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The Eternal Conflict – by Producer-director V. Shantaram


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 has gone on and continues even today.

This conflict springs from the very nature of film making. For making films is not a single-track effort. In it combine two forces always at conflicts–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. And so, in the evening after the shooting is over, persons from my staff come and remind me of the fact that I had told them not to buy the things. At such times, I am compelled to remember the conflict between director and producer in me.

The producer in me is a practical man. He requires the director to make pictures which will be box-office successes 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 box-office appeal.

And so the conflict goes on, from the moment the story is conceived until the picture is released and has done well at the box-office.

This conflict is as old as “Gopal Krishna,” my first silent picture. I was then not alone as producer of the picture. I had partners and a major clash in me came in 1930, when I made a historical titled “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 in me, and I made the picture only to find it banned.

The producer in me then blamed the director in me for rash indulgence in sentiment, and 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” (The Thunder of the Hills) and was released. It did well at the box-office and the producer in me was happy that the picture did not fail.

Later, when the talkies arrived and we shifted our headquarters from Kolhapur to Poona, we decided to produce “Amrit Manthan”. This was the picture in which I tried to make what I believed would be the first motion picture of the industry’s talkie era.

The Indian talkie was static. It was much like a stage play, with just talk, talk and more talk between the artistes. In attempting to make a departure from the 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 at the box-office that the latter yielded.

And, though as a director I had never given the producer in me cause to worry (for all my pictures have recovered their cost), every new picture has meant a conflict of two personalities.

It may, perhaps, be because I am one of those directors who do not like to make the same type of picture twice and is always out for new themes and treatments, which is also the reason why, when people tell me that I will not be able to make another “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje,” I am tempted to tell them that I would not make another picture like it. I would make a picture altogether different in the handling of color.

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 then 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 realize 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 had chosen a controversial subject which would antagonise orthodox Hindus and keep them away from the box-office.

The Bombay Censors made the business more difficult by refusing to certify the film. They also objected to the title “Mahatma.” Shantaram the producer, who had also to safeguard the interests of Balgandharva, his partner, rated Shantaram the director for inviting all this trouble. I had therefore to make changes in the picture and alter the title to “Dharmatma” and, happily for Shantaram the director, the theme proved popular and even the orthodox Hindus liked the picture.

Still, he forced the producer Shantaram to break off his deal with Balgandharva when the latter insisted on playing female roles, which Shantaram the director refused to allow at any cost.

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 “Tukaram.”

Photo CaptionIn spite of his feminine mannerisms in acting Vishnupant Pagnis was selected for the role of Tukaram, at the suggestion of Shantaram who proved prophetic.

While I was editing “Amar Jyoti,” Damle and Fatehlal, who were to direct “Tukaram,” were taking screen tests for the film’s principal role. One of the persons tested was Vishnupant Pagnis, who 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 happy. Pagnis, accustomed to playing female roles on the stage, could not overcome his feminine mannerisms and, 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. One evening I told Pagnis that he would pass the test one hundred per cent the next day. The following morning, Pagnis came to the rehearsals bursting with confidence. He almost came up to expectations and I told him he was one hundred and twenty-five per cent good!

Till then I had made no social picture. So, when I decided to make “Duniya Na Mane,” based on a novel in Marathi, I wanted to make it a real social picture, not just another love-story dressed as a social. So I deleted in the film version whatever of “romance” there was in the story original.

The director in me exulted, though the producer thought it was foolish to eschew romance and jeopardize the film’s chances at the box-office. During the making of the film, this perplexing question posed itself to me often.

Photo CaptionShanta Hublikar who portrayed the role of a singing girl in “Admi.” There was divided opinion about the ending of the film.

The same problem again arose in ‘`Aadmi.

Even after its 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 satisfied. But it would have been only for the moment, for the very purpose for which I was making the film would have been defeated.

Similarly, when I decided on “Shakuntala” as my first independent production for Rajkamal, the conflict arose in a sharp manner. “Shakuntala” had been brought to the screen twice before and had been a failure both times. There was no point in bringing a “flop” to the screen again.

But the director in me believed that the subject had great artistic possibilities, if I 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? Would it be worthwhile to stake my reputation on a story which had flopped twice? These were questions posed Shantaram the producer by Shantaram the director and they 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. After this I continued to experiment without interruption from him, made the symbolic film “Parbatpe Apna Dera” and later donned the actor’s mantle in “Dr. Kotnis.”

Photo CaptionIn “Parchhain” Shantaram for the second time donned the actor’s mantle and was teamed with Jayshree. The artist, director and producer in Shantaram were at war with one another in the picture..

In “Dr. Kotnis,” and also in “Parchhain,” 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 made pictures which had run him into losses. Even “Surang” and “Subah Ka Tara” earned their cost and more.

The conflict, however, reached its peak during the making of “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje”. Shantaram the producer was skeptical about so many things. The idea of making a Technicolor production at a time when color pictures were failing seemed unsound. On top of it, my insistance upon having my own technicians, music-director and unknown stars further reduced box-office chances for the film.

Not only Shantaram the producer but also producer friends of his urged him 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 at the box-office and he has every reason to be happy and satisfied. He need worry no longer about what the picture had cost him.

Yet the producer in me does not like Shantaram, his director, to be any longer idle. Three months have passed since the release of “Jhanak Jhanak” and Shantaram the director has not been working. He feels he has earned a rest, but the producer in me is goading him to resume his shooting of “Shahir Prabhakar” and counting production days lost by him.

It is a never-ending conflict which is inevitable and, though I sometimes feel that I should not shoulder the double burden, I feel that, but for this double responsibility, I would not have been able to make films of so many diverse kinds. No other producer would have given me the opportunities and freedom I have enjoyed.

But, as a creative artist, 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 Shantaram, the producer in me, and in spite of the never-ending conflict I am happy to be both a producer and a director (This interview was conducted in 1956).

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