Karan Acharya wants people to be anything they want to be. And so, if you send him a picture, he will frame you as Radha seated beside Krishna, if you like, returning to you an image that looks more like a Raja Ravi Varma than the photograph you took on your last hill-station weekend.
Other requests he’s fulfilled include painting a specially abled girl who recently died, in medieval Indian war armour, and representing a wheelchair-bound boy as Thor, the Norse God of thunder and now Marvel superhero.
“In the former, the person requesting the portrait said it was for the girl’s mother, so that she could see her. That really moved me,” Acharya, 32, says.
The graphic artist and illustrator doesn’t charge a fee. He works on these portraits for a few hours every night, once he’s done with his day job as a concept artist for digital learning platform Byju’s.
“It started in 2015 with my friends asking me to paint them. I think deep down, everyone has a desire to be the subject of a painting or work of art,” says Acharya, who lives in Bengaluru. “Most people, the common person, can’t afford to pay an artist to paint them. I try my best to give these people a platform to live that dream.”
On Instagram and Twitter, both home to thousands of artists trying to reach out to a larger audience for their work, Acharya’s art has an avid following. But he is not new to fame. He was first thrust into the spotlight in 2017, when one of his creations — an orange vector depicting the Hindu deity Hanuman — went viral online and then even migrated offline, appearing on the rear windshields of cars across the country. It remains popular to the day.
“I now get so many requests on Twitter and Instagram every day, I can’t do then all,” he says. “Some requests I have to fulfil. It’s very hard not to feel the hurt of someone who has lost a loved one.”
He seems reluctant to discuss his viral content. “I generally don’t track where I’m being mentioned or who is sharing my pieces. Usually, it’s my wife who tells me if some celebrity has shared one of my works or if I’ve been mentioned in a news report. My mother, who isn’t on any social media platform gets a lot of joy from this and that’s one of the parts I enjoy most.”