The late Kekoo Gandhy and his wife Khorshed were pioneers in the Indian art world. Through a framing company in Mumbai which grew to become Gallery Chemould, the couple was instrumental in the growth of Indian modernism, supporting artists including MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta and SH Raza. For his longstanding involvement with the arts, Kekoo was awarded the Padma Shri in 2008. But none of this would have come to pass were it not for a car stranded on Juhu Beach.
The story of Kekoo and Khorshed is revisited in a film made by filmmakers Behroze Gandhy and Dilesh Korya. London-based Behroze, 68, their second daughter, is an independent producer and filmmaker.
The film, titled Kekee Manzil – The House of Art (85 mins), is named after the Gandhys’ home. The sunlit Kekee Manzil, with its uninterrupted view of the Arabian Sea, was constructed in the same year that Kekoo was born, and is named after him. It is currently the residence of the youngest of the Gandhy children, Shireen, who continues her parents’ art business through her gallery, Chemould Prescott Road.
Behroze screened the film in Mumbai this month to honour Kekoo’s birth centenary, with plans to show it across India in the coming months. She started filming her parents in 2002, about a decade before they passed away. “I sat them down with a simple recorder. I remember them sitting very stiffly. This was the first interview where my father told me everything about his life, from his early days. But I lost that footage,” says Behroze.
Yet, the film presents a wholesome narrative, with archival footage and insights shared by friends and associates. Among them are writer Jerry Pinto, who captured the couple’s love story in his children’s book The Art Gallery on Princess Street (Pratham Books); artist Anish Kapoor, a friend of Behroze and Shireen’s; and author Salman Rushdie, who created a fictional Kekoo in his book, The Moor’s Last Sigh (Penguin Random House).
Early on in the film, Behroze says that her father was “a bit of a chancer”. Sometime in 1941, on a walk at Juhu Beach with his brother Dara, he helped a Belgian gentleman whose car was stuck in the sand. Roger Van Damme, the Belgian, had an import-export business that had been hit by the war, and wanted to manufacture something locally through a picture-framing factory that he owned. Kekoo tied up with him, and went on to open Chemould Frames. With more such happenstance, Kekoo was catapulted into the heady world of Indian art, but still rooted in India’s sociopolitical fabric. Both during the Emergency and in the riots that followed the Babri Masjid demolition, Kekoo was knee-deep in the political life of the country, from sheltering dissenters to participating in mohalla committees.
Kekoo isn’t always portrayed as the dapper young entrepreneur. Here is a man who may have put art dealing ahead of parenting on occasions, who was subjected to the tyrannies of advancing age and the vagaries of his mental health. “It is an inside story,” says Behroze. “There are so many truths in him and these are personal vignettes. Those who knew my dad knew that he was the kind of person who suffered.”
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