FILM A young research scholar traces the exemplary life of Ramkinkar Baij, a neglected genius, through a documentary

In 1975, one of India's most distinguished filmmakers Ritwik Ghatak, began shooting a documentary called Ramkinkar Baij - A Personality Study, the feature purposed to understand the philosophy and personality of one of the pioneers of modern Indian art and sculpture. Unfortunately, Ghatak died in 1976 and the documentary remained a fragmented undertaking to evaluate Baij's inconspicuous ingenuity.

Anindya Kanti Biswas, a research scholar at M.S. University, Baroda, has now chosen to bear this heavy mantle. The 38-year-old, who hails from a family of artists in Kolkata, bemoaning the dereliction of Baij's legacy quotes an instance. “I saw people in the Santiniketan premises using Baij's unfinished sculpture as a clothes hangar….they may be doing it out of ignorance but it is really sad to see this kind of disregard.”

Biswas, who has been researching on Baij for the last 21 years, is shooting a documentary to trace Baij's persona and his footprints in the world of Indian art. “We would be travelling to a number of places like Delhi, Santiniketan, Shillong, Jabalpur, Bankura where he was born, and a few other places where his works are kept or which are connected with his life.” Also the documentary would include interviews of Baij's students, contemporaries and collectors to gather a more intimate and nuanced perspective on the master.

The documentary would open with Baij's famous painting ‘On the way to Konark' and a relief work ‘Saraswati' which are in the possession of Modern School, New Delhi. Speaking about the distinct nature of these two artefacts Biswas says, “For ‘On the way to Konark', Baij received a gold medal from the Lucknow Fine Arts Congress even before he joined Santiniketan and the ‘Saraswati' relief shows the goddess unconventionally holding parrot in one of her hands. Also these works are remarkable for the fact that the painting bears his signature in Bengali whereas the relief is signed in English.”

The documentary would also try to shed light on other little known facets of this maverick, “He was a great singer of Rabindra Sangeet and Baul songs. In fact had Baij been in more earnest about this, Rabindra Sangeet would have been given a completely new direction. Baij was also a great dramatist, he wrote his own scripts and directed plays…”

Baij arrived in Santiniketan in 1925 and till his death in 1980, taught and worked there. His mediums like laterite pebbles, cement, clay and stones came from his immediate environment. “It is perhaps these unstable mediums which have supplemented the general neglect and increased the urgency of preserving these national art treasures,” Biswas ruminates.

However this ‘neglect' is a bane which plagued Baij even when he was alive and living impecuniously in a small decrepit cottage in Santiniketan, and about which he himself spoke poignantly to Ghatak, telling the filmmaker, “Here the roof is falling apart, the water is dripping down. Where can I get the money to get it repaired? Whatever money I get is from the pension. In this place a bale of straw cost Rs.100, what do I do, buy food or straw?” To save himself from the dripping rain water Baij had hung his large sized oil canvases to plug the gaping holes, the canvas side facing the roof.