NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens are properties that exist in the blockchain and symbolise ownership of an item that has been digitised. These assets have a unique certificate of authenticity which makes them rare valuables, and cannot be copied or stolen. From news agencies to cricketers to billionaires, everybody wants a piece of the NFT cake. Rima Kallingal is the latest actor to jump on to the NFT bandwagon and has created history by becoming the first Malayalam actor to do so.
Her artwork was created in collaboration with other artists, Francis Kurien aka Franky, Lakshmi KTP aka Lami, Mahesh Krishnan aka Bohomonk, and NFT Malayali, a global collective of Malayali artists in the crypto art space. The artwork titled ‘The Insurgent Bloom’, inspired by Neelakurinji, the flower that blooms once in 12 years in the Western Ghats, debuted on the ethereum based digital marketplace, Foundation. Franky helmed the photoshoot and motion graphics, Boho created the content, and Lami composed the music.
Rima, in a conversation with News18, said “As artists, we’re constantly on the lookout for mediums to express yourself, to rebel against, to rant about the status quo and propagate the vision you’re passionate about. This new metaverse that’s opened up in the digital space and the reach it gives you as an artist is crazy. Right now this looks like the future to me.”
After Bollywood dived into the NFT world, she said the Malayalam industry is getting out there too, thanks to the NFT Malayali community across the world. “This group of young, enterprising artists from all over the world are helping their comrades bridge the gap between technology and art. The beauty of it is how they stand for each other and want everyone to succeed. I love this term ‘wagmi’ in the NFT metaverse which means we’re all going make it and that’s the spirit of this space which makes it so special.”
A vocal supporter of women’s issues, Rima announced on her social media post that 50% of what the artists make out of NFT will be used to support movies made by women.
The auction for the artwork started on October 17 and ended on October 18 with the highest bid being 2.75 ether (Rs 7.73 lakh or $10,263.03) offered by Barthazian, who bought it. Fabin Rasheed, a generative artist from Alleppey, was another bidder for the artwork.
Talking to News18 about his historic purchase, Barthazian (prefers to be known by his online pseudonym), who is based out of Abu Dhabi with roots in Kerala, said several factors influenced his decision to buy ‘The Insurgent Bloom’. “The art was really my kind of aesthetic. Secondly, it was the first Mollywood-based NFT to my knowledge. The proceeds going to women artists in the industry also felt like a good fit for me.”
He has been active in the NFT space for the past three years. “I identify more as a trader but I also collect things I really like occasionally. I started out with Initial Coin Offering investments (a form of cryptocurrency that businesses use to raise capital) in 2018, learned about NFTs, and started exploring the ecosystem.”
Although, he added, investing in NFTs is 100% risky especially because art, in general, is a difficult market to invest in. “It can be illiquid for years with low chances of it having secondary market value. This particular buy is less of an investment for me and more of an exposure vehicle for NFTs in Kerala.” He believes that India will be one of the largest consumers within this digital media in the next decade.
Talking about how Rima Kallingal was convinced to delve into the NFT space, Melvin Thambi, the Texas-based co-founder of NFT Malayali, said that the endless possibilities of showcasing NFT works and the exposure a celebrity can bring to the table were discussed over a zoom session. “The idea of artists supporting artists and doing something meaningful for the cause of women empowerment helped rope her in.”
Melvin said that initially, people thought NFTs are favourable only to celebrity artists. Due to the technical jargon and financial terminology, some artists feel it may not be easy to enter this space. “We tried to onboard people through blogs and make them understand the nuances of NFTs.” What started off as a small WhatsApp group has now grown into a full-blown brand – NFT Malayali – which is a pioneer creator community that focuses on providing value to the artists who are starting out in the space and shares information via Instagram, Discord, Clubhouse, and Twitter spaces. They’ve onboarded 600 plus artists from across the world into the NFT space.
