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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Sunday Long Reads: VS Gaitonde’s minimalism in art, Amruta Subhash interview, and more

Your Sunday reading list is here!

Updated: April 4, 2021 10:55:59 am
Illustration: Suvajit Dey

How a zen-like Gaitonde practised minimalism in life and art

A SHORT WALK from Humayun’s Tomb, a one-room barsati in Delhi’s Nizamuddin East was Vasudeo S Gaitonde’s home for over two decades. It is where he would spread his canvas and paint for hours — dipping his brush into pigment, tearing pieces of newspapers to transfer the colour. There would be no distractions, not even a doorbell. When visitors would come, they would shout out for him and he would open the door to let them in — or not — depending on his whim.


‘Gaitonde’s painting was a spectator of the ups and downs in our lives’

VS Gaitonde’s Untitled, 1961; oil on canvas, 50×80 inches (Courtesy: Saffronart)

Things of beauty, wherever they are, are things of beauty. I think one has to be involved in seeing that beauty rather than feeling that it is a possession. This painting has given my family great joy and now that it has moved on, as it should, it will enrich the lives, the home, wherever it goes.

I have grown up with this painting. It was acquired by my parents (Devyani and Harshavadan Mangaldas) from VS Gaitonde when I was two years old (in 1962). My mother’s cousin Asit Chandmal was a good friend of Gaitonde and it is he who insisted that my parents come to the Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute in Bombay and see this work at his studio. My mother tells me Gaitonde did not speak much during their visit but they loved the canvas, and since then it had become a part of our home in Ahmedabad. It used to be in my parent’s bedroom at first, and later, in a casual dining room for nearly four decades. After the passing of my father in 1999, it came to my home in Delhi.


Biriyaani and Holy Rights, recently given the National Award, show the many wrongs women endure for a right

The history of sexuality is one of class struggle.

In Sajin Baabu’s third Malayalam outing, Biriyaani (Flavours of Flesh), the camera enters the bedroom and pokes at power relations at the most intimate levels of women’s experience. It steps out, unrelenting and unapologetic, and lays bare hallowed social structures — marriage, religion, law, media — as they reduce the marginalised to a pound of flesh. At the centre of this vortex stands Kani Kusruti’s Khadeeja.


Will you join the ‘Party’?

A scene from Govind Nihalani’s 1984 Party.

Browsing through MUBI’s Indian selection last week, I stopped off at Govind Nihalani’s 1984 Party. I’ve seen it many times and every viewing feels as urgent and meaningful. It’s the kind of film that never gets old.


Why we need to stand in the light

Road taken: There can always be light in the midst of darkness, hope in despair, and love where there is hate (Courtesy: Suvir Saran)

When homes are lit with bright lights and decorated plush with rich imagery, when families gather for a bountiful feast, one knows it is Diwali and Christmas that are occupying human minds. When it is people and not homes that are coloured by the stains of celebration and believers fast in hopes of channeling inner piety, then it is Holi and Easter, which are engaging our senses. The Fall/Winter observations take our focus outside of ourselves while the spring/summer holidays lead us to a journey inside ourselves where the light within shines through to the outside.


‘I’ve made my peace with waiting’

At the height of her popularity as Asavari in the Marathi TV show Avaghachi Sansar, which made her a household name, Subhash was struggling to move and emote.

Recalling her heady days as a sought-after bar dancer, Lakshmi Gondhali aka Lily changes into a shiny red outfit and breaks into an impromptu dance. It’s been 14 years since dance bars shut down in Mumbai but Lily proclaims proudly, she wasn’t “any less than a star” once. The scene is a personal triumph for Amruta Subhash, who essays the role of Lily in Alankrita Shrivastava’s series Bombay Begums, on Netflix. “When I danced freely as Lily, it felt like a rebirth. At the age of 26, I was diagnosed with sciatica that restricted my movement,” says Subhash, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. Dance took a backseat for years as she dealt with the physical pain.


Why the Rashtrapati Bhavan photo archive is the nation’s family album

Times change, as other presidents come and leave their mark.

The recital is over but the echoes of the sitar strains might still be in the air. Pandit Ravi Shankar has bent forward to listen intently to what President Rajendra Prasad is saying. The atmosphere is relaxed, both are sitting on the floor. Fellow musicians are all ears; some children are trying to follow the conversation. It is a July evening of 1953, and the dashing musician, all of 33, has dreams but no clue of the glories that await him. It is one of the countless images tailor-made for a collective nostalgic trip.


The screamers in the sky are lapwings

Did ye really do it?: Lapwings can curse and camouflage with ease. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

Time and again, this is what happens: there you are, using your best commando technique and wearing camouflage colours, and yet clearly traceable. Inch by inch you make for the reeds, from where you can hear the contented murmur of ducks. Your camera is primed and you’re looking for a gap, so you can catch a glimpse of your subjects. And then, just as you raise the camera, all hell breaks loose.


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