Salman Khan took less than a minute to say yes to Rouble Nagi’s request. The painter-muralist-sculptor wanted the Bollywood superstar to help her Rouble Nagi Art Foundation (RNAF) that supports underprivileged children by holding art camps and helping fund their higher education.
The moment he saw their work during a visit to an art camp, he turned to her and smiled, before agreeing to support the foundation.
“To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement,” says Rouble, who studied fine art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.
“But more than that, it was the burst of confidence it gave to my children – to have Salman, an artist himself, to appreciate their work, and back them. It brought a certain purpose to their seemingly aimless existence.”
The actor, an invitee at an art camp in Mumbai organised by Rouble in 2013 that showcased the work of underprivileged kids she helps on a regular basis, was in fact so amazed and impressed with the artistry of the kids that he handpicked 10 artworks and used them on his Being Human T-shirt collection.
Rouble, 34, who started RNAF in 2011, had been working with various groups associated with underprivileged and special needs children in India.
“I’d been organising art camps and small projects for children for four years before I was encouraged to start my own foundation by Dr Madhav Chavan, CEO of the NGO, Pratham, where I first volunteered,” says Rouble. “Save The Children was one such programme that I did with kids with special needs.”
She would first find out what colours the children appreciated and responded by creating an artwork with those shades or encourage the kids to paint with them.
“The children loved creating pieces of art and seeing their enthusiasm made me want to do more for such children,” says Rouble, who was in Dubai last year for a fundraising show called Strokes of Strength.
Coming from a privileged background – her father was an Indian Army officer – the artist says one of the best things in her life was that she had the opportunity to travel almost all over India with her family. “This gave me a unique insight into our country. I got to know people from all walks of life,” says Rouble. And one of the things she realised quickly was that there were a lot of poor children struggling to get an education.
“As an artist I dream when I create, and my dream is a world free of poverty and crime,” she says. Keen to realise her dream after graduating, she decided to set up RNAF, which promotes talented young artists and helps underprivileged kids by raising funds for their upkeep and education. The foundation, which is supported by donors, also helps young needy artists by providing them with art materials and also gives scholarships for art schools.
“The art camps are created to give the children an equal social platform for them to interact with society,” she says. “Underprivileged children are mostly disengaged from mainstream education, disruptive or withdrawn and mostly avoid going to school.
“Our camps are held at municipal schools and local nurseries and in the past few years we have demonstrated that with a caring and creative environment, even the most problematic child can learn and achieve through art.”
Every year a team of young aspiring artists are chosen to exhibit their works in London and Singapore.
At 14, Rouble began donating money she earned from paintings sold at auctions and galleries.
“I decided even then that I would keep aside a substantial part of my earnings to charity. And I still follow that rule to this day.” Forty per cent of Rouble’s earnings from her art goes towards the foundation.
The foundation also organises fundraising programmes. Former Pakistani cricket captain Wasim Akram and Bollywood director, Sohail Khan (Salman’s brother), who are close friends with Rouble, are goodwill ambassadors who actively promote the foundation. Bollywood stars such as former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen, Emraan Hashmi, Zayed Khan, and music composer Anu Malik are also active supporters.
“It is the support of such loyal friends that has inspired me to expand the scope of the foundation,” says Rouble.
I n recent years her foundation work has almost begun to overshadow her artwork. “Now I paint only once in four or five years,” says Rouble. “After that I hold my exhibitions.”
She has firm views about her foundation. “My art foundation is very close to my heart,” she says. “There are thousands of kids attached to it whom I teach art. The basic aim is to give them a platform and educate them. Some of them go to schools and some don’t.
“The idea is to encourage them to attend school of some kind, whether municipal or government schools.”
Rouble believes keeping kids off the street can make a real difference.
“These are the kind of kids who could stray into a life of crime if they are not taken care of well. My aim is to ensure that they complete school and learn some skills that will help them stand on their own feet.
“Even if I can make one child stand on his feet and take care of his family I would feel I’ve done something.”
Rouble encourages them to participate in activities to keep them engaged. “They get bored easily, so I have mural painting, sculpture, mosaics, and clay modelling at my art camps,” says Rouble. “Many of my kids are going to art colleges now, and one is even doing an MBA at the SP Jain College.”
Rouble holds her camps in Delhi, Aurangabad, Nashik and Mumbai, where she lives. “I keep going to each place – I travel 15 days a month,” she says. “It’s now difficult with my three-year-old son Vivaan, but for my students I’m even willing to take him on a morning-evening flight to work for their future.” Rouble’s husband, Saahil, is very supportive.
Rouble started out working with 300 children. Over the years more than 100,000 have attended her camps. The foundation now plans go to Rouble’s birthplace – Jammu. “I am in talks with two orphanages in Kashmir,” she says. “I plan to take over the cost of providing healthcare and education to the children there.”
Besides helping underprivileged children to grow as artists, the foundation also supports other children by funding their education. “Not every child is inclined towards art,” she says. “Those who are not are sent to a normal school and we fund their education.”
Rouble, who was awarded the Jijabai Women Achievers’ Award in 2013 for exemplary social work by the Government of India, also supports women’s empowerment and it is a subject evident in her paintings.
Despite appearances Rouble is a tough woman, physically and mentally. She paints huge, physically demanding murals – she’s done more than 800 so far – and has created larger-than-life sculptures, some of which weigh around four tonnes.
“I recently did a sculpture of a mother and child in bronze, almost four tonnes each and 4.2 metres high,” she says. “Another sculpture in marble called Lovers, weighed six tonnes and stood 5.5 metres high, for a client-friend in New Delhi, India.”
Rouble does not like to paint sadness. “Anyone who buys my art has to take happiness and positivity back home,” she says. “I only paint when I’m in a good mood. The paintings I do when I am negative I don’t even show to others.
“I have always believed that education is the key to self-reliance, and the future,” she says. “Through RNAF I want to make a difference any way that I can. Equality and education are every child’s birthright.
“Unfortunately, India has a huge number of children out of schools. It’s surprising but India has more children of school age than China, and at the same time relatively low attendance rates... Roughly India has 21 million children out of school.”
Rouble pauses and ponders. “If I can make even a small dent in that figure it will be worth it,” she says.