Madame Tussauds comes to Delhi… But makes a tepid start, omits some big names from India

In case you have missed the billboards around the city, Madame Tussauds, the internationally famous wax museum, has opened its first Indian centre in Delhi. Madame Tussauds is so named after the French wax sculptor Marie Tussauds who used to assist a physician skilled in wax modelling. After his death in 1794, she inherited her mentor’s vast collection and exhibited them all over Europe. In 1836, the first museum opened its doors in London. Since then, Madame Tussauds has been a key attraction in major cities of Europe and America. If the London museum bests others in numbers – it has more than 300 wax models; the Las Vegas one, as its website says is the “top thing to do on the Las Vegas Strip.” The London museum also has some of the best stories of the work process that goes into making the models. Its King Kong, for instance, is the largest animatronic (robotic devices to emulate a human or an animal) the Tussauds team has made over 75 days, involving a group of 33 artists and engineers.

A statue of former Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev at Madame Tussauds Delhi.
(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

By those standards, Madame Tussauds Delhi has begun on a modest scale. It has five entertainment zones – history, music, films, sports, and party (read A-list celebs) – spread across a 2,000-square-foot floor area over two floors at the Regal Cinema building in the heart of central Delhi at Connaught Place. Welcome to the museum’s 23rd version in which a wax figure of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar greets visitors at the entrance (there is another statue of his inside the museum); where US pop star Beyonce Knowles stands in fishnet stockings and looks across from her corner to where Bollywood legend Madhubala is frozen in dance from the movie Mughal-e-Azam.

Next to Madhubala flashing her pearly whites is Raj Kapoor playing a Chaplinesque hobo in Shree 420. Beside him, in sharp contrast, is his grandson Ranbir Kapoor in a tux. Two generations of an Indian family from Maldives who have come to Delhi on vacation throw their arms around the different generations of the Kapoors, peck their cheeks, and ask their partners to take pictures.

A hit with all genders is the Marilyn Monroe figure or, to be precise, the curly Monroe wig hanging from a hook nearby,. They put the wig on, do the Monroe simper, take selfies

Anshu Jain, director of Merlin Entertainment, said to be the second-largest “attraction operator” in the world after Disney, is managing the museum’s operations. Jain, however, stresses that Tussauds is more than a museum. “In a museum, you have to watch and keep the objects at a certain distance. You can’t get on to a rickshaw with ‘Salman’ as you can here, nor ride pillion with ‘Tom Cruise’ on his bike’,” he says.

A total of 50 statues (60 per cent of the display is Indian content) stand at various spots in this “attraction centre”. An obvious miss seems to be the reigning superstar of Bollywood – Shah Rukh Khan. Aamir Khan is not here either. Their absence is clarified. “Had we opened in Mumbai, there would have been more Bollywood stars. SRK is joining Madame Tussauds soon complete with a slight beard,” says Jain. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is another screaming absence. “India has more than 50 achievers in every field. It would be difficult to accommodate all of them. But we will expand the list in accordance with the demands of visitors. Every year there are 10 new additions,” he says.

A wax image of Indian boxer Mary Kom in the sports section of Madame Tussauds Delhi.
(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

In politics, the Indians who have made it here are Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Bose, Sardar Patel, Narendra Modi and APJ Abdul Kalam; in cinema and entertainment, there is Amitabh Bachchan, a dimpled Asha Bhonsle, Sonu Nigam, Salman, Madhuri Dixit, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif. Kapil Dev, Milkha Singh, Mary Kom and Sachin Tendulkar are the stars in the sports arena.

Why does Sachin look a tad dark? “His wax statue may have been cast after a match. He may have tanned then,” says a museum attendant.

Among international celebs, there is the inevitable Angelina Jolie, a ‘Jessica Alba’ that does not look like Jessica Alba, Madonna, and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. The music area where Madonna and Jackson stand is, however, one of the more striking areas of Madame Tussauds, Delhi. It gets the dimly lit back-stage-area-feel of a concert just right. Another hit with all genders is the Monroe figure or, to be precise, the curly Monroe wig hanging from a hook nearby,. They put the wig on, do the Monroe simper, take selfies. Another activity that is quite popular with visitors is dipping their palms in wax to get ‘wax hands’. They don’t come cheap – it’s R450 for a single hand; R900 for double.

A final thought: in the era of social media when visuals of celebrities photo-bomb us every minute, what attraction can wax statues possibly hold for us? Apparently plenty. Museum officials claim 1,500 visitors on weekends. Their target is to get that number every other day.

Cast In Wax

What: Madame Tussauds

Where: 44 Regal building, Connaught Place, Outer Circle.10 am-7:30 pm. Open all days. Contact 011- 47024700.

Entry fee: Rs 760 (children) Rs 960 (adults)

Nearest metro station: Rajiv Chowk

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