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Artist produces portraits with his trusty typewriter

AFP, MUMBAI, India

Indian artist Chandrakant Bhide poses with his artwork and typewriter in Mumbai, India, on July 17.

Photo: AFP

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, ding rang out from a home in Mumbai, where Chandrakant Bhide has created his latest artwork — on a typewriter.

The 72-year-old thumps the keys of the bulky, manual machine to draw portraits of famous people, all bearing an unmistakable resemblance to their subject.

From politicians and film stars to cricketers, animated characters and religious symbols, Bhide has produced about 150 pieces of typewriter art over the past half-century.

“I have done many personalities like [Indian independence leader] Mahatma Gandhi, [former Indian prime minister] Jawaharlal Nehru, [former Indian prime minister] Indira Gandhi, [English comedian] Charlie Chaplin, [and comedians] Laurel and Hardy. This is my hobby, my passion,” he said.

Bhide has held 12 exhibitions of his work and become something of a local celebrity since discovering his unique talent in the late 1960s while employed as a bank clerk.

As a young man he had wanted to go to art school and become a commercial artist, but his family was unable to afford the tuition, so he trained in stenography instead.

Bhide was working in Union Bank of India’s administrative department when in 1967 his boss asked him to type up a list of staff intercom numbers.

“I typed it in the form of a telephone itself. When I saw it I thought: ‘This is fantastic, I can make art through this medium.’ Everybody seemed to like it too,” he said.

Bhide started using the “x” key to produce images of Hindu god Ganesha to mark India’s annual festival celebrating the elephant-headed deity.

He then began to experiment with other keys — including “w,” dash, asterisk, ampersand and percentage sign — progressing to create portraits of celebrities from India and abroad.

While Bhide takes only 15 minutes to draw Ganesha, several hours are required to complete a famous face in what is a painstaking process.

With steely focus, he uses his left hand to grip the knob that controls the platen — the roller that feeds the paper through — as he taps the keys with his right index finger. He stops every so often to change the angle of the page before typing again.

Sometimes he would flick the color-change lever from black to red or vice-versa, and he would glance down regularly at the photograph he is working off to make sure he has not made an error.

“Typing requires dedication and concentration. If you put one stroke in the wrong place then you have to start again,” Bhide said. “It’s not like a computer where you can delete. Many times I’ve made mistakes and had to start again.”

The septuagenarian has drawn several Indian actors over the years, including Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar, as well as US cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Archie.

Cricketers feature heavily, such as Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, whose famous curly hair Bhide recreated with hundreds of “at” symbols used in e-mail addresses.

Bhide, who does not sell his artwork or take orders, has been featured in several Indian newspapers and has been able to show his portraits to many of the Indian stars he has drawn.

All of his works have been produced on the same Halda typewriter he used for the 30 years that he worked at Union Bank. The bank sold it to him for 1 rupee when he retired in the mid-1990s.

“I have got so many things out of this typewriter. Typing is an art,” he said.

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