V Shantaram – The Eternal Conflict
As a special presentation on the doyen director V Shantaram’s birthday today (18-Nov), we reproduce an article written by him in January 1956 for Filmfare. Personalizing the age-old conflict of art and commerce in cinema the world over, he cites anecdotes from his experience of donning the two hats on one head and the frustration of deciding what was best for the final product – the film.
There is an adage which says that every man has two minds and that they are eternally engaged in conflict. With different people, these minds assume different forms. In my own case, they are influenced by the double role I play in my profession – director and producer. The director in me is always in conflict with the producer and for more than twenty-five years, this conflict continues.
It springs from the very nature of film making. For making films is not a single-track effort. In it combine two forces always at conflict – art and industry. Art in my case is represented by the director, the industry by the producer.
As a director, I have always been eager to break conventions, to experiment with new ideas, to achieve perfection in art regardless of its cost. Once I am on the sets, I am not satisfied with anything less than the best. It happens so many times that I shout at the production department people for not getting the things I want. I forget then that I am also the producer and have to provide them with the money to buy the things which I want as a director. Funnily, in the evening after the shooting is over, my staff reminds me I had told them not to buy the things.
The producer in me is a practical man. He requires the director to make a successful picture and yet not entail heavy cost. The producer in me is naturally frightened when the director in me becomes interested in new ideas and begins to make a film which, traditionally, has little commercial appeal.
And so it goes from the moment the story is conceived until the picture is released.
This conflict is as old as ‘Gopal Krishna’ (1929) my first silent picture when I had partners but a major clash came in 1930, when I made ‘Swarajya-Toran’ (The Flags of Freedom). The film depicted some episodes from the life of Shivaji, which had a parallel to the national movement of those times. The director in me got the better of the producer and I made the picture only to find it banned, then blamed the director in me for rash indulgence in sentiment.
There was, in consequence, a compromise and the film was toned down for the censors so that it could be released and the expenses of its production recouped. So ‘Swarajya – Toran’ became “Uday Kal’ (1930, The Thunder or the Hills), did well and the producers ego was restored.
When the talkies arrived, we shifted Prabhat from Kolhapur to Poona and produced ‘Amrit Manthan’ (1934). This was the picture in which I tried to make what l believed would be the first motion picture of the industry’s talkie era.
The Indian talkie was static. Like a stage play it was all about talk. In attempting a departure from stage technique, I, as the director of the picture, thought of many innovations including extra large close-up of the villain’s eye. This close-up required special lenses, while the picture entailed considerable cost. The director in me was all for the experiment; the producer in me uttered warnings. It was only when the director assured the producer that the experiment would bear good results that the latter yielded. (Note: This film was the first Silver jubilee of Indian cinema).
I don’t like to make the same type of picture twice, so it’s always new themes and treatments. Which is why, when people tell me that I will not be able to make another ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje’ (1955), I am tempted to tell them that I don’t intend to.
This is probably another reason for the constant conflict between the producer and the director in me. When I signed a partnership deal with Balgandharva, the famous stage artist who played female roles, and decided to make a film biography of the Saint Eknath, using the theme of untouchability which was topical (Gandhiji had undertaken his memorable fast as a protest against the separate electorate for the scheduled castes), and putting Balgandharva in the title role, little did I realise how much these decisions would bother me.
While making the picture, the producer in me felt worried because I had cast Balgandharva in a male role and chosen a controversial subject which would antagonize orthodox Hindus and keep them away from the box office. The Bombay Censors made the business more difficult by refusing to give it a certificate. They also objected to the title ‘Mahatma.’
Producer Shantaram, who had to safeguard the interests of his partner, hated director Shantaram for inviting this trouble. Changes were made and the title altered to ‘Dharmatma’ (1935). Fortunately, the theme proved popular and even the orthodox Hindus liked the picture.
There was also an occasion when the director in me had to accept a challenge from producer Shantaram and his partners in the Prabhat Film Company over the casting in ‘Sant Tukaram’ (1936).
