Sant Dnyaneshwar – 1940
Prabhat’s devotional films of the Thirties were as notable for their brave, progressive thought and reformist zeal as its audacious and rebellious social pictures directed by V. Shantaram.
If the socials fulminated against the evils of an order established over centuries and gave the call for changing with the times, the saint-stories served the same purpose in a still greater and braver way by attacking religious orthodoxy and hypocrisy, challenging the caste oligarchy of the Brahmins and showing the path for a new, simplified and practical form of religious belief and worship for all.
In this task, Prabhat sought inspiration from the great saints of Maharashtra who in earlier centuries had fought for these very causes, and whose humanistic teachings are equally necessary to be spread in the present age.
Prabhat rendered this great service of carrying the wise words and verses of these saints written works to the masses – not only to the Marathi audiences, but also to all of India. A fine example of this is ‘Sant Dnyaneshwar’ (1940), made in Hindi and Marathi, directed by V Damle and S Fatehlal from paperwork by Shivram Washiker.
The film was made so sincerely and movingly that it is still aglow with the lustre of honest art and draws audiences like a magnet. Without melodrama or overacting, it shows the moving struggle of four innocent young ones to rid themselves of the stigma of sacrilege, which their father had committed by returning to family life after having once taken ‘sanyaas.’ The poor orphans fight for their rights, but even sympathetic religious chiefs cannot find a solution for it in all the holy books.
It is then that the Almighty makes himself manifest through the enlightenment which the second son Dnyan gets. It is God’s will expressed through him for breaking the rigours of orthodox religion and spreading the message of Bhagwad Gita in a simple form. The miracles only occur sparsely when this ‘will’ has to be asserted against stiff dogmatic opposition.
The little Dnyaneshwar, to prove his doctrine of equality, makes a buffalo chant the Vedas. The grown-up saint has a big following but is still opposed by extremists and fanatics. They too are won over when Dnyan remains untouched by a raging fire and when he makes a wall ﬂy. His work being accomplished, he takes ‘samadhi’ at the young age of twenty-one.
The inspired casting of the actors and their outstanding rendering also makes the film memorable. The most appealing among are the boy Yashwant as the young Dnyan and Shahu Modak as the grown-up. Interesting from a historical viewpoint are the appearances of Datta Dharmadhilrari as the younger brother, Manju (Mrs. Karan Dewan) as the little devotee, Sumati Gupte (Mrs. Vasant Joglekar) as the grown-up one and Vasant Desai (the music-director) as a good villager.
With music by K Bhole, V. Avdhut’s photography still retains a brilliant quality and the trick shots were superbly executed by Prahlad Dutt. It was the first Indian film screened in USA. “American Cinematograph” carried a review in its October,1941 issue and praised trick photography of the film.
Here is the full film with English subtitles for your viewing pleasure.