he quickly made a mark in the film industry, becoming a set designer and art director in more than 100 films, primarily in the southern industry.

He thrice won the National Film Award for Best Art Direction: in 1989 ("Nayagan"), 1997 ("Indian") and 2007 ("Sivaji"). He won the Padma Shri in 2001.

As his friends say, none of this went to his head. He has remained down to earth, with no desire, by his own admission, to embrace "name and fame".

He is among the few artists who have not restricted themselves to any particular technique or medium. He has worked with paper collages, wooden montages, printing and photography. He is also into sculptures.

Movie offers keep pouring in. But his heart is elsewhere. "I love my drawing and painting," he says.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at






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