The mighty Hulk clad in daura suruwal and resting against a bottle of local Nepali raksi (alcohol) makes for quite an image. Or the glamorous Barbie rocking her blonde hair in Hakupatasi (traditional Newari garment). But as removed from one another as they sound, a touch of creativity and a little planning really bring these images to life. And Sunny Shakya is the creative genius behind it.
His page in Instagram (@sunny_toygraphy) has racked up quite an interest in the social media site. And why would it not? It isn’t everyday that you see Wonder Woman play harmonium cheerfully. Or witness Thor’s marriage to Barbie (the Nepali way) while a heartbroken Hulk watches dejectedly. Or even Batman as he holds a stack of kites with tika on his forehead, waiting for the wind to settle and fly his kites.
Shakya, the man behind all this spunk, by profession is into handicrafts. He does wax modeling, takes commissions to make personalized handmade wares and runs his own business (Sanu Arts Creation) selling these crafts. Always into creative arts, Shakya feels a continuous need to create and try his hands at different things. On one of his trips to Bhaktapur, he saw a doll’s key ring hung on a store and, on an impulse, bought it. “I imagined staging the doll so they looked like they were up to something and, in my head, it seemed hilarious,” he recalls.
He had previously attended a photography workshop so he knew what settings would work and what angles to work on. So he put two of these inexpensive dolls close to one another so that the two looked like they were engaged in a conversation. And with the right angles, the miniature dolls and the backdrop gave the picture a narrative. He posted the picture on his Instagram page and the feedback he got was unlike anything he had expected. “I took the picture because, in my imagination, it was fun. I had never expected that others would think the same way,” he says.
Never the one to resist a venture, Shakya bought a few more dolls and posted them with memorable captions. “It’s just so funny, creating human situations with objects that were made to look like human,” he explains. He adds that, with the caption, somehow the pictures became more telling. Motivated by the feedback Shakya began planning his posts since then.
In the beginning, he visited many toy stores in search of a variety of dolls and plastic figurines. However, it was soon evident to him that there wasn’t a great deal of variety in toys in Nepal. And because he wanted quality figurines his options were quite limited. Only the very popular ones like the Avengers and Barbie were available. He had to make do with them anyway, so he thought of dressing them up in traditional Nepali wear. “There is nothing more amusing than seeing your traditional garment being worn by people (or rather figurines in this case) who don’t belong to your culture. Putting these clothes on Hulk and Captain America seemed like a wonderful idea,” says Shakya.
He then searched for a dealer to supply him with the miniature clothes and he found one in Bhaktapur. Other miscellaneous items like miniature harmoniums, kites, hookahs, radios and others, he made himself. Owing to his background in handicraft, he was able to immaculately replicate these items. “I had a lot of fun doing it. Making miniature items needs a different approach than making a real one does,” he claims adding the challenge was something he welcomed.
He posted pictures randomly, just made a scenario and put in his figurines. That is how he got the popular image of Hulk (named Hulk Bahadur) holding a large plate of choila (spiced grilled meat). Then came Thor, holding not his loyal hammer but a trishul (crafted by Shaky himself) before a shivalinga. It wasn’t long before Captain America popped up to give Hulk Bahadur, who has a dhaka topi (Nepali woven hat) on, a bike ride at a monastery. Wonder Woman joined in too, holding onto a khukuri (Nepali blade), playing a harmonium and wearing potey (hand beaded necklace).
Eventually, Shakya realized that although the content was good, he needed to give his work a direction of sorts. So he wrote a story for Hulk Bahadur, of his many romantic escapades and heartbreaks. Somehow the story, with references to Devdas, worked out and a new episode is posted every week. But today, his sister helps with the costumes. “So far we have done the Nepali gunyu-choli and dresses from the Tharu, Gurung, and Newar communities,” says Shakya.
By making references to popular culture and giving his pictures a local context, Shakya is making mundane events hilarious, and boring long hours fun. Although he has only been at it for just a few months, there are a lot of pictures on his page that will tickle your funny bone and Shakya wants to come up with more stories and keep sharing them in the future too.