Ways of seeing: Atul Dodiya and the cinema - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Ways of seeing: Atul Dodiya and the cinema

ByKunal Ray
Feb 16, 2023 09:30 AM IST

The paintings in the artist’s ongoing show inspired by various Hindi and Bengali films are not imitative but are the beginning of a conversation between the artist and cinema

Atul Dodiya’s ongoing solo exhibition at Chemould Prescott Road gallery in Mumbai has a beguiling title – Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 (On until Feb 17, 2023). Without context, the title may leave the viewer befuddled – a friend of mine couldn’t decide if he should go see the show. Things fell in place along with the title of the show when he entered the gallery and saw the paintings. There is no wall text in the exhibition, which is a welcome relief. Only the exhibition title and the artist are mentioned at the gallery entrance. Copies of the exhibition text are available at the gallery reception that you may read or ignore if you like. That this is an exhibition made entirely of paintings excited me. I read the exhibition text only before my second walk-through of the exhibition.

Uma, 2020-2022; (Sharmila Tagore as Uma in Anupama, 1966; Director Hrishikesh Mukherjee) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya) PREMIUM
Uma, 2020-2022; (Sharmila Tagore as Uma in Anupama, 1966; Director Hrishikesh Mukherjee) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)

Bindu and the mirror, 2020-2022; (Saira Banu as Bindu in Padosan, 1968; Director Jyoti Swaroop) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)
Bindu and the mirror, 2020-2022; (Saira Banu as Bindu in Padosan, 1968; Director Jyoti Swaroop) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)

The paintings are all inspired by and drawn from images and instances from various Hindi and Bengali films. Guru Dutt, Satyajit Ray and Hrishikesh Mukherjee reign supreme. I say inspired because Dodiya’s rendition, though similar to the film image, is not imitative or merely intended to reproduce a pre-existing identifiably popular film image. The film image is perhaps the beginning of a conversation between the painter and cinema, a genesis for this project resulting in the paintings on display.

While it can be traced to a film image, the painting is an independent art work unto itself and not just derivative. In work after work, all of which were created between 2020 and 2022, Dodiya shows his favourite moments from Indian films viewed during the Covid lockdown. Perhaps he saw several of these films over and over again – Anand, Padosan, Mahanagar, Kapurush, Kagaz ke Phool, amongst others. In the exhibition note, which I read later, the painter confesses that he would freeze some images while watching the film and many of these later turned into the paintings which are now part of the exhibition. It is however not an act of simple mimesis, which could reduce such an art making endeavour into a didactic exercise. These paintings reveal the reader or the viewer located inside the painter – how he reads film images and what the selection then tells us about the painter as a curator of film image. They also reveal Dodiya’s long engagement with popular Hindi cinema and helps to re-examine the idea of the popular.

Karuna, 2020-2022; (Madhabi Mukherjee as Karuna in Kapurush, 1965; Director Satyajit Ray) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)
Karuna, 2020-2022; (Madhabi Mukherjee as Karuna in Kapurush, 1965; Director Satyajit Ray) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)

Should we only see Anand and Padosan as popular films or are there other subtexts or inter texts waiting to be explored, such as the nurse from Anand who so prominently appears in Dodiya’s rendition from the film? Or the era of photo realism and Hindi film photography? Or the painted Hindi film sets and art direction in cinema, which is often under discussed? Or several painters who began with painting Hindi film posters and other film paraphernalia? The possibilities of interpretation are immense.

Suresh Sinha in a pensive mood, 2020-2022; (Guru Dutt as Suresh Sinha in Kagaz ke Phool, 1959; Director Guru Dutt) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)
Suresh Sinha in a pensive mood, 2020-2022; (Guru Dutt as Suresh Sinha in Kagaz ke Phool, 1959; Director Guru Dutt) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)

Dodiya has returned to cinema repeatedly in his oeuvre as an artist. One remembers his rendition of Charulata from Satyajit Ray’s iconic eponymous film. There have been other instances too – Hitchcock immediately comes to mind. While watching these paintings, I repeatedly asked myself – how does a painter see cinema or the moving image? From the moving image, the painter is also trying to create a still image, a moment frozen in time in his painting. While in the film, the image appears within a chronology or network of images, amidst a story, so to speak. In the painting exhibition, however, the image stands alone. The viewer then creates a story to read the image or performs recall based on memory. But what if you haven’t seen the film? What do you do then? I think the viewer could potentially create a new story and ascribe an invented context to the painting. Also, the arrangement of these paintings at the exhibition creates a new storyline of sorts as if they coalesce to form a film, a fiction of their own.

Paul in the bathroom, 2020-2022; (Jean-Pierre Léaud as Paul in Mascullin Féminin, 1966; Director Jean-Luc Godard) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)
Paul in the bathroom, 2020-2022; (Jean-Pierre Léaud as Paul in Mascullin Féminin, 1966; Director Jean-Luc Godard) (From the show Dr Banerjee in Dr Kulkarni’s Nursing Home & Other Paintings 2020-2022 by Atul Dodiya)

Another striking element that I noticed and admired greatly in the paintings is Dodiya’s focus on minor objects in the film frame. You can identify the film that the painting alludes to but Dodiya blurs the face of the actor; sometimes these characters don’t even face the viewer but what becomes prominent is the presence of the non-human in the frame – furniture, mirrors, architectural detail, light and shadow amongst other elements that constitute a scene. There are other things to see in the frame or may be those appeal to the eye of the painter more than the actor. Often, in our film viewing practice, our gaze is directed at the actor in our best attempt to absorb the performance as if that is the only visual engagement cinema offers. In Dodiya’s rendition, the other events or objects in the frame become prominent. He almost compels you to look at the objects, which you might otherwise consider peripheral.

Artist Atul Dodiya poses with his paintings at Gallery Chemould, Fort in Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)
Artist Atul Dodiya poses with his paintings at Gallery Chemould, Fort in Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)

To me, the location of the artist is also seminal in the making of these paintings. This is after all happening in Mumbai where several of these films were made. The artist is viewing, making and also exhibiting the paintings in Mumbai, cinema city. What better way to acknowledge an inspiration and interface between the art and its source?

Kunal Ray teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune

The views expressed are personal

Catch every big hit, every wicket with Crick-it, a one stop destination for Live Scores, Match Stats, Quizzes, Polls & much moreExplore now!.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On