Short film Pattam Parathunna Penkutty, directed by Walter D'Cruz, draws a sketch of the life and works of artist T.K. Padmini

P attam Parathunna Penkutty , a 30-minute documentary on artist T.K. Padmini, is Walter D'Cruz's tribute to a prodigy who left the scene long before the world could fully appreciate her genius.

Padmini, a student of K.C.S. Panicker and Artist Namboodiri, was a contemporary of leading artists of modern Kerala and India. Yet Padmini's works remain in the shadows and have not received the recognition it should have for ushering in a new sensibility in the sixties. A woman's perspective, that was uniquely her own, was Padmini's seminal contribution to art.

In fact, C.N. Karunakaran, her contemporary and friend at the Madras Government College of Fine Arts, says that after Amrita Shergil, it is Padmini who deserves a place in the pantheon of Indian woman artists. At a time, when not many women took up the brush and easel, Padmini was creating her own distinctive style in art. A style that was Indian and universal at the same time.

Bold art

Her bold paintings recreate rural Malabar and the inner life of women. Karunakaran reminisces: “She was an introvert who astonished us with the genius of her paintings. Her work won the praise of K.C.S. Panicker, who was then Principal of the college.” He points out how Padmini never shied away from painting nudes and semi-nudes and never compromised in any way when it came to her work.

The result has been captured by the camera as it focusses on her paintings. People, especially women, has a special place on her canvases. By documenting her life and her works, Walter has tried to revive the memories of Padmini. He says it was an exhibition of her paintings at Durbar Hall in Kochi that motivated him to learn more about this shy woman from Ponnani who died at the age of 29 due to complications during her delivery.

“I was amazed by the power of her works. Bold, free flowing lines capture her perspectives on canvas. Although she worked and lived during a period when many artists turned to Tantric art in their search for an Indian visual language, Padmini's style is hers. That is why I feel her works deserve more attention and research,” says Walter.

Travelling to her ancestral house in Ponnani has helped Walter trace the journey of a girl who walked ahead of her time. Her uncle Divakara Menon sketches her childhood and early student days when the young Padmini must have found solace by attempting to draw inspiration from her surroundings. Her drawing books is filled with drawings of the people and surroundings that nurtured her art. Artist Namboodiri, her art teacher, and Devassy, who taught her drawing in school, recall the talented young artist they moulded.

Walter feels that the only reason why Padmini failed to get recognition she deserved was because she was born in Kerala. “Had she been born elsewhere, she would have been a major name in art circles.” Pattam Parathunna Penkutty is Walter's attempt to give her due recognition. It has been produced by the Information and Public Relations Department of the Government of Kerala.

The documentary will be screened today at Press Club at 6 p.m.

Saraswathy Nagarajan