The late Ganpatrao Tambat who worked as an actor in Dadasaheb's movies and was later recruited as an actor by Prabhat Film Company on Dadasaheb's recommendation and did important roles in Prabhat's movies, told me some stories about the movie Setubandhan. , For floating a new company, Dadasaheb called on Mayashankar Bhatt, a former partner of Hindusthan Film Company, and apprised him of his intention to form a new company under the name and style of 'Phalke Diamond Company'. Mayashankar Bhatt had no doubt about Dadasaheb's ability but everyone knew well that his ex¬penditure had no limits. Everyone also knew that the money was never spent on luxuries, that every paisa was spent solely on film production. Dadasaheb was firm, insistent, even obstinate in ensuring that his movies should be spec¬tacular, the atmosphere should be realistic. In view of all this, Mayashankar Bhatt agreed to provide a capital of Rs 50,000, but an important condition was that the movie must be completed within that amount. Dadasaheb accepted it and made preparations for producing a film on the Setubandhan story in the Ramayan. Dadasaheb brought about half a dozen well-built wres¬tlers from Wadi Bundar in Mumbai for the roles of giants and selected a big-bodied wrestler named Wagh from a gym¬nasium at Dadar for Maruti's role. (Later, Haribhau Lonari did this role.) He could not, however, get a suitable woman for the role of Sita. In the meantime, the shooting 6f differ¬ent sculptures at Humpi and other places near Madras was completed. Earlier, a good-looking young woman had called on Dadasaheb. She wanted to do the role of Sita. Dadasaheb too thought her suitable for the role. She, however, asked Dadasaheb, "If you give me Sita's role, will I get brocade sarees and lots of jewellery to wear?" Dadasaheb explained, "The Sita in my movie is staying in a jungle. She will wear rough clothes. How can Sita wear jewellery when living in a jungle?" Hearing this, the lady declined to do the role. Although ladies had started acting in films by that time, it was difficult to get a suitable female artiste for a particular role. The joke regarding the lady who came for Sita's role is yet to be told. She asked Phalke, "Will you give a role to my elder sister? She is cast in a big mould, can ride a horse, is an expert swimmer and climbs trees swiftly". Dadasaheb asked, "What role can I give to your sister?" She replied immedi¬ately, "What role? Maruti's wife's, of course! She will be quite fit for that role". Dadasaheb thumped his forehead in dis¬gust and sent her away saying, "Okay, I'll let you know." (Everybody knows that Maruti was a celibate.) On his way back from Madras, Dadasaheb had brought with him a young lady from Belgaum, named Malati, pass¬ably handsome, for the role of Sita. He was determined to make magnificent, artistic sets, appropriate to the period of Ramayan. He had planned to make the sets in the image of the temples and sculptures he had photographed in the south. The whole staff was busy erecting the sets. There was no system then for the staff to do only specific work. The work was going on at full blast. Something big was taking shape. Dadasaheb laboured hard and could scarcely get three or four hours of sleep. However, he lost sight of the fact that the whole show had to be accommodated within the given amount and the capital got exhausted while the movie was only half finished. Mayashankar Bhatt was not prepared to invest more capital. All activity came to a standstill. The work accomplished so far by boundless efforts was on the verge of being wiped out. Efforts to get more capital did not succeed. Workers' salaries slid into arrears. Once again, Phalke had to face a financial crisis. A year went by and there was no sign of the movie being completed. In Phalke Film Company, workers' sala¬ries remained unpaid over long periods, but Dadasaheb's co-workers then had such loyalty that they would not let the company shut down, come what may. Now, however, Dadasaheb found it difficult day by day to sustain the com¬pany and carry on the work with workers' dues in arrears. No solution was in sight. The workers started pressing him for their salary. He was fed up. Annoyed by their attitude, he placed the keys before them and said, "Take this com¬pany and its property in your possession. Sell it and recover your dues. I am ready to leave along with my family with only the clothes we have on. I do not see any other option". Thus we get an idea of how daunting and in what dif¬ferent ways this father of Indian Cinema had to suffer mis¬fortune. In these dire circumstances, it was the compassion¬ate Wamanrao alias Tatyasaheb Apte alone who came to Dadasaheb's rescue. Tatyasaheb was pleased to see the sets erected by Dadasaheb. Although Dadasaheb had left Hindusthan Film Company with the resolve never to return to it, he had no other way but to grasp the helping hand offered by Apte. Just as Apte stood behind Dadasaheb by letting bygones be bygones, Dadasaheb too was compelled to accept Apte's help by allowing the past to bury its dead. Accordingly, Apte took possession of Dadasaheb's studio near Balaji's chawl at Nashik and removed all the goods and effects to Hindusthan Film Company. Workers received their arrears of salary from the Company. Dadasaheb too became a partner of the Company again on