Pandurang Naik – History’s Witness
It is a well-known fact that the vast and buzzing complex that the Indian film industry is today, was conceived and nurtured 100 years ago by Dadasaheb Phalke and a handful of other pioneers. What is little known is the fact that one of these intrepid beginners was still very active in the film industry till the sixties.
That man was cinematographer Pandurang Naik, who was on the scene for 48 years – no mean achievement in the film industry. Sturdily built, of an imposing stature, he photographed countless stars and cranked the camera for more pictures than any of our cinematographers.
Naik completed work on Producer Devendra Goel’s ‘Door Ki Awaaz’ in 1964, a far cry from ‘Neera,’ the first picture he independently photographed in 1926.
“Was the transition difficult?” “No,” he said, “I changed with the times; experience has been my teacher.”
He began ‘learning’ while still in his early teens, in the Goan village of Mardod where he was born at the turn of the century: 1899. His teachers were two still photographers who worked there. They regarded him more as an odd job boy than a student but he was happy to do all the chores as long as they allowed him to watch what was happening.
But progress was slow and time was running out: the family was very poor and everyone had to work for a living. At school he had dreamed of learning painting and drawing; but his father died in 1913 and both school and dreams had to be given up.
In 1916, Pandurang Naik read an advertisement in a local paper, asking for workers for a film company which a man called Dadasaheb Phalke had set up in Nasik. Immediately, Pandurang left home and without informing anyone in the family went to Nasik where he presented himself to Dadasaheb who refused to take him on, “You have come without writing to me, with no references; and I already have too many raw hands.”
The aspiring photographer, disappointed, began to look for other employment; he started working for a zariwalla called Bhaiya who worked for Phalke’s company. One day Pandurang made some beautiful paper flowers for Bhaiya and he was impressed, “Why don’t you join our company?” he asked. He recommended him to Dadasaheb who changed his mind and took him on.
“I stayed with Dadasaheb’s company for six months,” Naik recalled, “and it was there that I really learnt my job.” He also learnt a number of other things: carpentry, make-up, set decoration and even acting. A pioneer at heart, Naik realized that at almost every step, innovations and new ideas had to be tried out to get the work done better, faster and more artistically with the meagre technical resources at their disposal. He found himself constantly experimenting and a number of techniques he adopted contributed greatly to the improvement of film making in India in its early stages.
“There were no meters or electrical lighting,” Naik recalled, “The photographer had to depend entirely on his judgment for composition, framing and light and shade effects. The studios were open to the sky or had glass roofs or skylights. Shooting was done by sunlight and two large reflectors were the only other lighting aid.”
Naik’s series of historic associations had already begun with his apprenticeship under Phalke. There was one that had begun even earlier: his friendship with Dinanath Mangeshkar who lived in a village bordering on Mardod. In 1917, Naik arrived in Bombay and joined Patankar Friends Films Company, then moved on to the Kohinoor Film Company where he worked for nearly five years as an assistant cameraman under V. B. Joshi, Dattatreya Dabke and Gajananrao Devare.
In 1926, he joined Laxmi Studios where he made his first independent silent film ‘Neera.’ In 1929, he joined Chandulal Shah at Jagdish Studios and went with him when he and Goharbai formed their own company, Ranjit Studios. With Mr. Shah he made among other films, ‘Vishwamohini,’ ‘Chandramukhi,’ ‘Grahalakshmi,’ ‘Pati Patni’ and ‘Devi Devyani.’ His last picture with him was ‘Gun Sundari.’
“Generally,” Naik said, “we learnt the new techniques by watching Hollywood movies. One day Mr. Shah went to see the original version of ‘Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde’ starring Frederic March. He was very impressed by a shot showing a swing moving to and fro, almost coming on to the audience with a three-dimensional effect.”
Mr. Shah, who had asked Naik to go and see the picture, asked him if he could imitate that shot for his film ‘Chandramukhi’. Naik said he would. The next few days he spent feverishly trying to think of a solution. Finally he hit on an ingenious idea. He attached a plank to the swing, fixed his camera on it supported by ropes hanging from the ceiling. The result was that when the swing moved, the camera moved with it and Naik got the desired effect. Later people asked him if he had used a crane to get the shot.
Parting company with Chandulal Shah in 1933, Naik joined the Imperial Studios where be photographed ‘Indira M. A.’ starring Sulochana. Naik considers this one of his best pictures and says that in those days it compared favourably with Hollywood movies in technical excellence. “Besides,” he reminisced, “Sulochana (Ruby Myers) looked beautiful and was a joy to photograph.”
When Naik came to Imperial, electrical lighting had just been introduced but confusion prevailed as to its utility. The technicians there used to mix sunlight and electrical lighting with the result that the pictures looked hazy and even produced a ‘rainbow’ effect. The first thing Naik did was to have the glass roofs tarred so that daylight did not filter through. That improved matters. He also introduced side lighting, top lighting (the lights were tied with ropes rotating on a bar and were lifted when required) and light-and-shade photography.
In 1933. Naik, together with director Nandlal Jaswantlal and recordist Jamnadas Subhedar went on a study tour of the Continent, which Naik says helped them greatly. On his return from Europe, he joined Master Vinayak and Baburao Pendharkar to form the Huns Pictures Company in Kolhapur.
Here they produced about ten pictures all of which Naik photographed. Several films were successful among which mention must be made of ‘Brahmachari,’ ‘Brandy ki Botal,’ ‘Dharmavir’ and ‘Chhaya.’
Due to a general lack of business acumen, the company did not prosper and was dissolved.
Naik then drifted from the Navyug Film Company to New Huns Pictures and finally landed at Prabhat Film Company. Here he photographed two memorable films, ‘Ram Shastri’ and ‘Lakha Rani.’
During the next few years he made films for Baburao Pai at the Famous Studios, for Vishram Bedekar, for the late film actor Gope, for K. Amarnath and finally worked with Devendra Goel for whom he made ‘Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan’ and ‘Pyar Ka Sagar.’ He also photographed Phani Majumdar’s ‘Aarti’.
Naik still fondly recalls some of his earlier pictures like ‘Ardhangi,’ ‘Pardesi Pritam,’ ‘Damaji,’ ‘Pagdi’ and ‘Amrit’ which drew high praise from director Debaki Bose.
Throughout his long career, realism has been the keynote of Naik’s photography. Like some other veteran cinematographers, Naik has unconsciously gathered around him a ‘school’ of photography and ‘students’ who included cinematographers Surendra Pai, Saju Naik. Anant Kadam, Jamshed Irani and his star pupil V. Babasaheb (who photographed ‘Gunga Jumna’) of whom he was very proud.
Naik has stopped actually operating the camera when during the shooting of ‘Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan,’ he hurt his finger and had to ask his assistants, Shridhar Naik and Ratnakar Lad to do the operating – they did so well that it became a permanent arrangement.
He was often asked why he does not write a book or note down all the experiences of his life with the cinema. Naik’s answer was characteristic, “It all happened so long ago that I have forgotten many things; besides I am not a writer. I am a cameraman; my films are my story.”
Pandurang Naik’s date of death is not currently known to us.