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‘I was too shy to become an actress’

Laila Khan Rajpal on painting nudes, portraits and the town red...interviewed by Vajir Singh.

art and culture Updated: Apr 05, 2007 16:37 IST

She’s 36, beautiful and married (though rumours insist that there’s trouble in paradise). Rumours have it that she’s been seen around with Farhan Furniturewalla, ex-husband of Pooja Bedi. Based in New Delhi, but often in Mumbai, Laila Rajpal Khan, is wary of being quizzed about what must be a delicate stage in her life. She has been in town for her art show and will only talk shop. So be it:

Why on earth did you decide to take up art?

Obviously it was in-born..I was always attracted to western art, some Indian masters too. I love spending time by myself. My mother (Sundari Khan) has been instrumental in my decision to take up art. When I was a kid, she would tell me, “You’ll be a painter.” I was studying English literature and I was taught art for six years at home by Professor Kumtekar.

Why didn’t you join an art school?
I never thought it was necessary to be at an art school for four five years. There we are told how to look at things..how to paint things..that’s why I didn’t go. But after I graduated from college, I went to London to study how to paint nudes. I was exposed to western art. That’s why you’ll find a western sensibility in many of my works.

Why nudes?
Because the human figure is so beautiful. But I love abstract art as well.. that’s my first love actually. Now, I’m even into portraiture. That’s why I’ve painted women in the iconic way. I’ve started a series on Goddess Laxmi, a symbol of fertility, purity, beauty..and sensuality.

I’ve wanted to bring out the strength of a woman which is why I’ve painted a portrait of Sonia Gandhi. In my first-ever show in Delhi, I was inspired by Meena Kumari. But that was different. Different? Meaning? Meena Kumari’s face was very strong in character..at the same time very delicate.. very fragile. I was inspired by her face and she appeared in two-three of my works. But now I think, women are much more bold, so I’ve changed.

Why don’t you title your paintings?
The moment you label a painting, you limit the canvas. I want viewers to find the way..not burden them by showing the way. I don’t want to label my imagination.(Pause) Although I don’t title any of my works..which is why my exhibition is called Dreams have no Titles..I write a few lines about each one of them..which you’ll find in the catalogue.

Since you’re the daughter of Feroz Khan, didn’t you ever think of becoming an actress?
(Long pause) I think I was shy. To be an actress you have to overcome your shyness..to give your best. You’re going to be out there performing in front of thousands of people. I wasn’t ready for the movies.

Of course, because of my family, I could have attempted to go down that route..but didn’t. I love what I’m doing. Although I’ve been painting for years, I’m still terrified when I see a blank canvas before me..what will I do with it?

Are you into watching movies?
I’m a movie buff. I’ve so many favourite movies..among the Hindi movies, I love Shyam Benegal’s Junoon, dad’s Dharmatma..and of course, Sholay.

What’s it like to be the daughter of Feroz Khan?
Excellent! He’s always been larger than life. I’m very proud of my parents. Both of them are very artistic. My father loves art, he’s a collector.

What’s your take on your brother, Fardeen Khan, as an actor?
I think he has evolved into a good actor.I like some of his performances very much.Ours is a very honest family. We praise and criticise one another. I loved him in Khushi..he was wonderful. I also liked him in No Entry.

What about his worst performance?
I guess I love my brother too much to even think of a “worst” performance. Does he buy your art? At times, he makes an offer..and then he runs away.

Why aren’t you being seen with your husband Rohit Rajpal at all?
We’re very private persons and want to keep it that way.

Do you party much..paint the town red so to speak?
Delhi is quite a socially networked place..we go out like any other couple. But it’s restricted to just a few places.

Does he buy your paintings?
(Smiles) He doesn’t have to. He sees my paintings all the time at home..so where’s the need to buy? He is busy with his business.