Dr Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia is a well-known portrait artist. But, somewhere around 2015, it was his love story that catapulted him to overnight fame. He rode a second-hand bike across 8 countries for 4 months and 3 weeks, in 1978, to be with the love of his life. And, now his children are about to script, co-produce and immortalise their parent’s extraordinary love story.
Mahanandia was born in 1949, to a poor Dalit family of weavers in Kandhapa village of Athmallik sub-division in Dhenkanal district, Orissa. After completing his high school education, he went to Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, to study art. But, due to lack of funds, he had to discontinue his studies and come back home. In 1971, he ended up joining the Delhi College of Art to pursue Fine Arts, and it is here that he met Charlotte Von Schedvin four year later.
Mahanandia had shot to fame after drawing a portrait of Indira Gandhi. He would often sit under the fountain at Connaught Place in Delhi, and draw portraits. Charlotte, who was a student in London, had heard of him. She drove in a van for 22 days to meet this man, and get her own portrait made by him. Soon they fell in love, and even got married according to tribal customs. According to The Tribune, an astrologer had predicted his marriage long ago. Mahanandia would carry the leaf bearing this prophecy which read, “You will marry a girl who is not from the village, not even from the country; she will be musical, own a jungle and be born under the sign of the ox.”
In two or three weeks, it was time for Charlotte to return, and she wanted Mahanandia to come along with her. But, he wanted to stay back and finish his studies. They kept in touch for about a year by writing each other letters. Then Mahanandia wanted to be with her, but had no money to buy flight tickets. He bought a second-hand bike, and pedalled through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey. He kept receiving letters in various places as he rode along – in Kandahar, Kabul, as well as Istanbul. Sometimes he hitched rides with trucks, slept in a sleeping bag under the stars. Sometimes he received food and shelter from people in exchange of his sketches. He also made many hippie friends along the way who guided him throughout.
Finally he reached Sweden, met Charlotte’s parents and they got married officially in 1979. Now, their children, Siddharth and Emelie, are about to make a film on their life. But, they have refused to sell the rights to the story to anyone to avoid losing control over the story. Emelie said, “A lot of producers – both and Hollywood and Europe – have evinced interest in a film on my parents.” In 2010, Sanjay Leela Bhansali had considered directing a film on Mahanandia and Charlotte’s love story. But, those plans fell through. Siddharth and Emelie are yet to announce a director of their story.