The legend of Filip Leu transcends borders and continents in the world of tattooing. And here in India, people from the tattooing scene hold him in the highest regard. But not many of them will know that Filip Leu is a big admirer of the father of professional Indian tattooing, Dr. J A Kohiyar. Leu and Kohiyar’s relationship goes long back in history, but yes, till about a year back, it was just history.

No more. Last year, during the London Tattoo Convention, something straight-out-of-a-script happened. One of India’s senior-most artist, Mickey Malani met up with Filip Leu. We wanted to what happened next, and Mickey was kind enough to share…

“The once in a lifetime opportunity of meeting Filip Leu happened to me because of a close friend, Lorenzo Gentil. Lorenzo is a Brazilian tattoo artist who works in England. We met for the first time during my first apprenticeship in England under ‘Extreme Needles’. Over the years, Lorenzo and I became very good friends. He has come to India, tattooed at our studio (Body Canvas), has introduced me to some of the living legends of the industry.


So , during the 2015 London Convention, Lorenzo introduced me to the likes of Victor Portugal and Filip Leu. The moment Lorenzo came to know that I was a fanboy of Filip, and how much we Indian artists appreciate his work, he immediately asked me if I wanted to meet the legend in person. I was in disbelief for a moment, but then I was ready, as well. And the moment Lorenzo introduced me to Filip saying that I am an artist from India, and wanted to meet him, you should have seen the smile welcoming that I too felt like I am a part of the same family. But then, the interesting thing happened.

When he got to know that I am from Mumbai, the first thing he asked me was, “Do you know Jango?” I was shocked. I asked him, “You know Jango?” Now, this was a surprise because very few people know Dr Kohiyar as Jango.

Then as I told him how Dr Kohiyar has been a mentor to us, how he even inaugurated one of our old studios, Filip was like, “Dude, sit! We need to talk.” Then he called out his wife and sisters to tell them that I am from Mumbai, and I know Dr Kohiyar. Then he told me how he knows Jango.

The book gifted by Filip Leu to Dr Kohiyar
The book gifted by Filip Leu to Dr Kohiyar. Photo Credits: Vikas Malani & Mickey Malani, Body Canvas Tattoo Art

So, Filip was still a kid, when his parents met Dr Kohiyar. His father, Felix Leu was a good friend of Dr Kohiyar, and would once in a while bring his family to visit India. Filip recalled how it was Dr Kohiyar and India that taught him the joy of a family. He then paused, and told me, “Wait, you’ve got to take something for Jango!” The generous soul that he is, Filip gifted me a print too, tees and other artworks… And then, he gave me this book of artworks by Filip Leu and family. This book of exquisite artwork by all members of the Leu family, to be delivered to Jango. You won’t believe this, but each and every member wrote a message for Dr Kohiyar on the book. His mother has so much admiration for the Colaba legend. That session with the Leu family was probably the most memorable 3-4 hours for me.

Photo Credits: Vikas Malani & Mickey Malani, Body Canvas Tattoo Art

But what now lied ahead of me was probably an even bigger moment. I had to deliver the gift to Dr Kohiyar. And I had to give it to him with my brother , Vikas, because as a tattoo artist, this was a huge moment for me. And I got to be a part of such a beautiful story only because of tattooing. It is Vikas, who introduced me to tattooing, so it was only fitting.

Initially, I thought I will make a surprise visit to Dr Kohiyar. But then, as time was passing, I thought I will let him know. So, I called him up to say that I was coming soon to give you a gift from one of your admirers. He asked, “Who? Tell me.” And I said it was from the Leu Family. He was like, “What? I have to see this!”

Image Credit: Stephane Guillerme

But the real joy was the look on Dr Kohiyar’s face when he finally saw the gift. It was the look of unbridled joy – the one that you see on a kid’s face. Then, as he opened the book, he started telling stories of how he met Felix Leu (Filip’s father), and how the family used to visit him. He used to hangout with them in Goa, and showed them the Indian tattooing traditions.

Photo Credits: Vikas Malani & Mickey Malani, Body Canvas Tattoo Art

It is truly unbelievable to see the amount of respect and love the Leu family has for Jango.”

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