I knew nothing about the life of the Painter, and wikipedia is not always the best means to gain knowledge, not if you want to a lot about the subject, that is. Hence, I read a book by Deepanjana Pal called The Painter. I have written about the book separately here, and will not be going into it again.
What I want to do here, is to verify the story used in Rang Rasiya.
The story of the movie goes thus. (The plot is laid out in entirety and hence full of spoilers). Ravi Varma faces a trial in court for painting obscene images. He faces an accusation that he used the title Raja wrongly. He is also charged with mooching off his wife's money. This is the cue for Ravi Varma to go into a flashback. He was married to the Princess of Mavelikara. He spent his time painting which was looked down upon. His wife's taunts disheartened him. Hence he started painting portraits of a servant woman. The servant lady also seduced him. Enraged, his wife threw him out.
He went to the court of Travancore where he was bestowed the title of Raja. The brother and heir of the king was jealous of this attention. When the King died, his successor threw Ravi Varma out. The old Dewan of Travancore arranges a meeting between Sayaji Rao of Baroda and Ravi Varma. This is where Ravi Varma discovers Sugandha praying in a temple. When Sayaji Rao commissions a set of paintings, Ravi Varma decides to go on a tour of India. On a night in Benaras, Ravi Varma sees Sugandha as a goddess and comes back to paint her.
He has a torrid affair with Sugandha. At the time he also meets a Parsi girl Frenny (Feryna Weizhir). His relations with Frenny are platonic, though he does go around with her. After a while he decides to establish a printing press to reproduce oleographs of his art. He faces setbacks in his business, his press is burned down, he has to face a court case and loses Sugandha.
Frenny helps him out of his despondency and urges him to take up painting once again. He feels Sugandha is still close to him and picks up his brush.
These are the points, as far as I could detect, where the story of Ravi Varma differed.
Ravi Varma's use of the title Raja was never contested in his lifetime, but it was a bit of cheating on his part to use it. He did claim that he was prefixing the name of his uncle - Raja Raja Varma - as a mark of respect.
Raja Ravi Varma never faced the court in his lifetime. He did attend a trial of a case of obscenity against another printing press. He was anxious about the outcome, as the result of the case could affect him as well. Some of the prints he produced were provocative. He was relieved when the case was dismissed.
Ravi Varma's wife was seen as a shrew in the movie, A lady who forbids him to paint and acts all vampish around him. It is indicated that Ravi Varma left home because of that and never had anything more to do with her. In reality, Ravi Varma visited her often, and they had five children together. They did stand by each other. Ravi Varma was a fond father who took care of the art training of his sons. He arranged for his granddaughter to be adopted by the royal family of Travancore.
His close relationship with his brother is well depicted in the movie, but the rest of his family is cut out. In fact, he was a devoted family man who followed the customs and diktats of society as much as possible.
The movie cuts out some events of his life, which is understandable. A movie has to fast forward and cannot linger too much on each event of a person's life. Hence, the flashback on the Painter's life starts with his wedding to the Princess of Mavelikara. From there it jumps to his stint in the Travancore court. The Raja of Travancore did not bestow the title of Raja to him. He fell out of favor when the Raja died and his brother took over the rule.
The movie jumps again to the second Baroda Commission before which Ravi Varma undertook an extended tour around India. Sayaji Rao had given a generous commission to Ravi Varma for creating 14 paintings of India, scenes from the scriptures and ancient tales. He wanted the paintings to be generic to India, not belonging to any specific region. In order to decide the generic look, Ravi Varma toured India. His model-mistress did not appear till much later in his life. But in the film this is where Sugandha comes into his life.
Sugandha can be seen as personification of all the models who inspired him to paint the way he did. Most of his models were women of the streets, hence Sugandha is also a prostitute.
In the movie, the man who keeps Sugandha as a mistress is indirectly blamed for burning of the Press owned by Ravi Varma. In fact, the press did suffer a fire, but only in 1975 which was way after the life of Ravi Varma ended.
Ravi Varma is seen as a colorful character who slept with women and was a sensual man. He did have that sort of a reputation. His love of social life was well documented. He did have female friends, though there is no firm evidence of his philandering, Given his circumstances, he could have been a philanderer.
As depicted in the movie, he was friends with Dada Saheb Phalke who later went on to be a pioneer in making films in India.
The chronology of events in Ravi Varma's life are fiddled with. In the movie he has been shown as a young man for a long time. Most events happened in his life when he was well into his forties.
All this apart, the movie does present the man and his art in a very attractive manner and has served to draw attention to him.