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My passion is still alive, says Lalitha Lajmi

It hasn't been too long a while since artist Lalitha Lajmi returned from hospital, warned of a weakened heart. But this hasn't stopped the 81-year-old from heading to her studio-cum-garage, everyday, to paint for her new show, The Masque of Life. In a candid chat with Hassan M Kamal, Lajmi opens up about her passion, and the people who unknowingly inspired the show.

Though age has weakened her bones, artist Lalitha Lajmi seems more resilient and joyful than ever before. “This is one of my biggest works in water colour that I have ever done,” says the artist, adding, “It was a long-held dream, which is finally fulfilled.” “Every now and then, it comes to me that this might just be mylast show. But I don’t want to stop. The passion is still alive,” she confirms.


Artist Lalitha Lajmi at her Lokhandwala residence in Andheri. Pic/Satyajit Desai

Life on canvas
But The Masque of Life is as much about about her passion as it is about her own life, memories, and the people who unknowingly inspired her works — it’s a culmination of her entire life. She revisits some of the analogies that she discovered in the 1970s; for example, the masks and performers as well as people who influenced the artist while growing up. So, her works depict the grandmother who would take young Lalitha to her uncle’s (Sridhar Benegal) home in Calcutta every weekend via the tram, the joker represents the performers in her family. One also sees her exploring the relationship between mother and daughter, and men and women.


An untitled work from Lalitha Lajmi’s upcoming show, The Masque of Life

And, it’s no surprise that the show is opening in the same Jehangir Art Gallery, where Lajmi made her debut as an artist in 1961. She says that each painting took her a lot of time, because the thought process was very important, and while these works might go back to a few old motifs, there’s a definite change in this series. “It’s very difficult to explain one’s work, and I feel the viewer should look at the work and form his / her opinion about it. But I think there is definite change in this series as compared to my earlier works,” she shares.

Great comparisons
Lajmi’s works have often been compared to films made by her brother, Guru Dutt, largely because the melancholia that exists in Dutt’s films could be seen in her works as well. This perception is heightened here with the use of grey and Prussian blue colours, giving the works a monochromatic effect of a B&W film. But Lajmi says that there was never a direct relation between their works. “I don’t know what it is — it could be because of the way we were brought up since we both grew up in a very creative environment, and our thinking as well as careers were influenced by our uncle and his works. But, yes, people do point out that my paintings have the melancholia that exists in his works. But it’s not intentional, and it’s not autobiographical either. It simply comes out like that.”

Inspire, influence...
She adds further, saying that it’s hard to zero in on one particular source as an influence especially since many things can affect one’s creative process. “I think everything in one’s life makes up for your work. It’s not just seeing or reading or watching films, you have to observe every thing in your life. Any kind of creative work is a very serious profession and offers a serious outlook on the creators’ life. But, more than the life, what really matters is the expression,” she signs off.

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