While I was editing ‘Amar Jyoti’ (1936), Damle and Fatehlal, who were to direct ‘Tukaram,’ were taking screen tests for the principal role. To me, Vishnupant Pagnis appeared to me to be the right person for the role. At my suggestion, he was selected and the rehearsals began. But after a fortnight Damle and Fatehlal felt that my choice was not appropriate. Pagnis, accustomed to playing female roles on the stage, could not overcome his feminine mannerisms. When I saw this at the rehearsals, I knew they were right. But the director in me would not accept defeat.
I took up the challenge and put Pagnis through some gruelling rehearsals. There was a time when Pagnis, himself, too, felt that he could not do the role, but as the rehearsals went on he gained confidence. On the day of reckoning, it paid off as Pagnis came to the rehearsals bursting with confidence and nailed it.
When I decided to make my first social ‘Duniya Na Mane’ (1937) based on a novel in Marathi, I wanted to make it grounded in reality and not just another love-story dressed as a social. So all the romance in the original story, was excluded from the screenplay.
The director in me exulted, though the producer thought it was foolish to eschew romance and jeopardise the film’s chances. During the making of the film, this perplexing question posed itself to me often.
The same problem again arose in ‘Aadmi’ (1939). After release, the critics chided me for not ending on a happy note by marrying Kesar to the policeman. Others blamed me for not glorifying frustrated love and giving the filmgoer stark tragedy.
Both such developments of the story were considered by me during the making of the picture and, had I compromised with myself, the producer in me would perhaps have been momentarily satisfied but the very purpose of the film would have been defeated.
Similarly, when I decided on ‘Shakuntala’ (1943) as my first independent production for Rajkamal, the conflict arose in a sharp manner.
The subject had been brought to the screen twice before and failed. There was no point in bringing a ‘ﬂop’ to the screen again.
The director believed that the subject had great artistic possibilities as it presented Kalidas’s meek Shakuntala as a militant heroine in the last portion of the story. Would it be right to make this departure from the classic and stake my reputation on a story which had flopped twice?
These were questions continued to agitate me throughout the making of the film. But Rajkamal’s ‘Shakuntala’ was a success and I was able to tell Shantaram the producer to hold his peace. (Note: This film ran for two years at Swastik Cinema in Bombay).
After this I continued to experiment without interruption from him, made the symbolic film ‘Parbat pe Apna Dera’ (1944). Later I donned the actor’s mantle in ‘Dr. Kotnis’ (1946) and in ‘Parchhainyan’ (1952) and the conflict became triangular. At war within me were artist, director and producer. But, in all these conflicts, it was mostly the director in me who now had the upper hand.
Whenever Shantaram the producer questioned things, the director in me retorted that he had no business to doubt me, since so far I had not incurred any losses. Even ‘Surang’ (1953) and ‘Subah Ka Tara’ (1954) earned their cost and more.
The conflict, however, reached its peak during the making of ‘Jhalak Jhanak Payal Baaje’. The idea of making a Technicolor production at a time when color pictures were failing seemed unsound. On top of it, my insistence upon having my own technicians, music-director and unknown stars further reduced box office chances for the film.
Other producer friends urged me to take known stars and a popular music-director. The stakes were high and the producer and director in me argued long and earnestly with each other. But, because of his experience and reputation Shantaram the director won and the result is now before you.
The producer in me should at last be satisfied backing up his director. He spared nothing to make the picture the phenomenal success it became and has every reason to be happy and satisfied. It is a never-ending conflict which is inevitable. I sometimes feel that I should not shoulder the double burden but I know I would not have been able to make films of so many diverse kinds had it not been so. No other producer would have given me the opportunities and freedom I have enjoyed.
As other creative artists, I occasionally feel oppressed by practical business considerations and even wish that the industry were nationalized so that, like a true artist, I can go on making pictures without feeling I also have a producer’s responsibilities to myself.
But even a State producer will not give me the latitude I receive from the producer in me and despite the never ending conflict, I am happy to be both a producer and a director.