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Documentaries on Artists
22 February, 2020

Gita Hudson - Six men of Arts

Film maker Gita Hudson screened six documentaries/short films at VR Chennai’s Kalki Theatre. The titles chosen for these six films represent certain traits of the artists about whom they have been crafted: Black Mirror (Douglas) - a mirror that depicts the inner psyche of a person : Golden Flute (Alphonso) -  for the flute that forms the major object in his paintings and the yellow colour, again in his paintings that seemed “golden” : Firstlight (Suriyamoorthy) - to indicate the name of the painter and the first light of the Sun: People (Perumal) -  the painter’s main concern was the people: Mangai (Vidya Sankar Sthapathy) - most of his work relate to women, historical and modern: Red Symphony (Achuthan Kudallur) – (Gita’s First film) to signify that any symphony can be understood. Language is never the constraint.

Douglas (made in 2017) represented through “Black Mirror” gives a glimpse of the works of this artist/painter. Sri M D Muthukumarasamy formerly from the Folklore Support Centre addresses us regarding Douglas’ philosophical proclivities. He was a voracious reader and all what he perhaps read got into his paintings. His paintings reflect human suffering, the complete bankruptcy of spirituality in the present society, problems of the modern man, and the increasing fragmentation man faces in life. Accordingly and almost immediately we are shown an old fashioned room at home.  A student in the Madras College of Arts, Douglas (1970) says that draughtsmanship came to him via his friend K Ramanujam and lines via his teacher Santhanaraj. Douglas has used sand in paintings and  a variety of other techniques too. Imagine a light house on a table and the linking of one image to the other, even in a single painting. Kannagi is also a character in his paintings and we are shown his entire range of paintings to give us an idea of how he has been a deeply affected man. There is also a poetry reading session where various “dimensions” of the kiss are projected forth:  the kiss on the forehead wipes away misery and kiss on the eyes takes away sleeplessness and many such. We are also to notice that all kinds of shapes are present in his paintings. A painter who is at once both “metaphysical and modernist”!

Alphonso Aruldoss (made in 2014) speaking for himself starts thus: “I was trained to become a landscape painter and was a realistic painter very much close to the British, the French and the Dutch art.” Later he had analyzed the eastern and western forms of painting and had formulated his own individualistic style. He was earlier using bright colours and only later he had adopted the Indian sense of colour in his paintings. Right from his early days he was exposed to church art - art work done by the great masters, da Vinci, Michelangelo and he used to often try to imitate their work remembering what he had seen. These were taken to the drawing school and shown especially to his drawing masters. He was particularly impressed by interior of a certain Gothic church that always attracted his attention and he was singularly struck by the stained glass windows of the churches, for the manner in which they reflected the light passing through them. Later while visiting the USA he compared it with the passage of light through cut diamonds and other stones. Though he remained single for his entire life he is the first to acknowledge that even subconsciously “the woman” is a very strong force that stands behind many individuals. Women have been the backbone of all his paintings, he says. It is very strange that he makes another equally cryptic statement that his imagination was his greatest enemy (that too from a a painter/artist). Of particular interest is his classification of students as the most brilliant, the middle level and the poor and his strategy for dealing with such classification (his own ability in tackling these) is instructive. All the same he is one who prefers to shun society. (Hariprasad Chaurasia’s flute permeates the entire film.)

Suriyamoorthy’s (made in 2013) brother Chandramoorthi who has retired from The Archeological Department says it all: Suryamoorthi will become what he is creating. His working object absorbs him. He is not a commercial artiste but a creative artist, an almost savage painter. He wanted to achieve 1000 ft of his continuous paintings to be done and displayed and had completed 650 (65%) of it. He wanted to attain a stature equal to those of the greats whom he worshipped as veritable Gods on earth - Matisse, Rembrandt and Picasso. All objects in and around his village have impacted his mind, the animals - the ordinary cat, the cow, all agricultural activities that happen. Suriyamoorthy gets brutally confessional and we see extremes of his character being told directly to us: His journey to Rishikesh, Haridwar where he wanders as a mendicant to become a swamiji in course of time and his getting involved in a police case where his only way to extricate himself is to be declared a lunatic to be recommended for treatment at the Institute of Mental Health at Kilpauk, Chennai. He also narrates how his drawings for the Madurai Tamil Conference got completed in a matter of four days where he was picked up directly from the fields, with the slush still on his feet. And also in passing he mentions that he has “seen” all CM’s of Tamil Nadu - MGR, Bhakthvatchalam and Kamaraj and knew Actor Sivakumar as an artist. He has had the habit of signing all his paintings in Tamil, the language helping in tracing his origin - his village in Tamil Nadu.  (For this film T Narayanasami was in charge of editing, Rod Hudson took care of still photos and music was by Gotipua troupe, Orissa)