some condi¬tions. It was decided to complete Setubandhan at Imperial Film Studio of Mumbai under the banner of Hindusthan Film Company. All staff and effects were transferred to Mumbai. When going to Mumbai, Dadasaheb took with him forty well-built youths appropriate for the roles of giants and monkeys. Ganpatrao Tambat was also among them. All of them were taken one day to the Imperial Studio for make¬up. Seeing this gang of ruffians wearing dhoti, shirt, coat and cap, the actors and staff of Imperial Studio started mak¬ing fun of them saying, 'From where have these ruffians come?' Nanasaheb Sarpotdar was at that time directing Im¬perial's movie Devki. Bhaurao Datar was doing an impor¬tant role in it. Dadasaheb had first brought Bhaurao Datar to the screen in his silent movie of 1924, Agryahoon Sutka, in the role of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Later, in the era of talkies too, he made a name in that role. He warned the Imperial Studio people, "Don't make fun of them. These men do not talk. They will knock you down with wrestling finesse, you understand?" The fun-seekers shut up. When the make-up and costumes were done, the whole studio personnel turned out to see the sculpted physique of this youthful gang. Since then everybody started addressing them as 'Brother'. Everything was in place and shooting was started, but Dadasaheb's string of misfortunes continued unbroken. Af¬ter about six days' shooting, an actress named Iqbal, doing the role of Mandodari, requested Dadasaheb to allow her to go to Calcutta, promising to return after completing about three days' shooting of another movie there, so that that movie could be completed. Dadasaheb thought that in her absence he would shoot a few scenes in which she did not figure and so gave her permission to go. however, turn up even after two months. If she were to be replaced by another actress, the shooting already done would have to be cancelled and the sets re-erected, which would have been a very costly affair. Letters and telegrams were sent to her, which received no response. About a week after Iqbal left, waiting for her return continued from day to day. The gymnasts' gang of forty con¬tinued camping in Mumbai. If Iqbal did return, they should be at hand; so they could not be sent back. Their dally rou¬tine included exercise in the morning and evening, full com¬plement of nutritious diet and two delicious meals at Arya Pathikashram. Besides, as they had nothing to do, they put on weight and looked like real titans. The huge expenditure on them had inevitably to be borne. After Iqbal's return, shooting started again. A few mem¬oirs of Dadasaheb about this movie have been published. It had been decided to reach the location at Pandav Leni at ex¬actly 5 a.m. for outdoor shooting. Dadasaheb, as was his wont, reached there exactly on time. However, the car bring¬ing the artistes arrived about twenty minutes late for some reason. Dadasaheb lost his mood, cancelled the day's shoot¬ing and sent the vehicle back. Babanrao Suryawanshi did the role of Angad. In one scene, he had to jump irom a tree. He did not even know how to climb a tree, but he could not say 'no' to Dadasaheb. He somehow climbed the tree with the help of others. In order to avoid injury tojhim, a net had been spread below the tree so as not to appear within the frame of the camera. Even so Suryawanshi was afraid, of jumping from such a height. When the camera started he jumped, but first closed his eyes due to fear. Actually, due to the speed of falling, the audience would not have noticed it, but it did not escape Dadasaheb's eye. Supposing some alert viewer notices it? In Dadasaheb's view, the person would think that it did not behove a brave Angad to be afraid while Jumping. He decided, therefore, to repeat the shot. The photographer and others said that nobody would notice it, but Dadasaheb did not agree. Suryawanshi was again put up on the tree. This time he was very particular to keep his eyes open and the shot was okayed. This instance shows that Dadasaheb never okayed a shot unless he was completely satisfied. He was very particular that there should not be the slightest mis¬take. Some outdoor shooting for Setubandhan was to be done at the seashore at Ratnagiri. Very good quality fish could be had there cheap. The company's meals were purely veg¬etarian. So non-vegetarians collected money by subscrip¬tion and cooked their food in a corner. As Dadasaheb was strictly vegetarian, the non-vegetarians sat down for the meal separately, thinking he would not like to eat with them. Dadasaheb did not like this segregation at all. Although he was very strict at other times, lie had his meals with all of them. When he saw the segregation, he frankly said, "I have no objection to your eating fish, but I am opposed to your segregation. If you eat fish sitting with me, the fish bones will not prick me, nor will my religion be defiled. Don't be so foolish again. Come on, join me". Thereafter so long as the shooting went on, all had their meal together. Dadasaheb did not observe the caste system. The company's staff in¬cluded people from different castes. If Dadasaheb lost tem¬per with anyone, he would forget it after a little while. Those who knew this, did not take his tongue-lashing seriously, no matter how severely he chastised them.
