A Film Based Concept on Indian Painter Ms Amrita Shergil

By Pickle  May 18, 2022
A Film Based Concept on Indian Painter Ms Amrita Shergil, Pickle Media

by Shaji N Karun

“I wonder what you’ll say when I die?,” Amrita Sher-Gil asked her lover a fortnight before her tragic and unexpected death.

With her keen sense of the ridiculous and hatred of humbug and cliche, she would have taken a wicked delight that begins, “It was a delicious morn,” and ends. “It was kismet”. She would have raged at the mutilation of her favourite painters’ names and the lines from the songs on devils, she sang Amrita who grew up in Simla dismissed its society as “a dull, uninteresting and scandalmongering crowd”. She was irritated by their pretensions and shallowness and they were shocked by her. It was a world which prided itself on its cosmopolitan culture and sophistication but was very much dominated by the social conventions of the time. Painting was a nice hobby for a young girl but one shouldn’t get too intense about it.

Men were virile and women were chaste and if occasionally the women, perforce, had to be a little less than chaste in order to prove the men virile, the liaison had to be conducted with utmost discretion. Discretion, deceit of any kind, was anathema to Amrita.

She was utterly open. Her letters to Jawaharlal Nehru, exemplify this. And in Simla’s staid society, her flaming red, parrot green and gold brocades, chunky silver jewellery and sleeveless blouses were only outward manifestations of a new kind of painting, a new kind of woman, and a new kind of living.

She had come back from Paris determined to make her home in India “feeling,” as she said, “in some strange inexplicable way that there lay my destiny as a painter”. She knew instinctively that in painting Sudia “desolate, yet strangely beautiful” and Indians, “those silent images of infinite compassion and patience.” those “angular, brown bodies, strangely beautiful in their ugliness”, that she would fully realise her own unique artistic vision.

Apart from an associateship of the Grand Salon, a gold medal and a considerable reputation as a painter, Amrita’s European experience had included numerous lovers, abortions, venereal disease, an experiment with lesbianism, many deep friendships and an engagement to her cousin, Victor Egan.

Her extraordinary relationship with him; its total honesty and total security (she told him everything about her, he arranged her abortions and she married him while pregnant by another man) gave her great strength as she fought the artistic and social prejudices of Indian society, as well as the conflicts within herself. She was a sybarite who loved music, good food, bridge, ballroom dancing and beautiful clothes but she worked with fierce intensity and a conviction of her own genius. In pursuit of this she was ruthless, putting up with second-rate painters like Barada Ukil who loved her but was all she despised because he promised to promote and sell her work.

She longed for a “life of sensation” and, while never consciously trying herself to be sensational, her determination to seize every experience – visual, physical, emotional and intellectual – and
her frankness and passion for truth inevitably created it.

Most of all she would have mourned the luminous colours of her paintings, obscured in a haze of yellow sludge. “I am always hungry for colour,” she used to say, quoting Van Gogh, “I want to express with greens and with reds, the terrific, the terrific human passions.” But I think she would have also recognised it as a genuine labour of love, however, limited, and, since she prized love and was prodigal of it herself, she would have valued it for that.

Her eventful life, her journeys, fairs and exhibitions, is sadly inadequate on the passion that made her paint or “the brooding and melancholic temperament” that lay beneath the beauty, the gaiety, and that made her favourite heroes “Beethoven, Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann and Van Gogh – all in different ways painfully, intricately introspective and passionate, all partaking of a tragic consciousness”.

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