Monday, January 11, 2016

A Heartfelt Expression

Sheela, Mollywood's veteran actor, showcases her first love, painting, at an exhibition in Kochi 

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in January, 2015, actor Sheela was travelling from Chennai to Kanchipuram to buy a silk saree. At a village, she saw a large crowd standing around. Curious, she stopped the car to have a look. What was taking place was a cock fight. “The fighting was so intense, that the roosters were literally a blur of colours,” she says. “I was thinking, 'Are these cocks or just colours?'.”

Sheela felt inspired. When she returned to her home at night, the first thing she did was to draw a canvas of blurred colours.

This work is one of 66 paintings, a mix of oils, acrylic and watercolours, which were displayed at an exhibition at the Le Meridien, Kochi, in end-December. The man behind the show is Asif Ali Komu, of the Komusons Art Gallery. “When I came to know that Sheela is a visual artist, I felt that I should hold an exhibition,” he says.

The subjects include a farmer taking a large batch of hay to the market on a bullock cart, three spirited girls selling baskets of fish near a seashore, a woman washing utensils, a peacock, showing off its bright plumage, and two versions of Shakuntala: one happy and smiling, while the other is sad and morose-looking.

Asked about her inspirations, Sheela says, “It could be a thought or a feeling. Or when I read a good novel it triggers visuals in the mind. When I am travelling somewhere and see a scene, I get excited. I usually take several photographs, at first, before I recreate the image.”

But, sometimes, Sheela tries to be innovative. “When I decided to do a painting of the Last Supper, I thought to myself, 'How can I do something different?'” she says. “There is always Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples seated around a table, which has bowls and goblets. I have seen this image from my childhood. So I drew 12 bowls in a semi-circle, with one bowl in the middle, and a radiating light emerging from the centre.”

Interestingly, Sheela, who has acted in more than 500 Malayalam and Tamil films, including the classic 'Chemmeen', says that she prefers painting to acting.

In acting, there are more than a hundred people on the set,” says Sheela. “Many may be staring at me while I am working. But, in painting, I am alone in a room. Nobody is there to disturb me. I can do what I want. It is a form of meditation.”

But Sheela says that many people are skeptical of her abilities. “When I directed my first film, 'Yakshagaanam', people said, 'Did you really direct this film? Somebody else must have done it. Or it must be Madhu [who acted in the film],” says Sheela. “There is a feeling that an actress is a good-for-nothing. Even now people ask me whether I have painted all these works.”

But, for Sheela, painting has always been a lifelong passion. When she was a child, she would always be drawing in her exercise books. “I would do this when I was supposed to do my homework,” says Sheela. “My teachers complained about me to my father. And he has beaten me for this.”

But this desire to draw continued. Whenever she had free time on the sets, she would draw something or the other. And, in between film shoots, she would do paintings at her home. When the number of canvases grew, she stored them in the garage of a flat she owned in Chennai, although she stayed at Ooty. However, two years later, when she went to her apartment to check on things, she got a shock.

The entire garage was flooded and all the works had been spoiled,” says Sheela. “Apparently, water from a bathroom in an upper floor flat leaked through the ceiling into the garage. Everything was destroyed. I never cried so much. It was the saddest day of my life,” says Sheela. It would take another ten years before Sheela wielded the brush again.

But now, Sheela says, she will continue to do so till the end of her life. “Nothing else gives me as much pleasure,” she says. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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