The year was 1937. A few months after V Shantaram released the Shanta Apte-Keshavrao Date film Duniya Na Maane, which talks about a young orphan girl forced to marry an old, rich lawyer, two incidents puzzled him.
To begin with, the president of the Hindi Propagation Society in South India came to meet him in Pune, just to thank him because after seeing his movies, people in the south wanted to learn Hindi. Secondly, a gentleman who had come from Guntur, now in Andhra Pradesh, refused to believe someone who so effectively depicted the conflicting emotions of an old man, was himself quite young. The filmmaker was only 36 then, and both the Hindi version and its Marathi equivalent Kunku were hailed as thought-provoking and powerful.
Movie of Shakuntam by V shantaram in Actress Sandhya. (HT Photo)
The biography V Shantaram: The Man Who Changed Indian Cinema, written by his daughter Madhura Pandit Jasraj, captivates readers not only with such anecdotes, but also by details about the subjects he chose, his technique, his passion for cinema and even his personal life. Born Shantaram Rajaram Vankudre in Kolhapur on November 18, 1901, Shantaram is best known for movies like Shakuntala, Apna Desh, Dahej, Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, Navrang and Pinjra, besides the first Marathi talkie Ayodhyecha Raja and films inspired by saint scholars Sant Eknath, Sant Tukaram and Sant Dhyaneshwar. In 1955, veteran editor and author PK Atre gave him the title Chitrapati (King of Cinema), a name that stuck till the end.
Through 34 chapters, Jasraj traces the life of the legendary filmmaker, from his early days in Kolhapur, his family's temporary shift to Hubli, his short period with the Gandharva Natak Mandali and his association with the Maharashtra Film Company up to his most successful directorial period with Prabhat Film Company and Rajkamal Kala Mandir.
One of the early lessons he learnt was during the making of Baburao Painter's 1921 silent movie Surekha Haran. Painter had already edited some parts, and entrusted Shantaram with the rest. However, it was obvious that something had gone awfully wrong. Observing the director re-work the film, Shantaram realised the importance of editing to a film's final outcome.
V Shantaram: The Man Who Changed Indian Cinema; Madhura Pandit Jasraj; Hay House India (Rs 699; PP328)
One of the book's most touching chapters talks about Shantaram's first meeting with Dadasaheb Phalke, maker of India's first full-length feature film Raja Harishchandra. It was, in fact, Phalke who sent across a message to Shantaram to meet him. The younger filmmaker was shocked to find the great man lying on a tattered mattress, in a house that had an air of extreme poverty. Phalke said he needed money for his medical and household expenses, and asked whether Shantaram could loan some amount till he got better. From then on, a fixed sum was sent every month.
A Scene from the film Aasdi to be screened at a retrospective of V Shantaram's films at New Delhi. (HT Photo)
Shantaram married three times - first to Vimal, and then to actors Jayashree and Sandhya. Though he initially worked a lot with Durga Khote and Shanta Apte, he gave. Jayashree some very prominent roles after they got married in 1941. In the iconic 1946 film Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Shantaram decided to play the main role after noticing, while shaving, his resemblance to Dr Kotnis. The Chinese nurse who marries the doctor was played by Jayashree, who was transformed by the make-up artiste to look the part. When Jayashree fell ill, Shantaram had to find another heroine, and thus discovered Sandhya, whose real name was Vijaya. He directed her in the landmark 1955 film Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, also starring Gopi Krishna. After problems with Jayashree led to divorce, he married Sandhya.
Daughter Of V Shantaram (HT Photo)
In 1957, Do Aankhen Barah Haath became a classic. Its hit Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum, composed by Vasant Desai, written by Bharat Vyas and sung by Lata Mangeshkar, was adopted by many educational institutions and prisons as their prayer song.
With numerous nuggets of information, Jasraj brings Shantaram's magic back to life. She also explains the various techniques he popularised, like the single shot sequence in Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani and the use of 'jump cuts' in Dahej, the 1950 release starring Prithviraj Kapoor, Jayashree and Lalita Pawar.
V Shantaram passed away on October 30, 1990. Indeed, he was a true inspiration for scores of filmmakers and those wanting to enter the field. The legacy lives on.
Narendra Kusnur is a music critic who lives in Mumbai.