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    Apr 2011

    Default Artists are like wild animals

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    Paris-based filmmaker Laurent Brégeat, who has made documentaries on some of India’s modern artists, talks about their inner world

    He has directed a number of television films and fiction TV series, and been an assistant director on The Pink Panther 2 and The Da Vinci Code. But for the past three years, Paris-based filmmaker Laurent Brégeat has been documenting the life and art of India’s finest modern artists such as M F Husain, S H Raza, Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar.
    Seated at Fort’s Pundole Art Gallery, which is producing two of his forthcoming films on Krishna Reddy and Krishen Khanna, the 59-year-old says, “When you’re directing actors, you’re their mummy, daddy and psychologist. You’ve to tell them what to do. You’re mostly dealing with egos. With artists, you’re dealing with their inner world, which you’ve had the privilege to enter. It’s a humble space.”

    He compares it to shooting a wildlife documentary. “You cannot direct a tiger. Artists are like wild animals. They give you whatever they want to give you and as a filmmaker, you just have to stand and watch them,” he says.

    In the offing are films on K G Subramanyan and Jogen Chowdhury. Brégeat is suitably connected to Indian art by virtue of being married to Akbar Padamsee’s daughter Raisa. “Akbar is a great storyteller,” he says, “He has a lot to say about art in a conceptual as well as intellectual way. We talk a lot about life and philosophy. We share a fantastic relationship.”

    As he does with Raza. “He’s like my wife’s uncle,” Brégeat says, “Akbar and Raza went to Paris together in the 1950s in the same boat. They lived there for several years, and married French women. Akbar returned to India, but Raza stayed back. When Raza’s wife Janine passed away, he was depressed. Until he moved to India, my wife and I, along with our children, spent each Christmas eve with him.”

    While Padamsee and Raza were easy to reach, Husain was tough to pin down. “He was travelling all the time,” he says. “I used to book tickets to London and Dubai, and cancel them last minute because he wasn’t there. Once when I was in India, I got a call saying Husain is waiting for me. I immediately packed my bag, left for Dubai, and spent four fantastic days with him. When I requested a motion shot, he spontaneously took out his brush and painted a Ganesha. He was a filmmaker and understood the grammar of cinema very well.”

    Not all his subjects were fluent with the medium. “[Ram] Kumar was extremely shy,” he says, “He used to assume that everything could be said in 15 minutes. I had to pursue him to talk more. I kept going back; it took him a while to open up.”

    Krishen Khanna, on the other hand, is full of stories and anecdotes. “He’s the bible of the old generation of artists. For instance, he told me, when Ram Kumar sold his paintings for 100 rupees, all the artists were so happy that they went for dinner to celebrate,” Brégeat says. “Most of these artists were starving. Raza, for a long time, used to only eat potatoes. But they still continued to paint. Unlike some of the present day artists, they were never driven by the market; they were only driven by art.”



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