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Hand shadowgrapher Amar Sen holds infinity in his palm

West Bengal,Features, Mon, 23 Apr 2012 IANS

Kolkata, April 23 (IANS) Amar Sen knows literally how to create the world with his fingers. With a swish and a flick of his fingers, grains of sand transform into pictures and, in silhouette, his fingers imitate a tiger, a peepul tree, a bird, a house... almost anything.


Sen says he introduced sand animation or creating images with bare hands on a sheet of sand in India. He and his partner Sabyasachi Sen are also the only Asian exponents of hand shadowgraphy - that is practised by only around nine artists in the world.


'Hand shadowgraphy' or 'cinema in silhouette' as coined by the two Sens, is the art of creating shadows using only hands and fingers against a blank screen against a light source. From depicting animals to silhouettes of monuments to personalities including Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, the two can project anything with their hand movements.


Amar has to his credit the very eye-catching Madhya Pradesh tourism campaign ad - 'MP Ajab hai, sabse Gazab hai' - based totally on hand shadowgraphy, as well as another 'Let Calcutta Surprise You'. Both videos have received millions of hits on Youtube.


Amar says hand shadowgraphy's (HSG) uniqueness lies in its purity and minimalism. "No props are needed besides the essential three - a couple of bare hands, including 10 fingers, a blank white screen and a light source - and there is no use of computer graphics or effects; otherwise it would be just like any other entertainment form," Amar told IANS. He said he has vowed never to sacrifice the art's purity for a client's requirements.


"More than anything else, HSG is an immensely powerful communication medium," Amar explains.


The duo gets going when an advertiser approaches them with a concept, which is then scripted into a story and then finally the video is shot with 'bare hands' and music is added to bring it to life. All these aspects are taken care of by the duo themselves which is a testament to Amar's gamut of talents as a magician, musician, designer/painter, actor, and poet.


"HSG allows me to channelise all my talents into a single platform," he says.


The Sens took to hand shadowgraphy in the 1960s, and after a lengthy self-taught process, conducted their first show at the Outram Club here in 1988.


For the first few years, the genre was treated with indifference and ignorance. "Initially we were asked to perform at children's shows since they thought it is child's play," he reminisces. But now the tables have turned - and he proudly proclaims, "Handshadowgraphy has been successfully resuscitated."


In 1997, the duo performed internationally for the first time in Muscat, Oman, and since then their reach has expanded to Jordan, the US, Germany and other countries.


So far it has been a rewarding experience, a token of which is the Governor's Citation by the Governor of Maryland during their 2004 trip to the US and an invitation to perform at "India's Got Talent 3" last year.


"But all this fades in comparison to the real reward which is being able to have successfully nurtured the art as my own child and the way it has touched the audience, who at times have been moved to tears and given us standing ovations," he says with a touch of emotion.


He is keen to have more disciples to preserve the art form. He teaches at the Academy of Magical Arts and Research, Kolkata, and has also planned a book on the technical aspects of the art.


For sand animation, Amar first sprinkles sand on a transparent surface with a light source in the background and then transforms the layer into images like portraits, landscapes etc., using fingers as the only tool - with the finger movements synchronised to music. The result is a live, step-by-step evolution of a story akin to an animation.


"If you have passion, then time will pay you. It depends on the students, how they utilise their talent and what is their goal. If one simply wants money then any job will suffice."


(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at


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