Bringing Pune’s forgotten stories back to life through art

“Being in Pune is one of the main reasons I paint,” says Dibangcho, recalling his early years in the city. Snatched from Bengal and placed in unfamiliar places in Pune, the Days of Kindergarten Dibangshu were spent figuring out how to communicate with the children who were gossiping away in Marathi. Everyone back home spoke Bengali and his English was very rudimentary. “So, pictures were a way of communicating with people. Do you remember those blueprints we used to have with bananas? Yeah, so I point these things out, and then finally go around drawing things to connect with people. That was the beginning, I guess, of why I paint. I draw.”

A fine artist based in Pune, Debangshu Moulik works with sculptures, paintings, and drawings. His Instagram is what he calls an ‘archive of sorts’, followed by 42.7 thousand people, a colorful mix with different artworks carefully cataloged, post after post. Debangshu has worked with Vice, Buzzfeed, etc. with works ranging from an animated short about Mumbai “Why Mumbai Flows Every Year: How the City Works” to a comic strip about Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s childhood.

His recent work, “Lost Pune Stories”, which is an extension of the Smarter Digital Realities project designed in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, Bonny and Teva studios, Pune, weaves his art with the history of a city that was initially foreign to him, but has become an inspiration now that 24 years old. Plastering posters with QR codes that redirect the viewer to their artwork, Debangshu, unique in Pune history, is bound to grab everyone’s attention.

Credits: Lost Stories from Pune

From diving into the history of Khadki’s industrial district and replacing two-wheeled vehicles packed into a traffic jam with war cannons, to roaming around the campus to discover the graves of the British residents who lived there, Dibangshu has discovered a little history of this. Big city with guides like monuments planted all over the city. “The primary focus of my previous work is in smarter digital reality [‘Laapata’] It was a “change”. I wanted to really focus on the historical aspect of Pune and the stories I don’t even know,” he says.

While studying at a state school, Pune history was never a part of his school curriculum. “I didn’t have any real context regarding the history of Pune, and where it belongs, you know,” says Dibangcho. Inspired by the “Horror History” series, consider doing something similar to Pune.

“I looked at old books written by British people who came here. British missionaries documented the life around them. Then there is this book called Pune: Queen of the Deccan. Then old books about Pune’s historical walks. Dibangcho accompanied his friends on a few heritage walks around the city and then He chose the stories that appealed to him and translated them on paper.

Presentation patterns were not consistent in all of his works. Debangshu says he chooses the format of the show depending on the content presented. “I was having a conversation with a friend about how to present these cool little facts, which I know, but I don’t know how to present them. And they were like, ‘Just make a video of it,'” he says. With the boom in Instagram reels, he adds that most people nowadays only look at videos and it has become a kind of primary mode of content consumption.

“It was like a snippet from the motion pictures. It was just an experiment to see what people really gravitate towards in comics, because personally I love comics and reading, everything. But that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. So, I try to experiment with modern forms of communication with people,” he says.

Debangshu art features bold, strong black strokes and vibrant backgrounds that make it look like a comic book. Inspiration and continuous development of his individual style go hand in hand with Debangshu. Live action characters take center stage and big, bold eyes are his signature. He credits his travels through the city for this. “I’ve been traveling here forever, taking buses to different places. One of my favorite hobbies was looking at people and trying to imagine what their lives were like, what their background would be, what their struggles might be. And this show, I think, is selectively reflected. In the sketches I made for this project, because it’s literally the people I used to see every day.”

Childhood memories also form a strong base for his art today. Long train journeys to Kolkata are never complete without having a ‘Tinkle’ comic on hand. The old VHS tapes of Disney movies often make up for the lack of a cable TV network at home. The Pujas in Kolkata filled with hymns in an ancient language demanded an alternative pastime as it evoked conversations between the deities of Jagannath and Subhadra. These memories boil down to shaping his art. The big bold eyes and prominent lines of Jagannath’s statues, the lively action of “Tinkle” and the vibrant color schemes of Disney films are all represented in his art today.

From his childhood with Captain Underpants to working at Google and Instagram, Debangshu’s artistic journey has come a long way but his goal, he says, has remained the same. “I was only making eye contact, and that’s the gist of what I’m doing now,” he says.

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