Documentary film, 71 minutes www.indeliblelalita.com
Indelible Lalita tells the story of a woman whose body has been painfully transformed by ovarian cancer, breast cancer, heart failure and a dramatic loss of skin pigment. Lalita Bharvani is beautiful – but her pale, scarred body reads as a record of her difficult life experiences.
As a child in Bombay in the 1950s, Lalita began to develop white patches on her leg, caused by a skin condition called vitiligo. Her mother worried that this “defect” would prevent Lalita from ever finding a good husband. With a desire to go away and not come back, Lalita left India to study in Paris. There she fell in love with Pierre, a French-Canadian student. After marrying, the couple moved to a working-class suburb of Paris. Neighbors mistook Lalita (her skin still mostly brown) for an Arab, and they mistreated her. Lalita and Pierre left Paris and moved to Montréal.
"I suppose that is the whole process of living... There’s the wear and tear on so many levels, on your body and your psyche. And of course it leaves its indelible mark or its stamp on you.”
- Lalita Bharvani
Despite a happy marriage, Lalita found life in North America lonely. Her solitude manifested itself physically at age 30 when ovarian cancer left her unable to bear children. Meanwhile, the cold air of Montréal accelerated Lalita's pigment loss. Within a year of arriving in Canada, her skin had become totally white.
Now 60, Lalita is fighting breast cancer and heart disease as her mother lives out her last days in India. Through these health crises, Lalita has somehow managed to find the joy in life. She has learned to let go of her body as the expression of her femininity and ethnicity – and, ultimately, as the only vessel for her spirit.
Indelible Lalita poses many questions to the audience: How linked is one’s identity to one’s physical appearance? Is the body somehow imprinted, like a passport getting stamped, by the place where one lives? Can the body be read as a record of all that has transpired in the soul within?
Lalita Bharvani is also the subject of Julie's 2-channel installation, Lalita