Documentary channel

Anniversary tribute: ‘Messages from Bhupen Khakhar’ offers rare insight into the Indian artist

On the artist’s birth anniversary, a look back at his life, explored in rich detail in this Arts Council of Great Britain documentary.

Bhupen Khakhar inhabited many worlds. There was the ordinary world of the Mumbai-born man who spent much of his life working as a chartered accountant in Vadodara. And then there was the colourful universe of his paintings, where, with immaculate detail and sharp observation, he satirised the ordinary lives of everyday people, a milieu to which he too belonged.

That mileu is explored in extraordinary detail in Messages from Bhupen Khakhar, a 1983 documentary by the Arts Council of Great Britain, which was given unprecedented access to the contemporary artist. The crew, led by director Judy Marle, spent time with him within the walls of his middle-class home and followed him on his walks to the local tea shop in Vadodara, to his office and to the neighbourhood cinema.

Messages from Bhupen Khakhar.

Born in 1934 in Khetwadi in Mumbai, Khakhar became an artist relatively late, around his thirties, and did not receive formal training. He continued working as a chartered accountant despite his success as an artist.

His paintings chronicled the Indian middle class, often satirically but never condescendingly. The richly colourful canvass of his artworks – he mentions in the documentary that his focus has always been more on the colour than the drawing – has led him to be labelled as a pop artist. But he drew influences for his works less from popular culture and more from the mundane things he observed everyday.

“People in their day to day ordinary circumstances...these things interest me, which are not very spectacular,” he is quoted as saying in the documentary. And so, you have artworks like Scenes from a Second Class Railway Carriage, 1982, a portrait of a watch repairer called Janata Watch Repairing, 1972, and Factory Strike, 1972.

Sexuality was another common theme. In the documentary, Khakhar bemusedly observes the Indian middle class’s coyness towards sex. Considered India’s first openly gay artist, Khakhar traced homoerotic themes explicitly or subtly in many of his later works, such as in Two Men in Benaras (1982) and Yayati (1987).

Mirroring the colour palette of Khakhar’s works, Messages from Bhupen Khakhar combines the traditional documentary style with artistic variations. There are intermittent shots of Khakhar posing for the camera in a darkened room, framed by colourful blinking lights. Like Khakhar, the documentary also draws attention to facets of daily life – the camera often steers away from Khakhar to show seeming non-events like a dog resting outdoors, a man getting a haircut or a family posing for a photograph.

Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers (1975). Image credit: Messages with Bhupen Khakhar by Arts Council of Great Britain.
Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers (1975). Image credit: Messages with Bhupen Khakhar by Arts Council of Great Britain.

Describing his artistic process, Khakhar said that if anything he observed in the everyday world stayed with him, it became an obsession of sorts, which he would then depict. This also included the friends he made over the years. Khakhar said that he must know his subjects very intimately and be emotionally involved with them before he paints them.

The film paints the picture of an unassuming man unfazed by his fame but one who, despite his simple exterior, was a powerhouse of profound thoughts and piercing observations.

“I don’t think an artist can be a very respectable gentleman,” he said in the documentary. “When one is respectable, he loses that element of [being an] artist…because then he is ruled by the dictum and things of morality.”

After his death in 2003, Khakhar has continued to sell posthumously, breaking his past records multiple times. In 2017, his De-Luxe Tailors from the series about tradespeople sold for a record Rs 9.5 crore.

In 2016, when a retrospective of Khakhar’s works at Tate Modern received scathing reviews by art critic Jonathan Jones writing for The Guardian, the Indian art fraternity was outraged. The review was panned for alleged racial overtones and artists contended that Jones had been unable to understand the context of Khakhar’s art. But the artist himself had already given his response to this and other crticism in a 1981 painting after which the retrospective was named: You Can’t Please All.

You Can’t Please All (1981). [From 'Messages with Bhupen Khakhar by Arts Council of Great Britain © Bhupen Khakhar]
You Can’t Please All (1981). [From 'Messages with Bhupen Khakhar by Arts Council of Great Britain © Bhupen Khakhar]
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Why should inclusion matter to companies?

It's not just about goodwill - inclusivity is a good business decision.

To reach a 50-50 workplace scenario, policies on diversity need to be paired with a culture of inclusiveness. While diversity brings equal representation in meetings, board rooms, promotions and recruitment, inclusivity helps give voice to the people who might otherwise be marginalized or excluded. Inclusion at workplace can be seen in an environment that values diverse opinions, encourages collaboration and invites people to share their ideas and perspectives. As Verna Myers, a renowned diversity advocate, puts it “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is essential for a company’s success. Let’s look at some of the real benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Better decision making

A whitepaper by Cloverpop, a decision making tool, established a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance. The research discovered that teams that followed an inclusive decision-making process made decisions 2X faster with half the meetings and delivered 60% better results. As per Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, this report highlights how diversity and inclusion are practical tools to improve decision making in companies. According to her, changing the composition of decision making teams to include different perspectives can help individuals overcome biases that affect their decisions.

Higher job satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is connected to a workplace environment that values individual ideas and creates a sense of belonging for everyone. A research by Accenture identified 40 factors that influence advancement in the workplace. An empowering work environment where employees have the freedom to be creative, innovative and themselves at work, was identified as a key driver in improving employee advancement to senior levels.


A research by stated the in India, 62% of innovation is driven by employee perceptions of inclusion. The study included responses from 1,500 employees from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States and showed that employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new and innovative ways of getting work done.

Competitive Advantage

Shirley Engelmeier, author of ‘Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage’, in her interview with Forbes, talks about the new global business normal. She points out that the rapidly changing customer base with different tastes and preferences need to feel represented by brands. An inclusive environment will future-proof the organisation to cater to the new global consumer language and give it a competitive edge.

An inclusive workplace ensures that no individual is disregarded because of their gender, race, disability, age or other social and cultural factors. Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equal workplace. Having won several accolades including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate equality index, Accenture has demonstrated inclusive and diverse practices not only within its organisation but also in business relationships through their Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program.

In a video titled ‘She rises’, Accenture captures the importance of implementing diverse policies and creating an inclusive workplace culture.


To know more about inclusion and diversity, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.