Reflections of T.K. Padmini

Susmesh Chandroth says he wants his biopic on T.K. Padmini to start a discussion on the artist.

Updated - December 02, 2016 12:01 pm IST

Published - October 27, 2016 11:47 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Susmesh Chandroth on the sets of the movie

Susmesh Chandroth on the sets of the movie

It was as a schoolboy, in the mid-Eighties that writer Susmesh Chandroth first heard of the late artist T.K. Padmini. With a keen eye for illustrations that appeared in vernacular magazines, he observed and enjoyed the works of artists such as Namboodiri, the late M.V. Devan and C.N. Karunakaran as much as the pictures in Russian magazines for children. Padmini’s was a new name. She was an artist and a woman, who had died almost 20 years ago. Interested in photography and art, something about her story captured Susmesh’s imagination. “Padmini, as an artist, was being discussed thanks to her uncle T.K Divakaran Menon’s efforts,” he says.

Padmini’s paintings, after her death, were rolled up and dumped in a room that is rarely opened. Her grief-stricken family could not even bear to look at her works. Most of the works have been all but destroyed, some have even been stolen. A few of her works ‘survive’ in the Durbar Hall Art Gallery under the grime of the years. One would need a torch light to ‘see’ the paintings.

A few years ago, a documentary, as a government initiative, was made on the artist. Kolkata-based Susmesh believes she deserves more and the result is the biopic on Padmini’s life. A writer who has penned several works, and a scenarist, directing a film was not part of his plans. He was approached by Padmini’s nephew, her sister’s son, T.K. Gopalan. He sought Susmesh’s help to ‘immortalise’ her “to keep her memories alive.” “I thought about it. I hadn’t scripted a film in almost 10 years, my area of work being primarily literature. A thought struck me, ‘if not me who would take it up? Would anybody take it up?’ I took it up as a duty. But I wanted to make it not as a documentary, only as a feature film.”

The T.K. Padmini Trust has produced the film. Inputs came from the family; the filming was done in the house where Padmini lived. A few letters written by her also gave insight into her mind and her relationship with her husband, artist K. Damodaran. Susmesh spoke to him too.

“She led an extraordinary life. I have taken a few artistic liberties to show how the time shaped her. That said, I am a creative person and I have kept it as realistic as possible,” Susmesh says. It would have been impossible to tell the story fully so he chose pivotal episodes, ‘jeevitha sandarbhangal’ (circumstances of her life) to weave the story. He has stuck to the facts, but for the sake of cinema he has introduced elements of commercial cinema for dramatic effect.

The biggest challenge while “keeping it as realistic as possible” was recreating the silence of the 50s and 60s. “Recreating the period was difficult, even a table from that time is different, a tube of colours, the colours, canvas, brush...recreating the period was difficult.” And had it been made on a gigantic budget, Susmesh says, he could have recreated the Madras, Fine Arts College, costumes, Hyderabad, Delhi...everything of that time.

“I was able to do that thanks to the solidarity towards Padmini that the artistes and technicians (among the best in the business) who collaborated with me showed - Sreevalsan J. Menon (the background score), Manesh Madhavan (cinematography), B. Ajith Kumar (editor), Anumol, Sanju Sivaraman (who essays artist Damodaran, Padmini’s husband), Irshad (who portrays Divakaran Menon) and everybody else who was involved. They took time out for this project out of their schedules.”

Susmesh wants to take the film to film festivals abroad and elsewhere in India, “I want to reach the film to as many audiences as possible. She is a national treasure, she can match up to any artist anywhere in the world. Why isn’t the Government of India taking the works to the National Archives? I want to start a discussion on the artist.”

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