“I couldn’t contemplate working in films though I had director Guru Dutt as my brother. We came from a traditional family. So I developed an interest in art.”
Coming from a family involved in the arts, Lalitha Lajmi was very fond of classical dance even as a child. “But we were from a middle class background and my family couldn’t afford my joining a classical dance class,” recalls Lajmi. She had the urge to paint too, and her uncle, B.B. Benegal, a commercial artist from Kolkata, (where Lajmi grew up), brought her a box of paints. “I am a self taught artist and have received no formal art training,” she says. “I began painting seriously in 1961, and in those days one couldn’t sell one’s work. I had to teach art in school to earn a living.”
One of the best watercolorists in India, for Lajmi, nurturing her passion for art and cinema was a constant struggle. Indian films have been the biggest influence on my work, especially the ones made by my brother (Guru Dutt), Satyajit Ray and Raj Kapoor.”
Even though she read art books regularly and constantly experimented, Lajmi says, “there was no sense of direction in my work until the late 70’s. I felt I had to evolve.” By mid-80’s, she was doing etchings, oils and watercolors. She held several exhibitions at international art galleries in Paris, London and Holland. In Lajmi’s works, one finds a strong autobiographical element. In some of her later works, particularly the ones from late 80’s and early 90’s, one can find a reflection of hidden tensions that exist between men and women, captured in the different roles they play. Yet, her women are not meek individuals, but assertive and aggressive. “I use the images of Durga or Kali on the top of emaciated men who are kneeling, almost as if they were in the middle of some form of classical corporal punishment,” laughs Lajmi.
Lajmi has also depicted the natural bonding that exists between women, between mother and daughter figures, perhaps drawing from her own relationship with her filmmaker daughter, Kalpana.
Lalitha Lajmi lives and works out of Mumbai.