Deaths, 2011

Some would say that this festive time of the year is probably not the right time for this post, but the beauty of life is only heightened by the sense of grief and loss. This post is both a remembrance and a short prayer.

This year was a sad one for Indian art. We lost true souls who were loved by many and respected by all for their passion, consciousness, commitment and humanness.

Badal Sircar, one of the greatest practitioners of theatre in India, was the pioneer of the Theatre of Synthesis – Third Theatre (First being rural, second being urban; to put it crudely). Constantly transcending convention to create relevance for the audience as well as the participants of theatre, Sircar forced critics, peers and theorists to wake up and take notice. A writer of proscenium plays, he evolved into writing and directing non-proscenium drama and took to mentoring young theatre artists in the later part of his life. He advocated and practiced the concept of free theatre through his group Satabdi, one of his under-acknowledged but most important achievements. All those in awe of this great artist must read .

Dev Anand was not only a superstar but also a writer, director and producer. Dev Sahab was a patron of many talented artists in Hindi cinema; the list includes Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, S.D. (in Hindi cinema), Shekhar Kapur, Sahir, Majrooh and many more. He was style icon, swaying in his own unique way while giving lip to some of the greatest songs of Kishore, Rafi and Hemant Kumar. He was offered Amitabh’s role in Sholay. Superstars don’t have just one song (that too without a heroine), they don’t play equal to a fellow buddy and they definitely don’t die at the end.

Jagjit Singh’s was one of the few voices that could make a jaat cry. A great ghazal singer of all time, Jagjit sang a wide range of songs from traditional ghazals, classical renditions like thumri to Hindi film songs, Hindi (almost) pop. At his peak, he was unparalleled when it came to live singing. Some of his concerts are legendary (youtube him). It’s almost frightening to realize that after him, India will not have a ghazal singer. This soul invoking form of singing will die.

Mani Kaul is the latest addition to our list of great film directors. And some of his films are the latest addition to our (very, very) limited film collection. He made his first film at the age of 25, Uski Roti. Please watch it. A student of Ritwik Ghatak at the FTII, Kaul was a well educated genius. His films speak a different language and require different tools of appreciation. Excruciatingly painful, is the phrase a friend uses to describe his work. Well said. Sadly, his films are not easily available. They are solely under the ‘care’ of the film archives in Pune. Look out for them on the DD network or a film festival (retrospective as they call it, one almost feels that an artist has to be dead for his work to be available for appreciation). Some are available with us as well.

Satyadev Dubey could be seen standing outside Prithvi (theatre, Mumbai), smoking, talking a bunch of eager and young actors, directors or writers. He was old and sick in his last days but still took time out to watch a new production. A writer, actor and above all a director, Dubey was a brave genius. He was (in) famous for twisting plots, jarring the narratives and extracting absurd meanings out of old theatre texts. His interpretations were as much personal as they were relevant, maybe because of being given this unique personality, they became relevant. He enjoyed the pleasure of working with Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karad and Badal Sircar. And his favourite actor (to direct and to watch) was Amrish Puri, kind of says it all doesn’t it. Many might not know this but he was a RSS cadet. An irreverent right-leaning theatre artist, such a heady combination!

Shammi Kapoor introduced the playboy category of heroes in Hindi cinema. He might have been the first real bad boy on screen. And the first real dancer too. His career was buoyed by the perfect singer-actor partnership with Rafi.

M.F.Hussain shouldn’t even be mentioned here under the category of Indian artists, but we aren’t strictly politically correct are we. An eccentric artist with loads of money, many classic sports cars and no footwear, Hussain’s artwork was critiqued by greats like Picasso. He was definitely someone who inspired many young painters throughout the world. On his demise, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said, “He only slipped up on the depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses. Otherwise, he was happy and content in his field. If his demise is a loss for modern art, then so be it. May his Allah give him peace!”. His Allah surely will.

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was known for his powerful voice, amazing breath control, musical sensibility and grasp of the fundamentals. Trained in the Hindustani Classical style (Kirana Gharana), he strove to achieve balance between what may be termed as traditional values and mass-culture tastes. You can find his recordings in the AIR archives, or even in decent music stores (HMV). Most insufficiently educated Indians only recognize him through a state sponsored national integration song, Miley Sur Mera Tumhara.

Bhupen Hazarika was a lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film maker from Assam. Very well educated and well travelled, he was an iconic Indian artist recognized for his art globally. Hazarika was an active member of IPTA in his youth and his gutsy writings were avowedly anti-establishment. Not quite a household name beyond Bengal, his multi-faceted talents are relatively unfamiliar to mainland India.

M.A.K. Pataudi was a Nawab, on the field as well. Youngest Indian captain (22+) and a brilliant fielder (he is credited with bringing this fine art to Indian cricket). India won its first overseas series under Pataudi (New Zealand). He played for Winchester (school), Oxford (university), Sussex (county), Delhi and Hyderabad (Ranji). He injured his right eye permanently but continued to play the game, learning to play with just one good eye. Well, he wasn’t called the Tiger for nothing.

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