With at least one media interview lined up every day, and a long queue of tourists flocking to his village Ghal Kalan in Moga, Punjab to get selfies clicked with him, sculptor Manjit Singh Gill’s life has suddenly become quite eventful,. Thanks to the recently released film Neerja , now everyone knows about his life-size sculpture of Neerja Bhanot, the 23-year-old chief purser of the hijacked Pam Am Flight 73, who died while saving the on-board passengers on September 5, 1986.
As a tribute to the brave heart, Gill started working on the sculpture in 2013. It took him about 1.5 years to finish the sculpture that stands tall in the village’s Desh Bhagat Park. Since the time Sonam Kapoor-starrer biopic of the Ashoka Chakra awardee has hit the screens, the village has witnessed over 10 thousand visitors from all over India. Overwhelmed with the sudden received attention , Gill says, “Many people didn’t know about her before the film, so I’ve never received such a grand reception. People are getting emotional after seeing the film and are visiting her memorial. Tourists are coming from far off places.”
Gill, who has studied art from the Government College of Arts in Chandigarh, always wanted to do his bit to inspire people and narrate the stories of the people who have contributed to our nation. Apart from Neerja, his village is home for the 40 other sculptures made by him, which include inspirational men such as former President APJ Abdul Kalam, the flying Sikh Milkha Singh, and freedom fighters Chandra Shekhar Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Madan Lal Dhingra. Gill started making sculptures in 2012 during his past time. As his passion for sculpture grew, he quit his job at the department of Archaeology and Museums to pursue sculpting, full time. “People respect and credit me...they say films get made after I make sculptures, citing Neerja Bhanot and Milkha Singh as examples,” he adds.
Gill proudly tells us that the Desh Bhagat Park holds much historical significance adding, “Shaheed Kartar Singh had spent a night here. I had bought that place and the nearby land for the memorial. My great grandfather had asked me to take care of this place because of its historical importance. I am using my savings for my work. My brother Surjit Singh Gill has been a pillar of support for me ever since the inception of the project.”