Here is a tribute to icon of Hindi cinema, V. Shantaram, along with two examples from his several outstanding films:
V. Shantaram (1901-1990)
Born Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram in Kolhapur, he hardly had any education. He started his career in theatres as a curtain puller with the Gandharv Natak Mandli. He joined Baburao Painter's Maharashtra Film Company and learnt the intricacies of filmmaking from Painter, including acting. In 1929 he formed Prabhat Film Company with the help of some friends. Initially Shantaram followed Painter's formula of mythologicals and historicals. However, his visit to Germany changed his entire outlook as he made Amrit Manthan (1934) on return from Germany. The film beautifully depicted the tension between Buddhism and established religious creeds. The close ups and long views were particularly effective. He was one of the early film producers to realize the efficacy of the film medium as an instrument of social change and used it successfully to advocate humanism on one hand and expose bigotry and injustice on the other. Amar Jyoti (1936) was an interesting feminist film about a woman who rebels against injustice by becoming a Pirate Queen. Duniya Na Mane (1937) was the story of a young woman refusing to accept her marriage to a much older man. Aadmi (1939), a love story of a policeman and a prostitute is regarded his finest film. The film was significant not only in terms of thematic content but also as work of motion picture art, technical innovations and artistic integrity. Padosi (1941) made a strong plea for communal harmony. Its interesting that Mazhar Khan, a Muslim, plays the Hindu and Gajanan Jagirdar, a Hindu, played the Muslim in the film. Shakuntala (1943) was one of his biggest grossers, the first film to run for more than hundred weeks. Jayshree who played the title role in the movie became a top star overnight. Shantaram took her as his second wife and repeated her as leading lady in his next movie, Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946), in which he himself played the title role. The film based on K. A. Abbas's short novel And One Did Not Come Back was an impressive anti-war effort. The film received international recognition in Toronto Film Festival 1947. Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje (1955), his first color film was a box-office smash. The message of the film that India must preserve her artistic tradition and not be swayed by the West was lapped up by the audiences. Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957), a brilliant film, depicted the true human being within. Pinjra (1972) was Shantaram's last most acclaimed movie which gave a strong and convincing message against capital punishment.
Padosi (V. Shantaram, 1941): It is a moving film on the unfortunate antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims. The protagonists are two old friends and neighbors in a village, Mirza (Gajanan Jagirdar), a Muslim, and Thakur (Mazhar Khan), a Hindu. Then a city builder arrives, to acquire land in order to build a dam. Though the villagers resist his overtones in the beginning, their resolve is broken when he successfully incites one community against the other, ultimately separating the close neighbors too. In the climax of the film, a tour de force of technical ingenuity, the two die together holding each other's hand, when the dam is blown up. Espousing the cause of communal harmony, Padosi boldly emphasises that people are not divided because of religious differences but because of power-play and profit making. Padosi remains one of the most celebrated social films ever.
Do Aankhen Barah Haath (V. Shantaram, 1957): One of the finest movies ever made, DABH won President's Gold Medal (1957), Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival (1958) and Samuel Goldwyn Award at the Golden Globes, USA (1959). The plot is about an idealist police officer who tries to rehabilitate six criminals and succeeds. The 'two eyes' belong to the officer, the 'twelve hands' are those of the six incarcerated murderers. The officer is of the opinion that there's no such thing as a truly bad man, and to prove his point he transports the six killers to a farm, where he puts them to useful work. Amazingly, the jailer's theory is valid one. The prisoners do indeed transform into worthwhile members of society. V. Shantaram was a genius and this movie is his masterpiece. It is an important film which endorses prison reforms and propounds the philosophy that even the most hardened, seemingly soul-dead criminals can be brought in contact with his higher self. The film makes you want to believe in the innate decency of all human beings. Despite being a message film, it remains cinematically alive throughout and played to excellent response at the box-office.