CHENNAI: As all artists would agree, the best masterpieces on canvas often unravel when the wielder of the brush allows his work to have a life of its own, and take you where it wants to. Such an unraveling is what director Shruti Harihara Subramaniam captured in her documentary A Far Afternoon — A Painted Saga, which chronicles celebrated artist Krishen Khanna as he set about painting his most recent work. The film, which won the National Award for the Best Art / Cultural film at the 63rd National Film awards, was screened yesterday at the Chennai International Film Festival.
“Before taking up the project, I had only vaguely heard about Krishen Khanna, since I was not very knowledgable about art,” said Shruti, on the sidelines of the screening. “The project came to me while I was doing a lot of corporate films for my bread and butter, and the Piramal Art Foundation approached me because they had found out that Krishen had, at the age of 89, started to do this particular painting (A Far Afternoon), and they wanted to archive the process of him creating an artwork.”
Krishen Khanna, one of India’s most prolific painters, was part of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group, and counts among his contemporaries M F Hussain, S H Raza, Vasudeo Gaitonde and other doyens of Indian art. One of his major works is The Great Procession, a voluminous mural adorning the lobby of the ITC Maurya in New Delhi. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1990.
Shruti admits that though she initially thought it would be a quick shoot, she realised from their footage that they had some very unique content. “Not everybody is allowed into an artist’s studio and have the privilege of seeing how he goes about it. We really got to go into the mind of an artist, and because of that we decided to make it into a film, as opposed to the ten-minute short we had in mind,” she said.
Released originally in 2015, A Far Afternoon showcased a glimpse into Khanna’s process as he painted the eponymous work, which included several of his influences over the years, like the city of Bombay, the baraat (wedding procession), and the colours of yellow, blue and white.
“We decided not to tell things that people already know about Krishen, like the fact that he was born in Lahore, studied abroad and so on. The fact that he was in the process of painting ‘A Far Afternoon’ helped to unravel his artistic process.”
Besides being nominated for several international film festivals, the film also won the National Award for Best Music (non feature category), which was composed by music duo Aravind-Jai Shankar, who are also based out of Chennai. “I did not at all realise that it would get such an amazing response!” exclaims Shruti. “I gave it my best shot, and after that it seems like it had life of its own, pretty much the same way Krishen talks about his work. You do something but you don’t know where it goes, you just let it take you along with it.”