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Updated: April 1, 2012 18:27 IST

Artists in new frame

Harshini Vakkalanka
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The essential artist: M.F. Husain. File photo: V. Ganesan
The Hindu
The essential artist: M.F. Husain. File photo: V. Ganesan

Films on India's iconic artists, their influences, and works were screened at the Desi-Pardesi festival

The first and the “desi” leg of the “Desi-Pardesi” film festival at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) was all about some of India's most iconic artists. The festival opened on March 25 with films on Kalighat paintings, Rabindranath Tagore, Binode Bihari Mukherjee, M.F. Husain and Amrita Sher-Gil.

All these films seemed to communicate, largely through stills, various aspects of the artists they sought to capture.

Satyajit Ray's film “The Inner Eye” and Shanthi P. Choudhury's documentary on Husain are probably the only films that actually capture the artists at work while delineating their history and their language. The craftsmanship of Ray is quite obvious in the visual as well as scriptural narrative as he throws light on the prodigious talent, commitment, dedication and genius of Binode Bihari Mukherjee. The admiration for the artist and his commitment is reinforced in the way Ray discusses the artist's life after his unsuccessful cataract operation in the 1950s that rendered him blind for the rest of his life.

Shanthi's film on Husain traces the influences in the artist's journey beginning with Indian mythology, film art, to Chinese equestrians and the idea of a woman (as mother earth), as he was gradually absorbed into Indian society.

The films on Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Sher-Gil employ mainly stills of the artists' works along with earthy, classical background music. Ranabir Ray's film on Tagore explains how his poetry gradually translated into paintings, and the ways he found the visual medium a contrast to the rigid structure of words.

The film also throws light upon what Tagore found himself expressing through his paintings — whether it is his fascination with surrealism, or the constant reappearance of his sister-in-law's eyes in portraits. This, the film does through lines from the polymath's poetry. The film begins with the illustrations Tagore made from scribbling and scratches in his manuscripts, and builds into Rabindranath's gradual discovery of his own artistic expression.

“Amrita Sher-Gil” is also crafted on similar lines. Here the script is written in Hindi, which lends the film a more dramatic appeal. The film succinctly traces the artist's life and journey from her birth in Budapest and the talent that prompted her mother to take her to Paris where she studied in the Grand Chaumiere and the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

It goes on to talk about her return to India, her pursuit of representing the life of the Indian poor, her marriage to her Hungarian cousin and her sudden death at the age of 28. The film captures quite clearly, the major influences in Amrita's art beginning with painters like Paul Cezanne and Paul Gagugin, moving on to Ajantha paintings, south India, and finally the grim life of India's poor with all its contrasts. The film also describes Amrita as the first modern artist of India.

Purnendu Pattrea's “Kalighat paintings” outlines the history of the art form and its evolution from the depiction of Indian mythology to life in the British times and contemporary social issues. The film goes on talk about the subsequent decline of the art form to its recent revival in the form of inspiration for artists like Jamini Roy, Paritosh Sen and Meera Mukherjee (sculptor).

“The Agony and The Ecstasy” and “Basquiat” were also screened.

Carol Reed's “The Agony and The Ecstasy” is based on the relationship between Pope Julius II and Michelangelo during the painting of the Sistine Chapel. “Basquiat” is the story of graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“Desi-Pardesi” will continue at the NGMA on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 11 30 a.m. until April 28.

The films are being screened the NGMA, 49, Palace Road. For details, contact 22342338.

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