Ash, even in wax, will do

By Neena Badhwar

Twentieth century produced many inspirational leaders, revolutionaries, fighters of human rights, many great people who devoted their life in serving the humanity to bring down the suffering of the down trodden, the destitute of our society. There are a few who come directly to the mind – Florence Nightingale who walked with a candle in her hand attending to the wounded soldiers of the war, Nelson Mandela who fought against apartheid in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi whose exemplary life was spent in non-violent struggle to free India from the colonial rule, Dalai Lama in India fighting to free his home land Tibet  and Mother Theresa who picked up the sick and the poor people from the streets of Calcutta to help them give the dignity they deserved.

I missed the opportunity to meet Gandhi being born much after Gandhi’s demise in 1948, but I had the opportunity to meet Dalai Lama in person in Sydney from up close and Mother Theresa in a plane journey when I was able to spot her sitting simply in the economy class. My unfulfilled third wish, having lost on Gandhi, has always been to see Nelson Mandela.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see Nelson Mandela, not in flesh and bones, I should add, but close and life-like at Madame Tussaud’s in Sydney. Here, one is privy to these icons from up close and even able to observe them and feel inspired being in their company and learn about their stories of their lives.

Gandhi, Obama, the Queen, Mandela, Dalai Lama, Florence Nightingale, Mary McKillop are housed in one such section of Madame Tussaud’s museum of wax figures where one can spend time and get pictures with them. The figures are so very life-like that even the fine lines, features, wrinkles and veins show on models who look unbelievably real. Their eyes, the expression of the face is something to admire about in this unique art of making wax figures.

Zoe Walton, the studio manager at Sydney’s Madame Tussaud’s, who came from London to set up the museum in Darling Harbour, says, “Over 800 hours of work goes into creating a life like figure by over 60 artists which include photographers, sculptors, stylists, hair, eye and dentures artists as they work to bring life like expression on the sculpture. Marie Tussaud, popularly known as Madame Tussauds, learnt the art of making wax figures from a French physician Dr. Phillippe Curtius in the 1700s when he made these figures to teach anatomy to medical students. Marie’s mother was his housekeeper and she went to live in Dr. Curtius’ house as a child and the doctor saw the talent in the child. As Marie grew she became known for her art when the French royal family used her for sculpting their figures as it was a time when even the photography had not yet been developed.”

Marie Tussaud went on to make wax figures of some for the famous people of her era like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, including some of the revolution’s most infamous dead like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and was employed to make death masks of the victims of the guillotine during the French revolution. She was invited to London to exhibit her works as she went around on a travelling tour and finally established a museum in Baker Street. Current Madame Tussaud’s in London has a house studio where all the artists are based who make wax figures which are transported to Madame Tussaud’s museums all round the world.

Besides going through various sections and seeing figures of important Australians that include Ned Kelly, Mabo, Shane Warne, Bob Hawke and many more from around the world, the Tussauds have brought out a section on Bollywood stars ”“ the heart throbs of millions of Indians and fans from overseas.

The five Bollywood stars include Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan. The Bollywood section will be on display from August to October this year and is quite interactive as people not only can enjoy being with their Bollywood heroes, they also can, if they like, wear some shiny Bollywood gear, saris, achkan, caps and get their pictures taken with their idols with popular Bollywood music playing in the background.

All these people at some point in their life agreed to sit for the sculpting, getting hundreds of pictures taken from all angles, measurements of their face and body, the position and pose to achieve that real effect. One look at the final outcome figure and the response is just mind blowingly real.

Says Zoe, “The skin colour is really important to match for which oil paints mixed in bees wax are applied, putting in layers after layers as moles, veins and other fine details are included, matching in real sunlight dozens of times by the skin artists.”

“The sculpting process is quite labour intensive. The eyes, the color of the iris is all taken into account and made by special eye makers who spend weeks in getting the details right.”

“Even the hair is matched and then inserted in the head and body one by one. The streaks, the hair colour are all done diligently by the stylist not to talk of the garments worn by the statue when some of them are donated by the person.

“To start with they make a metal frame of the body and put clay on top and the clay artist creates a mould out of it once the perfect expression is achieved. The mould is made up of fiber glass in which bees wax is poured layer by layer and the wax is put on the top leaving the cavity in the head through which the eyes and teeth are inserted finally.

“The older the person more real is the expression with creases, wrinkles in the face making the sculpture look more real,” says Zoe.

While Shahrukh Khan looks quite real, Amitabh Bachchan looks too young as he was modeled in 2000 when he was visiting London. However, the artists have made sure he has the famous white beard and the grey streaks in his hair to make him look older.

Kareena and Aishwarya look stunningly beautiful while Hrithik with his muscles and biceps with his six fingers on one hand looks a hunk and is a great favourite of the visitors. One does not have to hanker for a picture with their favourite Bollywood star any more as Madame Tussaud’s have now made it possible for all to have an enjoyable, interactive, educational and inspiring tour through this unique museum ”“ a one of its own kind.

Rubbing shoulders with Captain Cook, Sir Donald Bradman, Albert Einstein, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga all under one roof is something everyone must experience.

The Bollywood exhibition was opened on August 3 with dancers from Nupur Group, Road2Bollywood Academy and in the presence of the Indian Consul General Arun Kumar Goel.

This article was written when Madame Tussauds opened in Sydney  in  2012  and  describes  what  is  done  to  achieve  perfect  wax  figures  thatcan  involve  over  800  hours  of  detailed  work  by  the  artists.

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