Artistic lineage

The London filmmaker on chronicling the legacy of Khorshed and Kekoo Gandhy.

As a young woman, Behroze Gandhy tried hard to maintain a distance from her artistic lineage. “Growing up, I didn’t want anything to do with art, my parents [Bombay’s original art couple Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy] or their gallery,” says the London-based filmmaker. “I felt I should get away from it and make my own mark… but after a point, I couldn’t escape the goodwill my parents had, and the doors it opened for me.” In town for the screening of her 90-minute documentary feature, Kekee Manzil – The House of Art, Gandhy pursued media studies in the UK in the 1970s and decided to stay on. “A series of chances led me to film and research at the British Film Institute,” she says.

“I had memories of my father talking about the Bengal school and the Bombay Progressives, and when I started my academic work, all this began to feel connected, and I began exploring the link between early Indian cinema and art.”

Though she was trying to circumvent the world of art, it found her. “And because I was a filmmaker in the UK, people kept telling me that I must record my father, that it was going to be all history one day,” she says. “My parents were, after all, witness to key moments of the Indian contemporary art movement from the early 40s, and established the first contemporary art gallery in Bombay. So, I conducted a long interview with them in 2002, but unfortunately I lost the footage.”

Their beautiful sea-facing home in Bandra has, thus, become the anchor for this film. “In the last years of my parents’ lives, they spent a lot of time in Kekee Manzil. I kept coming back to spend many months with them,” says Behroze, who brought on board a camera team to film them again a few years later. “After they died in 2012-13, I knew I had the material to make a documentary, which could reflect on the story of Indian art. So, I started collaborating with Dilesh Korya, who edited and co-directed the film, which I financed.”

From family members — siblings Rashna, Adil and Shireen, uncle Dara — to old archives in 8 mm film, it all helped to provide an account of how her parents journeyed into contemporary art and their encounters with Italian prisoners of war, Jewish emigres and Belgian businessmen.

“The story of the film is about how my father, a casualty of the World War II, landed up being one of the catalysts of an art movement, which was at odds with his Parsi business background,” says Behroze.

“My dad’s journey revolved around a shop selling picture frames, and a series of curious coincidences leading him to the point of opening Gallery Chemould in 1963.”

This story is told through interviews with artists and personalities from across fields, such as SH Raza, Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta, Sakina Mehta, Anish Kapoor and Salman Rushdie, who knew the couple well, and were able to reflect on their legacy. In fact, in the film, Rushdie even speaks about the confidence he developed to “invent a painter in the The Moor’s Last Sigh,” because of his associations with artists such as Bhupen Khakhar, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Vivan Sundaram.

The film, however, is not only about the couple’s involvement in the arts. It is punctuated by seminal political events — the Independence movement, the Emergency, and the 1992-1993 riots — and how it influenced them. “I saw my father work closely with the peace committees during the Bombay riots, for instance,” says Behroze. “So, the film is as much about art as it is about their political lives.”

Published on Mumbai Mirror