Dr. V Shantaram

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[1] shataram's fimography with details of some films


A letter From V.Shantaram To Dadasaheb V. SHANTARAM

also look up Phalke outside Prabhat

The early part of the twentieth century is a most exciting period for the student of Indian cinema. It was the age of the pioneers. When the first Indian movie tycoon, Jamshedji Framji Madan diversified from his interest in the stage to set up his first 'bioscope' in a tent on an open field in Calcutta, he became part of a movement that was spreading all over India and was soon to become a mammoth industry. Side by side with the distribution network, a studio system was evolving out of the growing and diverse needs of the new industry. The young men who came to these studios in the early twenties in the hope of learning the ropes, had to go through a rigorous term of apprenticeship. Though Bombay was already emerging as a leader in the field, one man who probably understood the technique of film-making better than most, did not belong to the busy film factories of Bombay. Baburao Painter, originally a landscape painter by profession, found an opening for his mechanical genius in the magic world of films. He went about quietly beating the first magic man, Phalke, at his own game, and gathered around him a group of young men whom he taught not only his special effects techniques, but every other aspect of the art of film-making as well. Of the three young men who learnt their skills from Baburao Painter, one was Rajaram Vanakudre Shantaram. The others were V.G. Damle and S. Fattelal who, along with Shantaram and two others, went on to establish the Prabhat Film Company in 1929.

V. Shantaram, as he came to be known professionally, was born in Kolhapur in 1901. He started earning a livelihood in a railroad repair and maintenance workshop when still in his early teens. With the princely sum of Rs 15 as his monthly salary, it was not surprising that young Shantaram, even in those days of prewar prices, had to take up an additional job at the age of sixteen. This was at the local tin-shed cinema, where, at a starting wage of Rs 5 per month, Shantaram did odd jobs, painted signs, and even became a door boy after a while.

It was inevitable that young Shantaram would turn out to be an avid film-viewer. In any case, it was the new madness of the times. By closely studying the personalities he saw flitting across the silent screen, the boy developed his skills of mimicry, and became known for his portrayals of Western screen favorites. His most popular portrayal was that of the famous comedian, Foolshead, where he also shook like a leaf right through to give an authentic impression of the quivering screen image of those days. He was also an admirer of the great Phalke, whose films arrived occasionally, heralded by the beating of drums on the streets.

From the job in the cinema hall, Shantaram graduated to a job as an assistant to a photographer, before joining Baburao Painter's newly opened Maharashtra Film Company in Kolhapur. The new apprentice was put to every conceivable task in film production, from a cleaning job to that of a laboratory assistant, a special effects man and a performer. At the age of twenty-eight, Shantaram, along with four other partners, V.G. Damle, K.R. Dhaibar, S. Fattelal and S.B. Kulkarni, decided to launch a film company of their own--the Prabhat Film Company. They began work with the primitive studio facilities of Kolhapur, using local performers, and with elephants, horses and soldiers from the Maharaja of Kolhapur when the need arose.

The first Indian talkie, Alam Ara, was released in 1931, produced by the Imperial Film Company, and directed by Ardeshir Irani in Bombay. 'All Living, Breathing 100% Talking Peak Drama, Essence of Romance, Brains and Talents unheard of under one banner,' screamed the advertisements. With ten songs, the film proved a sensation. The young pioneers in Kolhapur, refusing to lag behind, released three sound films in Marathi by 1932. One of them was Ayodhyecha Raja, directed by Shantaram, based on the story of Harishchandra, the tale that had launched Dadasaheb Phalke's career in 1913. The role of Taramati, played by a male actor in Phalke's version, was this time played by a young Brahmin girl from Kolhapur, Durga Khote, whose phenomenal success attracted others to the profession and lent it respectability. Today she is one of the most celebrated actresses in the country.

In 1933 the Prabhat Film Company moved to Pune, where for the first time they acquired a tin-built studio. Shantaram had already directed six silent films for Prabhat before making Ayodhyecha Raja. His first sound film won him instant recognition, for the film was also an attempt at making more effective use of the mobility of the medium, as opposed to the staginess of the early sound films. By 1934, Shantaram had made films in Marathi, Hindi and Tamil for a growing audience. With Amrit Manthan, which was made in both Marathi and Hindi in 1934, Shantaram emerged not only as a man with a social conscience, but as a powerful director as well. Although the publicity leaflet said 'Shanta Apte made 200,000 persons shed tears at Krishna Talkies', the film was far from a tearjerker. It was also the first film to be produced by Prabhat in its newly built sound-proof studio in Pune. With all the skills at their command, Shantaram and his friends erected huge and magnificent sets, and designed rich, ornate costumes for the characters. A fast moving tale of palace intrigues, and with a great deal of drama, Amrit Manthan focused on the need for a more humane religion where no blood is shed in the name of god.

In 1936, Amar lyoti, an impressive spectacle made by Shantaram in Hindi and Marathi, was shown at the IV International Film Festival at Venice. Amar Jyoti had both Durga Khote and Shanta Apte, the two beautiful and successful stars of his earlier films. The Prabhat team used back-projection for the first time in this film, and the latest innovation of playback singers. Not only were the sets and drapery lavish and ornate, there was also a conscious attempt at achieving more than just telling a good story and telling it well. It was also one of the earliest films that took up cudgels on behalf of women. A wronged wife, rebelling against the different standards of morality for men and women, forms a group of other victims of similar injustice and becomes an outlaw. In keeping with the approach of the times, however, the woman outlaw becomes a dehumanized and bitter person,and is only redeemed through her natural and spontaneous love for a son who has never known her.

