She is so soft-spoken that you have to strain your ears to catch her words. A sensitive painter and sibling of late actor Guru Dutt, Lalitha Lajmi's paintings on themes revolving around the family, are familiar to the art connoisseurs.
At 73, she retains her zest of life and art. Here are excerpts from a conversation at her Lokhandwala apartment, stacked with books and highlighted by a Prabhakar Barve painting.
What was it like painting with your cousin, Shyam Benegal, recently?
(Smiles) It was a lovely feeling to come together and paint for a NGO called Khushii. Shyam’s father stayed at our Colabahome in the 1950s when he first came to the city from Hyderabad. He encouraged me to paint professionally. My uncle and I would paint together.. he would read out his poems to me.
Will your show in December once again deal with the mother-daughter theme?
Yes..the paintings will be exhibited on December 11 at Tao Art Gallery. I believe my paintings revolve around relationships.. but contrary to popular perception, my works aren’t autobiographical.<b1>
You seem to have gone through a lull for some years.
Honestly, between the years 2000-2005, I was going through a low creative phase.. so I didn’t showcase my work. I was unwell. But two years ago, Tao Art Gallery had my solo show.. since then everything has fallen into place. In fact, last year I had a show of my water colours at Anant Art Gallery in New Delhi.
July 9 was Guru Dutt’s 82nd birth anniversary. Which is your fondest memory of him?
(Smiles) I remember the years when my sister-in-law Geeta would invite the family and friends for a huge birthday celebration. She would call for a huge cake, yummy rasgullas, namkins and samosas.
It was not only my brother’s birthday.. their son Tarun was also born on the same day.. their younger son Arun’s birthday was on July 10. There would be so much merriment at at my brother’s Pali Hill house.
Which are your favourite Guru Dutt films?
Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
Do you sometimes feel that you continue to live under his shadow?
Today wherever I go, I receive so much love and adulation only because I am his sister. Some time ago, a young foreigner came up to me and touched my feet after watching Pyaasa. Unfortunately my brother got his deserved fame only after his death.
It is rumoured that he committed suicide.
Why go there? I do not like to talk about it.
What was your childhood like?
(Smiles) My childhood was spent in Kolkata. I have vague memories of living in a tiny apartment on Ashtar Road, overlooking a maidan. I’d play with my brothers, fly kites. Later we shifted to a larger house in Bhawanipur. It had a little courtyard and a small art studio behind. My brother had adopted a parrot, he would talk to it every day. I can recall the oleographs of goddess Laxmi and Saraswati done by Raja Ravi Varma and my grandmother’s collection of bell metal gods and goddesses.
You didn’t have any interest in filmmaking.
I do not have any aptitude for movies. Besides, I got married very early. I was only 17.
Where did you meet your husband?
(Laughs) There was no meeting…it was arranged. I come from a traditional Saraswat family.
What would you be if not a painter?
I don’t think I could have been anything else. I would dream of becoming an artist ever since my uncle B B Benegal gifted me my first box of paints. <b3>
You never opted for any formal training in art?
No.. but then my brother didn’t take any lessons in photography either.
What do you think of the commercial dominating the art world today?
In a way, the art boom has helped artists to sell their works and on the other hand, they have not seen the kind of hardships the old artists had to face. I come from a different generation artists. We had to really struggle to create an identity. We used to take up jobs, I taught art at the Fort Convent Champion School for over two decades.
And who are your favourite contemporaries?
(Thinks) I am a great admirer Prabhakar Barve. We even formed a group along with others called, Astitva. I also like the work by Arpita Singh, Arpana Kaur, Gogi Saroj Pal and Nalini Malani. My list can go on and on.
Your children never took to the brush?
(Smiles) My son Devdas has an aptitude for art but he decided to become a sailor and like his fatherfather and go to sea.. he is coming home this weekend from London. My daughter Kalpana is a filmmaker.. maybe she took after her uncle.