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A matter of living

In 1970s Mumbai,Udayan Patel’s home was an artistic and intellectual hub

Written by Yashodhara Dalmia | Published: March 27, 2012 3:30:52 am

In 1970s Mumbai,Udayan Patel’s home was an artistic and intellectual hub

In the 1970s,Mumbai was still the city par excellence for culture and intellectual debate,without the overhanging shadow of the corporate and film world. It was at this stage that one remembers the psychotherapist Udayan Patel who passed away this month. His airy apartment at Warden Road,overlooking the lapping waters,was a hub for filmmakers,writers and artists. It is here that the late Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani met to exchange ideas on their new and somewhat controversial cinema. Ideas were fiercely discussed,sometimes the speakers coming to blows — about a cinema hinged more to ideas and images than action. Kaul’s award-winning Uski Roti and Shahani’s Maya Darpan gave a new impetus to cinema.

An adjacent memory that evokes is of artist Akbar Padamsee’s vision workshop,held in his high-ceilinged flat on Napean Sea Road where he devoted his Nehru fellowship money to multicultural experiments. It was here that I remember seeing Udayan Patel,on an evening where the first rushes of Uski Roti were being shown. He was in the middle of a group of artists and writers,including Padamsee’s ravishing daughter Raissa. Nalini Malani and Gieve Patel were there,Mani and Kumar,Udayan and his wife Anuradha,and others. Akbar was to go on to make the film Events in a Cloud Chamber and SYZGY,which were experiments with space in itself.

Many a film was conceived in Udayan’s house over generous helpings of food and drink,including Mani’s Ashad ka Ek Din,Duvidha,Dhrupad and Siddheshwari. To get into the skin of it,to arouse without overtly stating and,most of all,to create a multi-layered form of film-making — these were all aided by his insight and erudition.

With Kumar there was a close relationship and one would rarely visit the flat without his presence. His gravity and Udayan’s vivacity and depth made for great conversation. Kumar’s films were shot in the mind first,and one always felt that the alchemy was created in this house,in these evenings with Udayan. The duo went on to work on a (sadly unfinished) film on the famous psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion whose first eight years were spent in India.

His walls were lined with Akbar Padamsee’s elegant pen-and-ink nudes. On many occasions,the artist would be seated in front of these,explaining the finer points. The artist,poet,writer and doctor Gieve Patel was a constant presence here and the poets Adil Jussawala and Eunice de Souza were close associates. Dilip Padgaonkar,Romila Thapar and Michael Meister would come by. Also present were some prominent industrialists and a variety of different people.

As friends dispersed into different directions and cities,it was Udayan who was instrumental in setting up the XAL-Praxis foundation,along with the industrialist Ajay Lakhanpal,which held workshops and collected many works of art. In recent years,I recall the monthly film discussions at the architect Binoy Jain’s office. An interesting film would be shown in the warehouse-like setting,following which a discussion led by Udayan would take place. Then there would be some delicious tapas and wine. In this fast-moving,high-strung world,it was an invaluable area of calm and reflection.

Udayan was primarily a humanist,whose first impulse was the well-being of the individual. A therapist by profession (his father was the well-known analyst Ramanbhai Patel),he led the now strong psychoanalytical movement in Mumbai. He helped set up the Tardeo centre,where a stable of well-qualified analysts would take clients at very low fees.

Even when he was struck with pulmonary fibrosis in the last years,he continued to practise for a full day. It was quite a sight to see him with his oxygen cylinder attending an opening of Akbar’s show or attending an evening at the cultural theorist Homi Bhabha’s home. To many,his zest for life was an inspiration.

With his untimely death at the Breach Candy hospital at the age of 66,that effervescence seems to have gone out too. While cultural exchange may have moved on to online forums now,the charm and fervour of those soirées is hard to match.

The writer is a Delhi-based art historian and curator

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