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Well ahead of his times

As the birth centenary year of film-maker, V. Shantaram, is being celebrated, V. GANGADHAR dwells upon the creative ability of the legend.


Shantaram (right - standing) in ``Savakari Pash''... amazing exponent of the art of cinema.

IN THE early 1930s, his film "Savakari Pash" dealt with the travails of the landless, debt-ridden peasantry. The year 1937 saw the release of "Kunku", which showed a young woman rebelling against her marriage to a much older man. The Marathi film, which starred Shanta Apte and Keshavrao Date was later made into a Hindi classic, "Duniya Na Mane". Four years later as the Muslim League emerged on the political front leading to communal tension in the country, he made "Padosi" which portrayed friendship between a Muslim and a Hindu.

A film-maker way ahead of his times? A visionary? Call him by whatever name, producer-director-actor, V.Shantaram, whose birth centenary is being celebrated all over India, was a truly amazing exponent of the art of cinema. "He was a cinema in himself", explained his daughter Madhura Jasraj. For 50 years, Shantaram was associated with nearly 100 films, each of them different, each of them having something new and important to say.

Much before the `Hindi Chini bhai hoopla' unleashed by Jawaharlal Nehru during the 1950s, Shantaram had brought the people of the two great nations together in his film, "Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani", the story of an Indian doctor who did admirable work in war-torn China. Film-making was a social crusade for Shantaram. "Dahej" dealt with the evils of the dowry system. Who would have thought of prison reforms and national integration in the early 1950s? But Shantaram did. His "Do Ankhen Barah Haath", which featured a reformist jailor, made waves and won international awards.

The story of a family whose members came from different states of India was the background for "Teen Batti Char Rasta". It was a lesson on national integration. But don't be under the impression that Shantaram's films were dull and moralistic. Keenly aware of every single aspect of film-making including its entertainment value, he was one of the earliest to switch over to colour and produced entertainers like "Navrang" and "Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje". The music in his films was another outstanding factor. Often in the hands of stalwart musicdirectors like C. Ramchandra and Vasant Desai, the melodious tunes from "Parchain", "Subha Ka Tara" and "Jhanak Jhanak.." are hummed even today.

Kolhapur-born Shantaram Rajaram Vankudre was able to make realistic films with mass appeal because he had seen all aspects of life. During his early years, he worked in the Railway Repairs workshop even while being trained at the Gandharva Natak Mandali theatre group. Baburao Painter taught him the fundamentals of acting and direction and Shantaram directed his first film, "Netaji Pulkar" in 1927. Two years later, he found the Prabhat Film Company, in Kolhapur, along with theatre personalities Sitaram Kulkarni, Keshavrao Dhaibar, V.Damle and S.Fatehal. "Ayodhya Ka Raja" was the first talkie from the new unit. Establishing a film studio in Pune, Prabhat, he made memorable films like "Aadmi", "Padosi" and "Duniya Na Mane". Following differences with his partners, Shantaram left for Bombay and established his Rajkamal unit at Parel, buying the studio from the Wadia Brothers.

Madhura Jasraj pointed out how Shantaram's extensive knowledge of film-making helped him a lot. He knew everything about sound, colour schemes, camera angles, lighting effects as well as acting skills and dialogue delivery. No wonder, Rajkamal became one of the most sophisticated film studios in the country and boasted of two stages, a dubbing theatre, a huge dance floor and a film archive. Himself a good dancer, Shantaram choreographed most of his own films.

Dr. Shreeram Lagoo who played the lead role in Shantaram's 1971 film "Pinjra" recalled how meticulously the shooting schedules were planned from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dr Lagoo explained how Shantaram gave full freedom to his stars and never insisted they follow any particular style of acting.

He knew what he was doing, and on most occasions wanted things to be done his way.

Thus Shantaram's secretary was taken aback when legendary actor Dilip Kumar wanted to see the script of a film offered to him and discuss the role with the producer.

"How can you demand to see the script of a film to be directed by Shantaram?''he demanded. Later, at a private meeting with Shantaram and Mehboob Khan, Dilip explained his point of view and convinced Shantaram.

``Shantaram's films were path-breakers because they were based on good stories and scripts'', said Dilip Kumar. ``There is so much good material in India, but how many of our producers go for them?'' he asked. Another star, Dev Anand, said despite being always short of money in those days, somehow or other he managed to watch every Shantaram film. ``He was the total textbook of Indian Cinema,''enthused Dev saab. Like Dev Anand himself, Shantaram was always jaunty, dressed immaculately and looked younger than his years.

Shantaram was honoured with the Dada Saheb Phalke award. A postage stamp was released to mark his birth centenary. Maharashtra Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh urged that the Bharat Ratna be conferred on the film-maker. Well-known film personalities received various V. Shantaram Film Awards at a glittering Mumbai ceremony recently.

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