M F Husain's approach to art has always been heralded as innovative, not only did he understand the Indian aesthetic, he was also very well versed with the market and its trends. In 1967, through a radical yet short-lived initiative by India's Film Division, Husain got the opportunity to try his hand at film making that resulted in Through the Eyes of a Painter which eventually won the Golden Bear (short film) at the 17th Berlin International Film Festival.
'Seated in front of his own painting of the Hindu god Ganesh, Husain opens Through the Eyes of a Painter with a brush in hand, reinforcing the primary artistic identification already suggested by its title. He tells us, “I have tried to tackle the film medium with the feeling of a painter. They are unrelated moving visuals juxtaposed to create a total form, a total poetic form,” hinting at the abstraction of the sequences to follow.'
'Creating a kind of cinematic still life, the camera zooms in and out to reveal Husain’s interjections of three decontextualized, ordinary objects (all of which often feature in his paintings): a lantern resting in a nook of a rock face, an open umbrella dangling from the side of a Rajasthani haveli (mansion), and a traditional khussa shoe perched on the railing of a rooftop. These props are first introduced through Husain’s own sketches in the opening credits; during the film, Husain divorces them from any diegetic setting or use. At the same time, the objects’ recurring appearance in the architecture of a scene becomes whimsically disruptive, as when an umbrella falling slowly from the side of a building directly follows a sequence in which a stick falls from the hand of a boy travelling on the back of a cart.'
This commemorative volume was published by Government of India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to celebrate Husain's success at the festival and was presented at a ceremony at the Sapru House in New Delhi.
'If Husain’s potential critique is ultimately subsumed into visual poetics, Through the Eyes of a Painter marks a pivotal moment of experimentation in India’s rich film history. It also inaugurates Husain’s excursion into a medium that he would eventually return to under a very different pretext, producing two lengthy, Bollywoodesque odes to his actress muse Madhuri Dixit in the 2000s. Yet it was only in his first film that Husain integrated the material and compositional concerns of his painting practice with celluloid’s dynamism, offering something like a total perceptual form.'
(excerpt from the article M. F Husain's Through the Eyes of a Painter, by Beth Citron, published for Artforum in 2012.
(still from the movie: stills from M. F. Husain’s Through the Eyes of a Painter, 1967, TK mm, black-and-white, 17 minutes 35 seconds, courtesy: Films Division's youtube channel)
Private Collection, Chennai