The strength of the theme, and the complicated background of intrigue and passion, are complemented by a conscious effort to make a a visually artistic and dramatic presentation. Amar Jyoti remains even today a stimulating cinematic experience.

Shantaram's concern with outdated social norms and their tragic effect on women expressed itself once again in Duniya Na Mane, made for Prabhat in 1937 in Hindi, and in Marathi under the title Kunku. The film deals with a problem that was very much alive in the society of the 30s. Not only was marriage the sacred duty and destiny of a woman, it was an act considered fulfilling in itself, so that often an old bridegroom was preferred to no bridegroom at all. In Duniya Na Mane, an old widower and father of grown-up children, marries a young woman much in the tradition of Parvati in Barua's Devdas. Yet unlike Parvati, Nirmala, the heroine of Shantaram's film, remains rebellious at what

she considers a social injustice. The old husband finally realizes his mistake, and as divorces were not possible at the time, takes the only way out to free his wife. The enigmatic conclusion of the film leaves the audience with another problem to contemplateƑin an orthodox society which does not allow widow remarriage, is it better to be a widow than a child-bride, tied to an old man? The most interesting aspect of Duniya Na Mane is its subtle characterization. The old man is not a villain. He has acted without questioning the customs of his society and is now faced with the tragic consequences of that act. Nirmala, who has rebelled from the moment she first set eyes on her old husband, which was, true to tradition, only during the wedding ceremony, is confused and disturbed by her husband's final generosity, when he tells her to wipe off the vermilion from her forehead. For it is the essential humanity of the old man that reaches out to the young woman who must reject him for the initial injustice he has done her by marrying her. His death frees her from him, and an unwanted marriage. In a letter he leaves behind, he advises her to remarry. But who knows what the future holds for her as a widow in a society full of obsolete customs?

Aadmi, made by Shantaram for Prabhat in 1939, again carried an implied criticism of traditional attitudes. A moving tale of the heroic struggle of a common prostitute to break the shackles of the evil environment within which she is condemned to live, it was again taking off from the point where Barua had left his golden hearted prostitute, Chandramukhi in Devdas. The sentimentalized characterization of Barua is left behind for a stronger, hardened and more realistic portrayal. Like Chandramukhi, Kesar is doomed to lose, but she fights to the last, valiantly.

Padosi, made in 1941, was a moving film on the traditional antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims. The protagonists are two old friends and neighbors, followers of the two different faiths, who must die together in a communal riot. The blowing up of the dam which forms the climax of the film, was a tour de force of technical ingenuity.

Shantaram left Prabhat in 1941 to create an independent production company, Rajkamal Kalamandir. In 1943 came Shakuntala, based on Kalidasa's famous play. The first film from India to be commercially released abroad, Shakuntala ran for two years in Bombay,and was highly successful with the Indian audience, though it could not make any impact on the foreign viewers.

The war years brought a large influx of population to the urban are as. This factor, along with economic inflation, led to increased returns at the box-office, and the film industry flourished. At the same time, machinery and raw stock were in short supply, and the government which controlled their allocation, gave priority to established producers, but clearly indicated its preference for films that aided the war effort. Politically, after Hitler invaded Russia, there was a sudden split among the Indian militants. Some remained in favor of continuing their struggle against the British Raj, while others were now agreeable to cooperation with the British and their allies against a common enemy. It was within this framework that Shantaram made Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani in 1946. The inspiration came from a rising young journalist Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. The National Congress had expressed its sympathy for the Chinese during their war with Japan by sending a medical mission to China. Of the seven Indian doctors, one had married a Chinese nurse and lost his life while on duty. Abbas had written a book about him, And One Did Not Come Back, and now offered the story to Shantaram. He also helped in writing the script. The film, made in English and Hindi, was picked up for art-theatre distribution by Mayer-Burstyn, a distributing company specializing in foreign films in the United States. Though it did not really manage to conquer the West, the film created a synthesis of divergent interests within the country. The Congress applauded it, so did the British. And because the story dealt with the Eighth Route Army of Mao Tse-tung, even the Communist Party was happy.

Shantaram continued to be highly successful even after the war. His dance extravaganza, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, made in 1955, was the first film in India to be produced in Technicolor. But the film that won him a great deal of critical acclaim was Do Aankhe Bara Haath, made in 1957, based on a true life story of a jailer whose method of reforming six dangerous criminals was revolutionary for the times. The film won a Silver Bear for its impressive treatment of a social problem in the Vll International Film Festival at Berlin. The Hollywood Press Association adjudged it the best foreign film for 1958.

With the coming of color, Shantaram continued to follow the trend set by his first color film, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. Most of his later films have been song and dance spectacles photographed in the gaudiest of colors, with young love as their central theme. He even produced the Shakuntala story once more, this time in color, and called it Stree. His love for elaborate sets and costumes that was evident in his earliest films, is no less evident in the later films. But spectacle and complicated dance sequences often overshadow the thematic content

as it never used to do before. In his long career, which spans almost the entire history of Indian cinema, Shantaram has made a vast number of films, in many of which he acted the main role. At a well preserved sixty, he acted the role of King Dushyant, the romantic hero, with great aplomb in his color version of the Shakuntala story. But it would not be amiss to point out here, that if he is remembered by posterity, it will be for his early films, where spectacle and socially relevant theme were blended with unique artistry. from [2]

detailed filmography [3]

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