Perumal (made in 2011) starts off quite emphatically: “Whatever goes through my mind gets reflected on my canvas. There is not a case of copying anything.” He merely goes to present himself in front of the canvas and starts drawing and does the painting as it comes to him. Years may come years may go but whatever images, scenes he has seen in his childhood will not fade so easily.”There is where my originality lies and that is what has brought me recognition” All his images have mountains as the backdrop as his village is close to the hills, fertile and full of greenery. Some festival or the other will be happening in one’s home town and he has taken and drawn images from those. He is at once obsessed with pastoral workers and all of them he is able to formulate in a “straight line”. Some people have identified his paintings as belonging to modernism with reductionism as their main plank. Some have identified his paintings with energy, wondered at his colour combinations, the black and white contrast and many such.  He says drawing or painting as a career is not all that easy. Out of say 100 who join initially, those that remain till the end of the course would be a mere 50 and even from these only a handful would make it big. He has a particular liking for the works of Dhanapal who used to draw paintings similar to those in Madurai Meenakshi Temple. He is also critical of the thamasha that goes on in the name of art promotion as he is a person given to art right from his school days. He recalls his memory to take us back to the days on which he used to participate in “oyilattam”, and then paint the walls white-washed at Pongal time.  Look at his natural colour choices: black from coal, green from leaves and various flowers for varied colours. On the question of saleability of paintings he is not greatly hopeful and says he had been lucky when an Italian purchased his painting. But still he feels people can easily identify his painting, which has a characteristic people orientation. (For this film Sound and Vfx was by Poochi Venkat and music was in the hands of Kalaikuzhus from Trichy and Tirunelveli)

“While it is true that my forefathers indulged in religious icons why should I follow suit?” Starting with such an iconoclastic dialogue, Vidya Sankar Sthapathy (made in 2009) goes on to describe how he “broke” certain age-old modes/norms. He did this only after getting a good grasp and analyzing, doing a complete study of the concept behind each of their monumental pieces of work (even say a Nataraja) to give it a suitable form that would be in line with contemporary art. (In those days knowledge unfortunately was restricted to the Sanskrit-knowing community). He had offered his own artistic interpretation in getting to know the inner meaning behind these concepts. “ A sculptor or a painter has to bear so many aspects in mind before he creates.” So many isms have come and God knows what will be long-lasting, he wonders. He handles the subject of women without any sense of vulgarity. “What to take from the past (and present) and what not to take well… it depends on your judgment”. His lament:  there are only few people who qualify to become rasikas of art and only those who want to get a permanent feel alone would venture to buy art objects. The rattling sound of metal and hammer is built into this documentary without upsetting the background music. Continuing, Sthapathy says to acquire the status of a place in the sanctum sanctorum, strict grammar requirements have to be met. And the opinion of the critic is important for an artist to grow and rethink. When in college they were asked to make models of clay which has trained him a lot. He also acknowledges the effort taken by the Principal, KCS Panicker in organizing tours for students of art. They thus got a chance to see the works in progress in other states. He emotionally states how with a heavy heart he had to unwillingly dismantle an award winning production of his, for dearth of funds for his next piece of work. This documentary begins with raga Hamsanadham leading to “Bantureethi”, the famous Thyagaraja krithi. This is followed by other carnatic raga alapanas and songs in Hamsadhwani and Mohanam, all being played on the veena by Hemalatha Mani as the many scenes of this film traverses the temples and sculptures on display.

A Kerala artist and Kathakali’s beguiling drumbeats are inseparable and expectedly the film on Achuthan Kudallur (made in 2005 - Gita’s First Film) begins with this music. More than anything else we have certain forthright views expressed by this painter on quite a few subjects, (streaks of lightning) ranging from the role of art, purpose of art, marriage, society and its ills (especially Indian). The beauty of Achuthan’s art is once you lose yourself to it you get to understand it better. Here is a simple man who is not that simple at all. He is however annoyed when in press conferences or meetings the most mundane questions are asked of him which will not be asked of dancers or musicians and also feels sorry about exploitative scene in the art field.  What is dear to Achuthan is the final collage on the canvas colour, not symbolic of anything but in its true form. He departed from his early figurative mode to one of abstraction as the former was full of melodrama. Eminent art critic Theodre Bhaskaran says Achuthan was sensitive to art and literature and had extended that sensitivity to cinema also. He made Tamil readers sensitive to modern art and abstract art and may be it took some time for them to respond to these.  According to Achuthan “One can have a stone-like face in spite of a boiling heart and that is the ill of India.” Achuthan’s  kind of abstraction does not report from nature, it has an autonomous existence of its own. The best abstractions are in the painter’s vision, not painted. He has no faith in theories as only after “seeing” a great work of art is a theory formulated. Art is only a substitute for theory. The period of great achievers would be short-lived as after a period of celebration there is a vacuum and it all depends on how you have reacted to your segment of time. “Whether you have radiated light and strength to others is important.” Remember, he says, “Abstractionists hold the key to beauty.” Man woman relationship takes an anxious turn as physicality of the relationship is lost in a while and there is no charm left which seems a natural process. Art is certainly an escape from the angst. Towards the end of the film the efforts taken by Poochi Venkat and Rod Hudson are acknowledged. A host of others who had lent their support are also duly thanked.

For each one of the artists, we are made to walkthrough the exhibitions/shows held by these creative men. Interactions with the audience are also shown where the artists try to explain a point or two. The success of the protagonist Gita Hudson lies in the portrayal of all these artists as normal functioning human beings though they have touched phenomenal heights in their respective art-field. As proposed by somebody from the audience, these whole set of films could be taken to colleges as students of art would certainly stand to benefit on viewing them.


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