Spaniard Alfredo De Braganza on his Spanish novel on Amrita Sher-Gil, sometimes compared to the Frida Kahlo of India
The last time I met Alfredo De Braganza, was three years ago at his residence on Chamiers Road. The Spaniard was gung-ho about his documentaries that tell those stories that don’t receive the mileage they deserve. Boxing Babylon, his film about Deva, a boxer from Tamil Nadu, went on to win Best Documentary Award at the 2013 Norway Film Festival and New Delhi International Sports Film Festival. Now, De Braganza is busy giving out interviews in Mexico. Penguin Random House has published his first book, a Spanish novel about the woman who is referred to as the Frida Kahlo of India, Amrita Sher-Gil.
It was MF Husain who told De Braganza about Amrita Sher-Gil. “He said to me, ‘Ask your auto wallah to drive you to Amrita Sher-Gil lane. There, knock doors of the neighbourhood – they are wealthy and literate, educated people – ask them who she was.’ I did what he told me to. Nobody knew her,” says De Braganza, explaining that the most he got was that she was a foreign diplomat, a politician, an actress and the wife of an old Indian politician. After a year’s research De Braganza had a book to write. “From her childhood – she was born in Budapest and studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris – to her untimely death at 28, her many tempestuous love affairs, her flamboyant personal style, her political convictions and her relationships with the great leaders and artistic personalities of her time,” he says, giving us a gist of Sher-Gil’s tumultuous life. “For example, her love affair with the then future Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was he who said in a letter to his daughter Indira Gandhi that the death of Amrita was not clear because she died under “mysterious circumstances”,” he adds, about the artist who is rumoured to have been killed by her own mother.
Naturally, De Braganza hopes that his Spanish book, will be translated into English soon. Currently a best-seller in Mexico, De Braganza is in discussions with editors to sell the rights in German and French. “Hungarian rights have been sold just few days ago to the number one Hungarian publishing house, Europa Kaido, the publisher of international best-selling authors like David Baldacci and Stephen King,” says the film maker and author, who drove around North India in his cherry metallic Ambassador, visiting the places were Sher-Gil lived, stayed and was inspired.
“I have consulted countless unreleased letters and unpublished documents in Pakistan as well in India. I must thank The National Gallery of Modern Art that allowed me to study her paintings. I also had great help and collaboration for my research from the late Khushwant Singh’s son, Rahul Singh,” says De Braganza, who hopes that his novel can inspire the reader to visit The National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, where just a handful of her paintings are exhibited.