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Guru Dutt's Sister Lalitha Lajmi Passes Away, Art World Remembers 'unparalleled' Talent

Lalitha Lajmi, the sister of legendary filmmaker Guru Dutt, was remembered by the art fraternity for her highly illustrious career. She passed away at the age of 90 on Monday.

Lalitha Lajmi

Image: JNAF_Mumbai/Twitter

"An unparalleled watercolourist", Lalitha Lajmi was a self-taught artist who excelled in the depiction of "assertive and individualistic" Indian women through decades in her art works.

Lajmi, who died on Monday at the age of 90, grew up around her legendary filmmaker brother Guru Dutt, drawing inspiration from his films for her paintings.

In a Twitter post, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) remembered the veteran artist and printmaker as someone whose work reflected the history of the post-Independence Indian woman.

"An unparalleled watercolourist, through her works she narrates a history of the Indian woman in the decades that followed Independence. Often her work reflects the 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 individualistic, with a strong autobiographical element," the art institution said in its tribute to Lajmi.

The NGMA Mumbai is currently hosting an exhibition of her works, 'The Mind's Cupboard', till February 26.

Though Lajmi did not have a formal education in art, she was deeply influenced by her brother, Guru Dutt, and her writer-poet parents.

"She told me that they were inspired to be creative since the very beginning by their mother (a writer). Guru Dutt was the most creative of them all, and she was closest to him," according to Dutt's biographer, Yasser Usman.

The author, who became close to Lajmi during the course of his research for "Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story", recalled how the painter had a strong bond with the filmmaker.

"She told me that she could feel what he (Dutt) was going through when he was making 'Pyaasa' and knew of his struggle. She saw how he evolved as a creative person from making light-hearted comedy films to romantic ones and later on more serious ones like 'Pyaasa' and 'Kaagaz Ke Phool'.

"He remained the source of inspiration for Lajmi as she saw him disintegrating emotionally and passing away at the young age of 39. She went into depression after his death. It was a long dark phase and what brought her out of her anguish was art," Usman said.

"She told me she was very happy to be known as Guru Dutt's sister because she used to say, 'I have taken a lot from him'," Usman remembered.

In her later works, Lajmi also depicted relationships among women, with mother-daughter bonding being one such dimension, inspired by her own connection with her daughter and filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi.

Kalpana died on September 23, 2018 from cancer.

Renowned sculptor and former director general at NGMA, Adwaita Gadanayak remembered Lajmi for "consistently spreading awareness on women issues and empowerment through her visual language".

"Till her last days she was active with her work and was conscious that artists should lead the responsibility of change in the society. She was an excellent human being, aware of the problems of women," Gadanayak told PTI.

He added that as humble as she was, Lajmi would also frequently interact with newer artists.

Talking about one such interaction, painter Kanchan Mahante remembered Lajmi as a "down-to-earth lady".

"She was very polite. Every artist must learn how to stay grounded and never forget how we reached this far. She had come for our exhibition and she appreciated the work, she would always motivate everyone. She created her own style, I loved her strokes and color palette," Mahante told PTI.

Lajmi, an artist who believed in constantly reinventing herself, had several exhibitions at national and international institutions such as Appa Rao Gallery, Chennai, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and Gallery Gay in Germany.

Lajmi also made a guest appearance in Aamir Khan's 2007 film "Taare Zameen Par" and worked as a graphics artist in 1985 Hindi movie "Aghaat".

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