Sept 13, 2019


Tattoo artists and brothers, Vikas and Micky Malani talk about the societal stigma on tattoos and why it’s time for us to move on

Words: Yvonne Jacob

Tattoos are being done since a long time. It started with tribals, hippies, prisoners, etc. It’s a myth that tattoos are done on bad people

Society spares no one! Art, a form of self-expression too is often muffled by the hands of people who prefer having their ideologies implemented everywhere. I remember when I got tattooed. I got a lot of unnecessary flak from people, including some youngsters! This urged me to talk about the stigma surrounding tattoos and why it’s about time that it needs to go away. No more “You’re too old” or “You’re too young”, not even “You won’t look good in a wedding dress with those tattoos.” So I spoke to tattoo artists Vikas and Micky Malani from BodyCanvas Tattoos to get their views on the stigma that surrounds tattoos.

I reach their studio in Bandra, one of the many studios in the country and the world, and walk in to see a place filled with some people getting tattooed and others patiently waiting for their turns. As I walk in, I spot the founder, Vikas Malani, the elder brother, sitting on his seat, in the middle of tattooing a young girl. We exchange greetings and he goes on to tell me how his family means everything to him. You can’t tell the difference between who is family and who’s a part of the team because everyone present there was so warm to each other. It was more like entering their home and that is exactly how they treat it too.

I ask Vikas about his thoughts on the tattoo industry to which he replies, “I’ve worked in 27 countries. Met locals around the world and made friends. The purpose is to not only make tattoos, but to build relations. Those who come to me, I make them feel like they’re not just another client to me. I’ve worked with acid attack survivors and with differently abled people. I like meeting passionate people who respect art.”

It’s refreshing to meet an artist who cares about more than just his artwork. Looking at the young crowd present in the studio, I ask him about his take on society to which he says, “In India, the society dominates the culture. Generally it’s the mindset of the people that rules the society. Tattoos are being done since a long time. It started with tribals, hippies, prisoners, etc. It’s a myth that tattoos are done on bad people. They were also done on warriors who represented their countries.”

Now that we all have a fair idea about what Indians think about tattoos, what’s the situation like in the UK? Micky, who handles BodyCanvas in London, says, “It’s different in a lot of aspects. Clients come with a lot of homework. In terms of scale, they’re not concerned about how big or where they are getting tattooed. Acceptance towards all kinds of artwork is something you find more over there.” So how do you compare this situation with the one we have in India? “Oh, Top: A client poses with their tattoo; Below: Micky Malani with M S Dhoni, Priyanka Chopra getting a tattoo done, Kalki Koechlin shows her back tattoo; Bottom left: Vikas Malani at work

Recently my team member tattooed a 71 year old businessman and he got the logo of Chivas Regal tattooed

India is changing a lot. We’ve got women who are getting inked on their whole arm or leg but the numbers are few. It is changing and yes, change comes slowly. Now people have started seeing tattoos as a permanent accessory in India.“

How do you convince a skeptic to go ahead and get tattooed? Vikas jumps in and says, “If someone is sure that they don’t want a tattoo, there’s not much I can do. Firstly, if you know us and you’ve come to meet us then you’re obviously interested. But if I feel that someone is willing but they are holding back, then I probe further. We consult and recommend designs. We talk to them and find out about a fond memory and things attached to it that make those memories special. People love talking about their achievements, what they’ve learnt, where they’ve travelled. We find links to what they like and they realise that they want this memory to last forever and getting a tattoo is one of the ways to do that.”

Finally, curious to know about their clientele, I ask Micky if he ever had customers who he wouldn’t expect to get inked but they showed up to get one? He enthusiastically said, “You suddenly see a man walking in with the sharpest suit and guess what, he’s 45 and he wants a tattoo. Recently my team member tattooed a 71 year old businessman and he got the logo of Chivas Regal tattooed. He had been drinking for 13 years, 3 drinks per day and it was such an intricate part of his life that he wanted to tattoo it. I even tattooed ‘Ram Ram’ on an 82 year old woman’s hand and it was her first tattoo.”

The girl Vikas was tattooing earlier walks up to me and stretches her hand out to show me what she got done, her father standing behind, beaming with pride. It was her first tattoo and she got it done in celebration of her clearing her board exams. As for me, it was time to leave. After a series of goodbyes with everyone I met that day, I head back home with a lingering thought. 'Change comes slowly' and rightly so, everyone present at the studio, the adoring dad and the humble people I got to meet, they were it. The much needed change.

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