It always isn't easy to step out of one's comfort zone in one medium, and then dabble in the craft of another. 5 years in the making, renowned New York based art curator and gallerist Sundaram Tagore (yes, the family name will ring a bell since he's a descendent of the famous poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore) has written and directed a 61 minute documentary film that is touted as the first and only documentary to trace the roots of Asian artists' contributions to contemporary American art. His subject is Indian painter Natvar Bhavsar, tracing his roots from the village of Gothava, India to the bright lights and big city of New York in the 60s, where he had met his wife in an art class, before settling down and being based out of Soho.
But it almost always isn't about Natvar Bhavsar himself as it is about art, so the narrative doesn't play out like a standard biography of a famous artist whom we slowly discover and delve into his personal and professional lives. Tagore didn't intend the film to be this unravelled in this standard way, and told a larger picture that, as a virtuoso in the visual arts, had plenty of more meditative moments as if he had transported the appreciation of art in a gallery, to that similar appreciation put on moving images in a film, where one gazes at, contemplates and forms a subjective opinion that is open to discussion and debate.
Clearly made for those in the art industry, whether the creators or connoisseurs, the film may alienate those who don't appreciate art at a more intellectual level, since the discourse by the field of experts in the film through talking heads styled interviews, with the likes of curators from some of the world's largest museums such as the Guggenheim, may be a monumental task to keep up and to thoroughly understand the inside lingo. However, when Tagore intersperses such moments quite frequently with beautiful cinematography capturing landscapes and especially the art pieces themselves, film viewers go back to familiar ground and inevitably become gazers at the larger picture outside a more focused discussion on art itself.
I felt that some subtitles or intertitles would have been beneficial especially to assist those not up to date with Bhavsar's works, to benefit from being given an additional clue with the title of the art piece to work with, which will in some way assist the viewer to appreciate and evaluate, joining in the fun, through the drawing of conclusions between the art piece, and what it's called. But then again I'm no art expert, so perhaps there are reasons that titles stay hidden, to allow the beauty of the pieces to burst forward instead. Being a first film, Tagore's inexperience can sometimes be spotted through recycled montage slices in the beginning used to set the stage, but once the film dealt with the subject matters close to his heart, his comfort and experience with the source materials naturally took over and this confidence shows as the film progresses.
This is both literally and figuratively an art film, and one that is rich in its imagery and reliance of those powerful images to tell a story. The film is now making its rounds in the festival circuit, and if you're up for some enlightenment and exposure into an aspect of the art industry, or to know more about Natvar Bhavsar the painter himself, then perhaps this hour long documentary could be the point to jump start that interest from.
Sundaram Tagore himself was present today to grace the Singapore Premiere at Sinema Old School, as well as to partake in a Q&A session with the audience.
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