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September 1, 1999


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Madhuri Movie 'No-Show' at Christie's Event

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High Profile Tribute to Painter Husain Featuring Vanessa Redgrave, Gloria Steinem Is Cancelled

Aseem Chhabra

M F Husain with Madhuri Dixit A five-day film and art program in New York City, dedicated to the painter Maqbool Fida Husain, has been cancelled due to a "no-show" by the artist and his experimental film Gajagamini. The program was co-sponsored by the famed auction house, Christie's, and was to feature Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave and feminist Gloria Steinem who got her political teething during her Indian sojourn in the 1960s.

The official line is that there were "post production" or "scheduling" problems with the film.

However, according to one source, the film's producer refused to give a print of the film for what was slated to be its world premiere event. The producer, Rakesh Nath (aka Rikku), also happens to be the secretary to the film's star and Husain's muse for many years – Madhuri Dixit.

Gajagamini is Husain's first move into the world of feature-length cinema as a director -- earlier he made a documentary, Through The Eyes Of A Painter. The film, which he also financed, is described as the artist's tribute to Dixit. A few years ago, upon viewing the hit film, Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun, Husain was smitten by Dixit's persona and charm. Since then he has painted several canvases of and inspired by the actress.

The September 13 to 17 program was jointly sponsored by New York's premiere auction house, Christie's and the Indo-American Arts Council -- a year-old organization dedicated to promoting Indian art in North American. The event was scheduled to coincide with three days of Asian art auctions at Christie's.

The gala events planned to celebrate the world premiere of Gajagamini included a high powered panel discussion entitled The Power of Women, scheduled for September 16.

A Christie's flyer lists the following participants on the panel – actress Shabana Azmi; two feminist writers and activists -- Bell Hooks and Naomi Wolf; the executive director of the UN Population Fund, Nafees Sidiq; and the Indian consul general in New York, Shashi Tripathi. In addition, according to Aroon Shivdasani, the IAAC's executive director, two other names were scheduled to appear at the event – Redgrave and Steinem.

The five-day program was supposed to culminate on Husain's 84th birthday on September 17. That afternoon, Husain was to paint a portrait of Dixit, with the actress present as a model, while Sultan Khan and Kadir Khan played the music from the film.

In the evening, after a screening of Gajagamini at The Director’s Guild of America theater in Manhattan, a dinner was planned at the Shaan restaurant. Following the dinner, the painting was to be auctioned. Tickets for the film and dinner were priced at $ 250. Proceeds from all the events were to fund the IAAC's future endeavors.

Rakesh Nath For six months, all went according to schedule. Then suddenly on August 12, Husain called Shivdasani from India. He said there were post production problems with the film and that Madhuri could not make it to New York to support the event.

"Therefore, the event was canceled, because Husain thought he didn't really want to do one part, without the other and he would rather do the whole thing together," Shivdasani said in an interview.

"It is really unfortunate, since we had been promised everything," she added. "We had been sent (an advanced copy of the) video, stills from the film, the audio cassette of the film and the publicity material. Christie's had published 5,000 copies of catalogues and 3,000 invitations. Press releases were sent out."

Husain also faxed a letter to Shivdasani. The handwritten letter on Husain's personal letterhead is dated August 12. It states: 'Under the most unforeseen circumstances, the final stages of the post production of Gajagamini will take another month-and-a-half for completion. I deeply regret to inform you of the same.'

A spokesperson for Christie's, Catherine Fenston said: "There were scheduling conflicts in India and it meant that the movie wasn't going to be finished in time. Without the movie, since we felt the event needed the movie, so therefore, very sadly we had to cancel it."

"There were unforeseen hitches with the movie, I am not sure what they are," Fenston added. "Everything else was centered around the movie and if the movie is not complete, he (Husain) couldn't do the supporting events."

The unofficial story, however goes a little differently: The movie's prints were in the control of the film's producer and Dixit's secretary -- Rikku. Husain made several attempts to get the prints from Rikku.

As a last minute effort, the artist is said to have even stood outside Rikku's home in Bombay, trying desperately to talk to the producer through a cell phone. Rikku refused to speak to him and reportedly did not permit Dixit to travel to the US to promote the film.

Shivdasani denies this story, only stating: "Well, there were problems. I do think a lot of things were beyond his (Husain's) control. I think he has to be genuinely very disappointed, since he was hoping to do the world premiere of the film on his birthday."

The cancellation of the event created major problems for its organizers.

"It was a big blow for all of us," Shivdasani says. "We had a lot of back peddling to do. A lot damage control. And we had been working on this for six months." She added that lining up all the sponsors for the event had been no easy task. Champagne Veuve Cliquot had agreed to donate free champagne for the panel discussion and The Directors Guild of America ("they rarely give their place to anyone") agreed to lease their space because of Shivdasani’s connection at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center.

"For the first time Christie's was dealing with an Indian organization," she said. "It was going to bring mainstream Americans an awareness of Indian art, which is our (IAAC's) mission. And through Christie's this would have been a perfect vehicle."

The premiere of Gajagamini was certainly not the first event planned by IAAC. Last fall, the organization held the first screening in New York of Deepa Mehta's latest film Earth. Other programs sponsored by the group have included a screening of Vinay Shukla's Godmother, followed by a discussion with the film's star Shabana Azmi; a concert by Pandit Jasraj and Ustad Zakir Hussain; and a program entitled Passport to Contemporary Art in which several New York-based Indian artists opened up their studios to IAAC supporters.

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