SHE LIVES through her paintings, but even today there's an aura of mystery surrounding the life and time of Amrita Sher-Gil. Trying to demystify her a little was a documentary simply called "Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Rhapsody", by French documentary film maker Patrick Cazals. It was recently screened at the Alliance Française along with another one titled "Kali: Books and Women". Incidentally, "Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Rhapsody" was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival for documentaries, shorts and animation.
The Sher-Gil myth comes alive through intimate letters to her father Umrao Singh, sister Indira and friend Karl Khandalavala, who often described her as "a friend of Gauguin". Her short life unfolds on the streets of Budapest, the studios of Paris, the summer home at Shimla and the crowded gullis of Delhi. And of course, her nudes, landscapes, people and self portraits, marked by rich colour and Indian themes, lend themselves to many interpretations about the complex, intense artist, often referred to as "the icon of Indian contemporary art".
That the half-Sikh half-Hungarian Sher-Gil who studied art the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was deeply influenced by the Ellora paintings, Mughal and Rajasthani miniatures is common knowledge and that aspect of her art is brought out poignantly by Cazals. The artist's urge to "rediscover of her Indian roots" and her trips to various parts of the country, including South India, resulted in such works as "The Bride's Toilet", "The Story teller", " The Brahmacharis" and "Women In Red".
The docu is a telling tribute to "the most vital force in modern Indian painting", as Amrita was described.
As for "Kali: Books and Women", it's about woman power... it's about fighting for rights... it's about Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon, who with sheer determination and love for the written word made Kali For Women a success story in the world of Indian publishing. That they are not together anymore is of no consequence. Kali For Women was run by women, for women.
Their catalogue boasts of such names as Manjula Padmanabhan, Zohra Sehgal, Qurratun-ul-Haider and Mahasweta Devi.
It's a pity though that throughout the film, Butalia spoke in French and there were no subtitles.
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