Today's the 108th birth anniversary of filmmaker V Shantaram. Born as Rajaram Vankurde Shantaram in 1901, the renowned producer-director-actor is most known for his films like Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946), Amar Bhoopali (1951), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje (1955), Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957) and Navrang (1959), to the path breaking Duniya Na Mane (1937) and Pinjara (1973).
Who hasn't been moved by Ai malik tere bande hum in Do Ankhen Barah Haath? And who can forget the sinuous, gravity-defying dances of Sandhya in Navrang and Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje? And Aadmi, the remake of what is arguably his finest film, Manoos, where he used nights and shadows to enhance the narration, a pioneering technique at the time.
Technique played a big part in Shantaram's films and he was one of the earliest filmmakers to realise the potential of the medium as an instrument of social comment. Among the firsts to his credit are the first children's film (Ranisahiba, 1930), first use of the trolley (Chandrasena, 1931), first colour film (Sairandhri, 1933), first to use telephoto lens (Amrit Manthan, 1934), first to use animation (Jambukaka, 1935), first to use back projection (Amar Jyoti, 1936), and the first films to be shown abroad were his (Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani and Shakuntala).
It is not bad for someone who had no formal education and started his career at 12 as an apprentice in a railway workshop and then as a curtain puller at the legendary Bal Gandharva's Gandharva Natak Mandali. His first brush with cinema was with Baburao Painter's Maharashtra Film Company. It was Baburao who taught him the basics and cast him in his
(1925) as a young farmer.
A couple of years later, Shantaram had picked up enough to direct his first film,
. He then moved on to found the Prabhat Film Company along with VG Damle, KR Dhaiber, S Fatelal and SB Kulkarni. Initially, Shantaram, like his mentor Baburao, stuck to lumbering mythological and historical sagas. However, a visit to Germany opened his cinematic eye and he came up with
(1934). The film had a Buddhist theme and its most famous shot was a close-up of a priest's right eye, something that staggered audiences back then. It was at Prabhat that Shantaram made three of his most famous films –
Duniya Na Maane
in Hindi) in 1937,
in Hindi, 1939) and
in Hindi, 1941).
After this trilogy, Shantaram left Prabhat to found Rajkamal Studios in 1942, which became one of most sophisticated studios of the country. His maiden venture was Shakuntala which was screened at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1947. Then came Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, a strange but true story of a patriotic doctor; a cult Marathi film Amar Bhoopali; and Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, a technicolour confection that lurches from one melodramatic scene to another.
Two years later, in 1957, came Do Ankhen Barah Haath and Shantaram was on familiar ground, returning to his pet social concerns. His characteristic imagery and imaginative use of black-and-white photography, apart from the story of a courageous jailor who reforms a bunch of convicts, won the film the President's Gold Medal for the Best Feature Film, the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the Samuel Goldwyn Award for the Best Foreign Film.
From sublime to the ridiculous was Navrang, his next film. Critics trashed the kitschy and convoluted tale, but audiences loved it. His last significant film was Pinjara, based on Josef von Sternberg's 1930 classic, The Blue Angel. His last film was Jhanjaar, in 1986. It bombed, spelling an end to a career that had spanned nearly seven decades.
V Shantaram passed away on October 30, 1990 in Mumbai. He was awarded the Indian film industry's highest award, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, in 1985 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1992. He married thrice. His first marriage was with Vimla, his second marriage was to the actress Jayashree, with whom he had two children incluidng actress Rajshree whom he launched in the film Geet Gaya Patharon Ne. His third wife was actress, Sandhya who was his co-star in Do Aankhen Barah Haath as well as the leading lady in his films like Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje and Navrang. His daughter from third marriage Madhura Pandit is married to classical singer, Pandit Jasraj.
With inputs from News Tomorrow