Setubandhan showed that Dadasaheb's creativity and skill in regard to trick photography was extraordinary. In that movie a giant's head is severed from the body and reattaches itself to the body by weird powers. The audiences of those times were astounded, seeing it. In Imperial Studios Dadasaheb had to shoot the scene of a waterfall. He asked for a lot of sand and some heaters.
Seeing the fuss and fluster, the people in the studio joked, 'The old man has lost his mind'. No one could imagine what he was going to do with all the sand and the heaters. Dadasaheb, by skilfully throwing the sand constantly on the artificial waterfall in the studio, created spray as in a real waterfall and with the heaters he created the sound ef¬fect. Seeing this scene on the screen, everyone was dumb¬struck. Dadasaheb had made the artificial waterfall real. In the filming of Setubandhan and, later, Gangavataran, Dadasaheb's son Babarai proved his merit. Dadasaheb felt certain that Babarai would carry forward his tradition. He had that mental satisfaction and wrote an article in Mouj praising Babarai's prowess. But fortune frowned. Dadasaheb did not have this pleasure for long. Death swooped on Babarai prematurely and the Phalke family was subjected to another fatal blow. Mention must be made of Dadasaheb's one more trick scene in Setubandhan, which shows his artistic perspective for true representation. He had made artificial stones of card¬board moulds that floated on water and appeared real on the screen. As the scene was shot imaginatively from a par¬ticular angle, the monkey-army appeared to be crossing the sea over them right into the horizon. In order to make the scene realistic, Dadasaheb did much of the shooting at Rameshwar. Setubandhan had taken two years to complete. By that time, the era of talkies had opened in India by the screening (14th March 1931) of Imperial's Hindi talkie Alam Ara. In a year's time, Ayodhyecha Raja of the foremost Prabhat Film Company and, incidentally, the first talkie in Marathi, was screened (6th February 1932). A week earlier, its Hindi version had been screened. This first talkie of Prabhat was making waves all over India. Sensing that silent movies had now no future and in view of the fact that the fifteen-year agreement with Dadasaheb was coming to an end, Wamanrao Apte decided to dissolve the company. Not only did he pay the workers' salaries to the last paisa, but also gave them a bonus equal to an year's salary and retired hon¬ourably from the cinema industry. A large-hearted director of a film company like him will not be born again. As Setubandhan was a silent movie, it was difficult to get a theatre to screen it as the talkies had captured all the theatres. What next, was a big question. Hindusthan Film Company was closed but, like other members of the staff, Dadasaheb too had received full month's salary plus a year's salary as bonus. Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Film Company suggested a way-out by adding sound to Setubandhan in his studio. Dadasaheb acted on it. It cost forty thousand more. Dadasaheb Phalke was thus also the first to dub a movie. However, this movie was dubbed in Hindi. It was 1934 when Setubandhan was screened, that is, it took three long years. It could not survive the competition of other movies and the huge expenditure incurred on it was a loss. Dadasaheb was again overtaken by financial problems. Thereafter Dadasaheb experimented with enamelling and ceramics. His products were awarded jrrizes by the princely state of Aundh and at the Industrial Exhibition in Mumbai. Although the expenditure on Setubandhan was sev¬enty-five thousand rupees, much of it was recouped by the screening of the silent movie in the south in 1932. However, due to the loss of two years in adding sound to it, the ex¬penditure incurred on the addition was a burden on Dadasaheb due to the failure of the movie at the box office.
excerpted from Bapu Vatve's Dadasaheb Phalke, published by National Book Trust
1932 ‘Setu Bandhan’, a silent film, does not do well.
With the dawn of the Talkies, trademarks come alive. MGM’s lion roars. Pathe’s rooster starts crowing.