The Man. The Mission. The Museum.

Chat Room
Report by: 
LOKNATH PATRA
Port Blair
17 Dec 2017

Mukeshwar Lall, a filmmaker credited with more than 40 documentaries, even for Channel Plus in France, is the creator of The Kalapani Museum. On the ATR road at Garacharma II stands his pièce de résistance, the most comprehensive museum on the history of Andaman and Nicobar Islands vindicated by Tripadvisor’s 4.5 star reviews. Chock-o-block with models, dioramas, photographs, paintings, artefacts, letters, documents spread over 3 floors connected by a Zeppelinesque ‘stairway to heaven’ is an exciting goose bump experience. Harry Belafonte lyrics, ‘Island in the Sun’ welcomes you at the foyer and draws you in like a magnet till you are overwhelmed and enlightened by the A&N history, from the indigenous tribes, the freedom fighters-convicts, settlers, the British, Japanese occupation and anecdotal facts. The torture and gore too has been chronicled with utmost documented sincerity.

EOI spoke to Mr. Lall in a free-wheeling chat, trying to keep pace with him as he guided the visitors explaining and educating them up and down the stairs, leaving me gasping for breath many a times to match his effervescence.

EOI- Mr. Lall, congratulations on creating this Tome of Love, the Kalapani Museum. When did it open its doors to public?

Mr. Lall- Thank you. On 8th July, 2016. It is just over a year, I feel relieved as it was a dream I never thought I could achieve. My friends had laughed at me, whenever I broached the subject. To find the right place, I had run from pillar to post since 2013, as my collection spanning two decades was ready for display.

EOI- How did it all start? When exactly did the spark enter your mind?

Mr. Lall- I cannot just pin point on an occasion or time, as it must have formed subconsciously, as I was passionately into collecting and reading voraciously whatever I laid hands on about our islands.  I think it was in 1996. An Arstist’s camp with the biggest names in fine art was organised for celebrating the 100 years of Cellular Jail. Their paintings are displayed at the Jail even now. Top journalists, foreign researchers, filmmakers like Gautam Ghose too were present. As I was then and even now a Member of the Advisory Board of the Monitoring Committee of the Cellular Jail, and my friend and fine artist Swapnesh Chaudhury was the curator of the jail then, I was the point man for all these creative minds. This melting pot of creativity got me into a history trance of sorts. I wanted to live the history. My collection spree never abated. (He sighs and keeps quiet for a while)

EOI- Please continue Sir, I am waiting to hear more.

Mr. Lall- Sorry, I seemed to have travelled back into those wonderful days with your questions. The second shove was in 1997, when I was assigned to do a film on the History of Freedom Movement of India and History of Cellular Jail. I felt humbled when Shyam Benegal saw the film and sent me a fax appreciating my work. I was the resource person for Girish Karnad and Saeed Akhtar Mirza who were making films on the History of Freedom Movement of India at that time. I was getting more and more involved in history and association with such illustrious people egged me on. History was becoming my life. I was always involved with anyone coming to study the history to the isles, people from all over the world. Time and again, many suggested me to open a research centre. The idea I think had secretively found a place in my brain. Doors opened for me to professionally add to my collection. Addresses, phone numbers, archives etc., till then I did not know. Presto! I was on a roll.

EOI-  A one man army. Is that you?

Mr. Lall- (laughs) Yes, you can say so.  But I must thank all my friends and financers who helped me. I also want to thank those who laughed at my idea initially, making me a more stubborn seeker of my Truth.

EOI- What about this place?

Mr. Lall- It is a rented property. When I took it, the construction till the plinth was already complete for a shopping centre, that’s why you can see so many pillars. It was a challenge incorporating the pillars in an innovative way. But it was hard work and sleepless nights. (smiles with twinkle in his eyes). And yes, experts from Centre for Museology and Conservation, Jaipur and Research officer of Parliament Museum on their visits have lauded Kalapani as one of the finest private museums in the country.

EOI- Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mr. Lall- Our family owned the Mountbatten Cinema here, which is now Sun Sea Resort and we partly owned Opera Cinema in the then Calcutta. I came to the isles when I was 18. My father Late Mr. Jageshwar Lall was into film distribution too. My exposure to cinema since childhood made me a filmmaker, and visual creativity has always excited me. You can say I am married to History and Art (laughs again). I am about 65 years old and a bachelor.

EOI- How is the visitor flow?

Mr. Lall- It is growing by the day. International travel biggies too are sending their tourists to us. I think I am at peace now, but the itch to make it bigger will continue, like my collection spree will never stop.

EOI- On behalf of all our readers, we thank you for creating and bringing to life a place we can live and relive the history of our islands. It was pure joy speaking to you Mr. Lall.