On a perfect Bangalore day crisp with the winter sun and in the company of intelligent people, the National Gallery of Modern Art was the perfect venue to watch a film on one of my favourite artists and local heroes, SG Vasudev, especially as he was instrumental in setting up the gallery.
‘The Open Frames’ is a simple and warm film; it tells the story of a boy from Mysore who journeys to Madras (Chennai) and grows to become one of the founders of the famous Cholamandal art village.
The early stirrings of his talent, sketches hidden from his farmer father and housewife mother, the encouragement from a discerning art lover are traced through black and white stills. Young Vasu meets KCS Panicker, the doyen of the Madras School of Arts, wins a national scholarship and his art blooms, nurtured in the fertile environment of fellow artists, writers and musicians. Love flowers too, when he meets a young Parsi artist, Arnawaz.
The narrative gently blends the story of the young couple setting up home in the Cholamandal commune, the birth of their son and tragically, Arnawaz succumbing to cancer. Vasu moved to Bangalore but goes back to paint at times in Cholamandal. The Arnawaz Vasudev Charities Trust keeps her memory alive by encouraging young artists.
New beginnings bring new inspirations, new love in the form of journalist Ammu Joseph and the new homes that the couple has built; Vasu’s quiet and simple expression of love for both his wives is heartwarming.
Enlivening the narrative with his piquant humour, writer Girish Karnad ribs, “All men seek the qualities of their mothers in the women they marry, apparently, and I feel it’s been the case with Vasu as I find the same strong independent and forthright qualities in both Arnawaz and Ammu”.
Compatriots from Chennai and Bangalore add nuances and depth to Vasu’s character, fleshing out the persona of the artist who draws his inspiration from literature and music. At times, conversations bring in sepia tones of nostalgia but the powerful vitality of his art pre-dominates. As he paints, carefully structuring layers of colour, strains of his favourite Indian classical music flow around the studio.
Dr. Lata Mani, who has handled the research and interviews, captures an easy flow of speech. The cinematography is by Navroze Contractor with original music by Prasanna. Chetan Shah, the director, is another old friend of Vasu from Chenna and says he has deliberately refrained from dealing with Vasu’s artistic oeuvre; the hour-long documentary is a companion piece to the art shows.
The film starts with Vasudev contemplating a blank canvas and the narrative weaves in and out as the canvas progresses and ends with him finishing a painting. The film segues to the processing of his famed copper reliefs and tapestries as he collaborates with master craftsmen. Working on one such piece in his farm, Vasu mulls over the trajectory of his life – of a farmer’s son coming back to the land. Characterised by such uncomplicated and honest statements, ‘The Open frames’ is a simple story, told simply.