It Could Happen to You

What it was like inside Madame Tussauds Delhi

The museum's 24th branch has found home at the Regal Theatre in the capital.

 |  It Could Happen to You  |  4-minute read |   01-12-2017
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I spent a delightful afternoon on November 30. I rode Salman Khan’s rickshaw, said “hi” to Sachin, “namaste” to Prime Minister Modi, took a selfie with Gandhiji, tried to crowd in on Subhas Bose and Sardar Patel, checked out Mary Kom’s lean muscles and Marilyn Monroe’s alabaster cheeks. Memorable moments frozen in time…er…wax. For, the curtain has finally risen on Madame Tussauds world of wax in India.

Regal goes regal

More than 240 years after Marie François Tussaud, 19th century’s most successful woman entrepreneur, made an amazing career out of life-like wax sculptures, her signature museum (the 24th branch) has found home at the Regal Theatre in Delhi (yes, Regal, the 82-year-old iconic cinema hall in Connaught Place that had shut shop this March, making many a Delhiite shed a tear or two). The glitzified white Georgian mansion has reopened its doors - to offer art and magic to the public once again.

Labour and lucre

It has been in the works for the past two years. Made in London, each figure has taken about six months, including research, pictures, paintings, photographs, videos and/or seatings for measurements. The actual models, apparently, take a staggering 350 hours. They involve making life-size clay models,  filling plaster moulds with nearly 2,500 lbs of hot wax, painting acrylic eyeballs and oil colours (for skin) and adding hair - one strand at a time. With immersive decor, sounds, live actors and special effects, the bill (reportedly) goes up to $186,000-$300,000 a figure.

mary-kom_120117012053.jpgImage: Twitter/@tussaudsdelhimodi_120117012138.jpgImage: Twitter/@tussaudsdelhi

Why art of wax?

But why did Madame Tussaud start making wax figures? Well, for one, the art of wax modelling has existed throughout human history. Remember the Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro? She was made with the “lost wax process” that Indus Valley metallurgists used a lot. Wax figures were used for mummies by ancient Egyptians and for funeral processions by Greeks and Romans. From the 17th century, wax modelling became popular in the medical world. Cadavers were difficult to procure and preserve, so doctors used wax effigies to teach anatomy, disease and deformity to students.

Charming if creepy

The truth is, the history of wax modelling has been creepy at best and terrifying at worst. As Marie Tussaud’s Memoirs and Reminiscences of France (1838) reveal, there was a gory history behind her amazing career: during the French Revolution of 1789, she was forced to wax-mould beheaded leaders, including her former employers - King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette - to show loyalty to the revolutionary government. According to historians, she took many of the casts at the guillotine or at the cemeteries. All of these are part of the London Madame Tussauds "Chamber of Horrors". It is to her credit (and business savvy) that wax models are now associated with the living - movie stars, athletes, politicians or royals.

By the way

Did you know? Madame Tussauds wanted to make a figure of Mother Teresa, but the Mother refused - the only one to do so.

Also read: Modi waxing eloquent as usual, this time at Madame Tussauds

Writer

Damayanti Datta Damayanti Datta @dattadamayanti

The writer is Executive Editor, India Today.

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