“People are investing in people here. More than the artwork, a collector considers the investment as an opportunity for the artist to grow and hone his/her skills. Gradually the value will increase and the buyer can put it in the secondary market, resell and make a profit. Since there’s no middle man, artists promote their works on their own, becoming an entrepreneur of sorts,” he added.
It has only been eight months since Melvin started this journey, but he himself is an artist who has sold seven NFT works on Foundation and Wazirx, along with his wife and 12-year-old daughter.
Franky thinks it is a great time to be alive as a creator and maker. NFTs will drive the creative force in everyone, he told News18. “Creators won’t be selling their works to platforms like Instagram anymore. The internet has updated to web 3.0 with blockchain technology and we are witnessing a massive paradigm shift. None of the creations will ever go for free from now on, a carpenter could also be an NFT artist. We have entered a new dimension of revenue models with digital values becoming equivalent to physical values.”
Franky has been dabbling in this creative economy for nearly five months and this is his second NFT. “The support that artists give to other artists can only be described as pure magic. It’s always better to choose an individual NFT artist and collaborate rather than with an artist outside the NFT community. That’s how I came across Boho and Lami, both of whom have been in this space for the last six months.”
Talking about the artwork, he said, “Collaborating with Boho and Lami was the best decision ever; we got a team that clearly understood our theme and we were able to create a historic NFT.” From framing the idea, shortlisting the keywords, doing the photoshoot to adding Neelakurinji with digital art composition and motion to add more life to the work, it took almost two months to finish the whole project. “This is the modern renaissance and it’s just a matter of time before we witness the fastest-growing art economy here,” he added.
Boho told News18 that he has always been an admirer of the works and statements of Rima and the Women in Cinema Collective (an organization for women working in the Malayalam cinema industry). “Rima’s decision to make her very first drop a collaborative effort deserves to be lauded. We many celebrities around the globe releasing their signature NFTs, but they don’t often translate to official collaborative efforts. The cause behind ‘The Insurgent Bloom’ was another striking factor for me. When I came across the theme, I wanted it to have the elements and attitude of both Rima & Neelakurinji.”
Boho’s genesis collection and official collaborations in the crypto auction site Foundation have been sold out and he has personally invested in over 35 NFTs as well. “I have been studying & participating in the NFT space since mid-April – early May of 2021. Like many of the early enthusiasts, it was the news of Beeple’s sale that caught my eye as well. I came to this space for the art and the value it upheld.” He said that there is an influx of enthusiasts in the space now due to the monetary bling attached.
He calls himself a ‘believer’ in NFTs. “NFT is not limited to art space alone but impacts almost all areas of human intervention.” Many corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Visa, Dolce and Gabbana, RTFKT sneakers have already started adopting and exploring the functionalities of this space.
Lami, in a conversation with News18, said ‘The Insurgent Bloom’ initially gave her an ethereal sci-fi vibe. “I made music which resonated with electronic elements. Rima wanted to bring in mystic elements of Kerala, while I wanted to create something that would invoke the spirits of our ancestors. I found an interesting vocal sample and added percussive instruments which enhanced it. I also mixed in some sounds of nature which uplifted the whole audio experience.”
Lami was introduced to the NFT world when she composed music for the portrait of Steve Jobs created by Melvin. She continued to work on collaborative projects with Melvin, photographer Hari Menon, and Prasad Bhat. ‘The Insurgent Bloom’ is her seventh work on NFT. “It gives a lot of hope and a chance to acquire financial security to artists who are struggling after the pandemic situation. Rima’s entry to the NFT space is quite inspirational to a lot of women artists as well,” she added.
Earlier, Amitabh Bachchan had become the first Bollywood star to create his own NFT. The Amitabh Bachchan-themed NFTs is set tp include artworks like verses from his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s legendary work Madhushala, posters of his movies signed by him, and few other rare elements related to his life converted into digital artwork. Salman Khan had also ventured into this world by announcing his own range of NFTs and recently launched India’s first-ever crypto social token, Gair Coin by Chingari.