In a resting corner in the extravagant high ceilinged air-conditioned studio at sector 63, Noida, Ram Sutar, 97, opens a box of pista shells. This 5 feet 5-inch man, who is the main sculptor of the 182 metres high Sardar Patel Statue of Unity has drawn tiny faces on these pista shells that he fondly displays. The adjoining wall has a frame of hand-collected stones carved into miniature figures of men, women and children. Lying on the bed is a magazine copy with his picture on its cover.
As the whopping 597 feet (182m) figure of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stands tall next to the Narmada river in Gujarat, in another part of the country off the coast of Maharashtra in the Arabian sea, a proud Shivaji perched on his horse stands at 395 feet, while a figure of BR Ambedkar exudes wisdom at 250 ft in Mumbai. Moreover, more than 400 figures of Mahatma Gandhi remain intact in nearly 350 cities globally. Not just his statues but the amount of work that Ram Sutar has done over the years is also colossal. With the Indian soil and metal as his medium, Ram Sutar has brought to life historical figures through his statues. The amazing part is that at 97 years of age his desire to work has not diminished and he is still creating these amazing works.
The moment you meet him you get the feeling that he is filled with quaint wisdom. The best part is he is full of stories and is willing to share them. Despite the evidence of masterpieces to his fame, he is still the same young man who left his formal education in Gondur village, Maharashtra, to pursue sculpting.
Amidst replicas of sculptures made over 7 decades, Ram Suta takes a trip down memory lane. He smiles, “Gondur has really gone door. But I remember, there was never a time that I have not worked. There is an adage that says, Chalti ka naam gaadi. My life has never been still”
After 75 years after India’s independence, most of the names who led the country during the freedom struggle have bid adieu to the world. While the young may only imagine the times through history books, Ram Sutar has lived through them. The maker of Gandhi in a meditative pose installed at the Parliament clearly remembers growing up with his ideals, immersed in the Indian milieu.
Narrating an anecdote, he says, “I was 5, a protest by burning western clothes was going on in front of my school and I was attracted to the spectacle and was watching intently. People around me noticed that I was wearing a cap and asked me to throw it in the bonfire and I complied.”
Ram Sutar says that there was a tremendous influence of Gandhian ideas in society as he grew up. He was also inspired by them and followed the same principles. As a result, he contributed to all household chores, believed in service and respected his teachers. He believes that his habits also contributed to his expertise as he noticed textures around him while helping his mother. “My first sculpture was a scorpion on a cake of soap.”
He dedicates his first statue of Gandhi to his art teacher at school Ram Krishna Joshi who first inspired him to make a sculpture of Gandhi. “Most times, people are not aware of the kind of impact they would have on a person’s life. He gave me 40 rupees every month for 4 years so I could sustain myself while learning and practising sculpting. It is like tending to a plant. He tended to me, and I bloomed.”
Over the years, Ram Sutar and his son Anil Sutar (64) have created hundreds of sculptures, of political, industrial and personal statues, and a replica of each finds a place in the studio. It is almost a history museum. There are stories of massive success and some losses, yet Ram Sutar has never doubted his craft. The sculptor had designed a statue of Gandhi with two children for the canopy at India gate. His statue was rejected for some reason. In its place, a statue of Subhash Chandra stands. "Mine would have been a better sculpture," he says proudly.
Ram Sutar highlights that to create any figure, it is crucial to study the personality of a person, his role and his style. “Every person has emotions on his face, could be stern, happy or sad on his face. It is also important to know their personality, whether he was quiet or powerful, and this has to reflect in the statue.”
In his journey, he also met the Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Sutar clearly remembers that he was so impressed by his sculpture of the 45 feet of Chambal Devi in Madhya Pradesh that he directed him to make another statue at the Bhakra Nangal Dam for the workers who died while making architectural marvels of India.
Among examples of high historical figures, the tallest statue in the world is to his credit. Telling us about its journey, he saya that back in 2013, when the idea of creating a 182-metre figure of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel came to the government, a foreign historian was sent to India with a unique mission. The task was to find the most realistic figure of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. After a visit to several museums and galleries, he concluded that it was Ram Sutar’s sculpture that was the most life-like.
Ram Sutar who created the statue with his son in a foundry in China points out that each eyeball of the statue measures up to 6 feet while the feet measure 80 feet.
About the Statue of Unity, we talked to Anil Sutar who accompanies his father in creating sculptures of historical figures. An architect by profession and a sculptor, he brings in aesthetics along with cutting-edge technology to make mammoth statues possible. Talking about the statue, he says, “It is an achievement for India that a 597 feet statue was installed. However, it would have been better if it would have been created in India and not China. We need better infrastructure and better foundries for casting large statues.”
Anil also informs us that they are looking for a space to keep their sculptures and photographs for display so that visitors can spend some time around historical sculptures and sculpting enthusiasts can take inspiration. “However it remains a challenge as getting land is difficult,” says he.