Vijay Bhatt -Tribute To Early Era Icon
The love for theatre led Vijay to quit the job despite obvious parental resistance. The struggle to survive and find a foothold in showbiz began. A much-awaited meeting with Ardeshir Irani (the maker of India’s first talkie Alam Ara) changed his life and cleared the way to showbiz when director K P Bhave made Vijay’s first script into a silent film- Vidhi ka Vidhan. Association with Ardeshir Irani led to two more scripts hitting the screen – Pani Mein Aag and Ghulam (1929) – both produced by Irani. Having gained confidence with some success, the Bhatt brothers launched their own production studio. The Royal Film Company was to produce a series of silent films before releasing their first talkie Arabian Nights (Alif Laila) in 1932, just a year after Irani’s Alam Ara. Vijay soon acquired a studio at Andheri, named it Prakash Studios and launched the famous Prakash Pictures banner under which some of the greatest films of Hindi cinema were made beginning with Actress in 1934. In Sansar Leela (his first Gujarati talkie), Vijay Bhatt launched Zakaria Khan, christened him Jayant and launched him as the leading man in Bombay Mail (1935), Challenge(1936), His Highness (1937), State Express (1938) and Bijli (1939)'. (G P Sippy launched Jayant’s son in 1975. He was the Gabbar Singh in Sholay!)
In Leatherface (1939), Bhatt launched Mehjabeen, still at a tender age, and named her Baby Meena. This is how the legendary Meena Kumari was unveiled. She matured as an artist with each film, did scores of mythological movies and action flicks under Wadia Movietone before returning to her parent banner for Baiju Bawra in 1952. This colossal hit changed the fortunes of the actress, bagging her maiden Best Actress Award for the film. Bharat Bhushan, playing opposite Meena, shot into the big league, and the music director, Naushad swept awards and accolades for that year. Vijay Bhatt was one of the earliest producers to spot the potential in Noushad with Mala in 1941.
In 1939, on his visit to Valsad to meet Gandhiji at the ashram, Bapu suggested a film on the saintly Gujarati poet Narsi Mehta. Bhatt signed the lead pair of Prabhas's Sant Tukaram – Vishnupant Pagnis and Durga Khote and, after some meticulous research, made Narsi Bhagat (1940) in Hindi and Gujarati. The film was a hit, winning critical acclaim all over the country. Buoyed by this success, Vijay Bhatt turned to Ramayana for inspiration for his next milestone. Bharat Milap (Hindi)/ Bharat Bhet (Marathi) hit the theatres in 1942. Several historians and curators were taken aboard to develop this project. With Bharat’s unstinting devotion to Rama as the central theme, the film is considered the most authentic excerpt of the great epic on celluloid. Dr S Radhakrishnan was present at the premiere of the film at Majestic Cinema, Bombay.
Vijay Bhatt moved from one milestone to another. Prem Adib (Hindi)/ Chandrakant (Marathi) and Shobhana Samarth led the cast as Rama and Sita in yet another excerpt from Ramayana in Ram Rajya made 1943. Considered the most successful and authentic Ramayana musical ever made in the country, Ram Rajya also enjoys the distinction of being the only film viewed by Mahatma Gandhi in his lifetime. Next came the historical Vikramaditya (1945) where Prithviraj Kapoor played the title role. In 1959, with Goonj Uthi Shehnai, Vijay Bhatt introduced the celebrated shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan to the silver screen. The shehnai in the background score belonged to the Ustad when Rajendra Kumar played the instrument on screen.
Manoj Kumar and Mala Sinha set the box office afire in 1962 with Hariyali aur Raasta. Bhatt repeated the lead pair in yet another musical Himalay ki God Mein (1965), which had music by Kalyanji Anandji. Associated with more than 70 projects in his lifetime, Vijay Bhatt transformed into a legend. He won several awards and was felicitated by the government for Ram Rajya.
Baiju Bawra (Vijay Bhatt, 1952): One of the greatest musical classics, Baiju Bawra is about the legendary rivalry between Tansen and Baiju during the reign of Emperor Akbar. The musical spectacle goes into the period specified for a series of joyful jugalbandis between the arrogant Tansen (Surendra) and the humble and exceptionally talented Baiju (Bharat Bhushan). Their ongoing rivalry is fanned and fuelled when Baiju's father is killed in a scuffle with Tansen's guards and eventually, it reaches a crescendo when the two battle it down in the court of Emperor Akbar. The film's highlight is the classical jugalbandi between the two renowned raga maestros Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit D,V. Paluskar. The music by Naushad is regarded as his best ever. Baiju Bawra demonstrated Naushad's grasp of classical music. The film won him the Filmfare (1954) award for Best Music Director. Meena Kumari looked superbly sweet and pretty as Baiju's innocent and lovelorn sweetheart Gauri. This was Meena's first major screen role, played brilliantly. She won Filmfare Best Actress Award. Meena Kumari climbed to dizzying heights of fame after Baiju Bawra.