September 20, 2020
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Calender Art's Unsung Hero

An ode to JP Singhal, painter and Bollywood photographer.

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Calender Art's Unsung Hero

I met JP Singhal in 1966 when he was at the peak of his career and Sivakasi was the hub of calendar printing. I had known him since then till the end of his life when he left this world quietly on May 7, 2014 around mid night. He died an unsung death. Not even a paragraph in any newspaper or a mention on TV news. He was the same man for whose painting a prestigious calendar company had to wait for 3 years. The man who clicked the initial photographs of so many popular faces — from Hema Malini and Rakhi to Poonam Dhillon, Dimple Kapadia, Neetu Singh, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Tabu, Farah Khan, Anil Kapoor and many many more.

Born in Meerut in 1934, Jayanti Prasad Singhal is a legendry name in the world of calendar art. People saw his brilliant art when he was barely 18 in Dharmyug where he illustrated some of Dr. HarivanshRai Bachchan's poems while he ran an art school in Meerut. Painter Ram Kumar of Filmistan studios who was heading the art deptartment once visited Meerut and came in contact with Singhal. Looking at his work this is the advise Kumar gave him — 'One, you should make smaller paintings. Two, you should use water colour'. This was the gurumantra which led him to success and he was invited by the Bombay Fine Arts College in Mumbai to join them. Soon he was on his way to success and decided to leave the job to start his own studio .

Singhal painted scenes from mythology, people, glimpses of day to day life, children, musicians, tribals, rural india, beauty and did almost 3000 paintings with over eighty crores reproductions. He is the recipient of many prestigious awards for excellence in his work but he felt his biggest reward was his popularity and the generous amounts of love that he received from people. 

On his art, Pritish Nandy commented: "Like many people of my generation, I am also a great admirer of JP Singhal. It is easy to write him off to day as kitsch art but one must remember that in his time he brought some of the most amazing elements into Indian photography and art, including what we now describe as the sensual image. No one captured feminine sensuality as he did. No one pursued beauty as he did. Singhal's portraits of movie stars, his calendar visuals were once legendry and they will remain a landmark in the history of Indian photography and art. You will never understand their progression without understanding the role of JP Singhal. 

After ruling the calendar world he was attracted to films. It all started when Raj kapoor who drove down to Worli to meet him, said, " I am a great admirer of your tribal paintings and I am making a new film Satyam Shivam Sunderam. I want you to photograph and design/suggest the costume of my heroine Zeenat Aman." Singhal couldn't believe this, especially because h e was a great admirer of Raj Kapoor. Later Singhal told me about his experience — "Of course what I suggested to Raj jee and the final outcome were very different as Kapoor was interested more in the heroine's exposure." But never the less Singhal became great friends with Raj Kapoor.

This was his beginning of his association with films though he had been photographing leading ladies for many years as he used to do double spread paintings for Star n Style. Singhal almost did 300 films publicity designs and photographed every second person who wanted to enter the film industry. Sunil Dutt felt, before launching his son Sanjay, that he looked a bit feminine so he asked singhal to train him to face the camera. He shot Sanjay Dutt for almost a month bare chested, holding rifles on rugged grounds and the results were so good that Sunil Dutt did an exhibition of these photographs at the launch of his film Rocky. Anil Kapoor too will remain eternally grateful to Singhal for his photo shoots. 

Pradeep Chandra is an artist, photographer and an author.

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