|Born||Baburao Krishnarao Mestri
3 June 1890
|Died||16 January 1954
|Occupation||Director, Painter, Sculptor|
He was born Baburao Krishnarao Mestri in 1890 in Kolhapur. He taught himself to paint and derives its name "Painter". (hence the name) and sculpt in academic art school style. He and his artist cousin Anandrao Painter between 1910 and 1916 were the leading painters of stage backdrops in Western India doing several famous curtains for Sangeet Natak troupes and also for Gujarati Parsee theatres. They became avid filmgoers following Raja Harishchandra.
Baburao and his cousin Anandarao bought a movie projector from the Bombay flea market and proceeded to exhibit films, studying the art of movies all the while. Anandarao was busy with assembling a camera for their maiden venture, and his untimely death at this juncture compelled Baburao to go it alone
They turned to cinema first as exhibitors while trying to assemble their own camera. Anadrao however died in 1916 and Painter and his main disciple V.G. Damle eventually put together a working camera in 1918.
Between 1910 and 1916 he was one of the leading painters stage on West Indian theatres. After Dadasaheb Phalke film Raja Harishchandra (1913) was the film enthusiast and founded 1918 The Maharashtra Film Company, from 1929 before the advent of sound film in India Prabhat Film Company was born.
With financial support from local nobility, he set up the Maharashtra Film Company in Kolhapur in 1919. Baburao had borrowed from Tanibai Kagolkar, a long-time admirer, for the purpose and he also created his own movie camera. The studio itself had a family feel and many artistes lived there, in particular, his leading ladies - Gulab Bai (renamed Kamaladevi) and Anusuya Bai (renamed Sushiladevi).
Painter gathered around him old colleagues among them Damle and S. Fatehlal joined a little later by V. Shantaram - the group that later left to set up The Prabhat Film Company. Since acting was looked down upon, the two ladies were excommunicated by their community and had to find refuge in the studio premises. As well as acting in films, they would often cook and serve food to the entire unit!!!
Baburaos first feature film was Sairandri (1920), which was heavily censored board for its graphic depiction of the slaying of Keechak by Bhima. , however, critics and audience attention and Finally it had to be deleted but the film won both critical and commercial acclaim spurring Painter on to more ambitious projects. He wrote his own screenplays, and led the three-dimensional space rather than stage-painting in the Indian movie. 1921/22, he published the first Indian films and programs designed to even the movie posters. Publicity was not alien to Painter's many talents - in 1921-22, he distributed programme booklets complete with photographs and film details.
Baburao was a man of many talents - he wrote his own screenplays and he was also the first filmmaker to adopt the method Einstein had described as `stenographic` - he sketched the costumes, movements, and characters. . [This was the method Satyajit Ray adopted for Pather Panchali - there was no written script, just a book full of sketches. This 'script' is with Cinematheque Francaise, Paris.] He changed the concept of set designing from painted curtains to solid multi-dimensional lived in spaces, he introduced artificial lighting and understood the importance of publicity. As early as 1921-22 he was the first to issue programme booklets, complete with details of the film and photographs. He also painted himself tasteful, eye-catching posters of his films.
A perfectionist, he insisted upon any number of rehearsals. As Zunzarrao Pawar, a cast member, said `` He would take umpteen rehearsals before actual shooting....but he was very slow in film-making. That was why we used to get annoyed with him sometimes. ``
The advent of sound in 1931 did not excite Painter. However after a few more silent films, the Maharashtra Film Company pulled down its shutters with the advent of sound. Baburao was not particularly keen on the talkies for he believed that they would destroy the visual culture so painfully evolved over the years.
He returned to painting and sculpture, his original vocation barring sporadic ventures like remaking Savkari Pash in sound in 1936, Pratibha (1937), one of his few preserved films which is a good illustration of Painter's control over big sets, lighting and crowd scenes and Lokshahir Ramjoshi (1947) on Shantaram's invitation.
The beautiful posters that Baburao painted for his films prompted the advice of not wasting his talent on dirty walls, that an art gallery was the correct destination! Prophetic words indeed, because later his posters were up at J.J. School of Art, Bombay and much admired by the principal, Gladstone Solomon.
Together, Sinhagad and Kalyan Khajina won a medal at the Wembley Exhibition, London. One newspaper, Daily Express, described the films as full of strangely wistful beauty, and acted with extraordinary grace.
In 1920 - Sairandhri. This episode from the Mahabharata dealt with the slaying of Keechak by Bhima (one of the Pandava princes), and the film was based on the play Keechak Wadh by K.P. Khadilkar. [The play itself was banned because of the perceived criticism of Lord Curzon.] The intense realism of the killing was horrifying to the audience, and the scenes were deleted. At the time, censor boards had been set up!
In 1921 - Surekha Haran. This was the debut film of V. Shantaram, one of the giants of Indian cinema. He played lord Krishna in the film.
Bhagwata Bhakta Damaji (1922) Damaji (1922)
In 1923 - Sinhagad. - a landmark film. For one, Baburao shifted from painted curtains to multi-dimensional sets. Another first - he used artificial lighting to create the effect of fog and of moonlight. The film was based on Hari Narayan Apte's novel Gad Aala Pan Sinha Gela. The protagonist Tanaji was a follower of Shivaji Maratha and died while capturing Kondana Fort.While filming Sinhagad, Baburao fell off a horse, the injury causing a lifelong speech defect. Sinhagad proved so popular that it attracted the Revenue Department's attention to bring about introduction of Entertainment Tax.
Sati Padmini (1924) Shri Krishna Avatar (1924)
In 1925 - - Shahala Shah. - Rana Hamir. - Maya Bazaar - Savkari Pash. Savkari Pash dealt with money lending and the plight of poor farmers. However the audience long fed on mythological fantasy and historical love was just not prepared for so strong a dose of realism and the film did not do well. Baburao returned to costume dramas. The film failed. Baburao Painter returned to the tried-and-true subject-matter. Baburao also made the first realistic Indian film Savakari Pash (1925) dealing with money lending, a problem that blighted the lives of countless illiterate, poor farmers.
J.H.Wadia on the two versions of Savkari Pash :
I faintly remember the silent Savkari Pash...But it was only when I saw the talkie version that I realized what a great creative artist he (Baburao) was. I go into a trance when I recollect the long shot of a dreary hut photographed in low key, highlighted only by the howl of a dog.
Bhakta Pralhad (1926/I) Gaj Gauri (1926)
Muraliwala (1927) Sati Savitri (1927) ... aka Savitri Satyavan (India: Hindi title)
In 1927 - Netaji Palkar. Directed by V. Shantaram, the film was about Shivaji Maratha (a revered warrior-ruler who fought the Mughal emperors) and Karna (1928).
Keechaka Vadha (1928/I) ... aka Sairandhri (India: Hindi title) Baji Prabhu Deshpande (1929) ... aka Valley of the Immortals (India: English title)
In 1928 - Karna. Directed by Damle and Fatehlal were huge hits The film was inspired by the MGM masterpiece Ben Hur.
Prem Sangam (1931) ... aka When Lovers Unite (India: English title) Lanka (1930) ... aka The Land of Lust (India: English title)
In 1935 - Usha. The film (a talkie) was directed by Painter for the film company Shalini Cinetone, Kolhapur.
In 1936 - remake of Savkari Pash (as a talkie).
In 1937 - Pratibha. - Sadhvi Meerabai
Rukmini Swayamvar (1946/I) Rukmini Swayamvar (1946/II) ... aka The Marriage of Rukmini (India: English title)
In 1947 - Matwala Shair Ramjoshi. A highly successful film. - Lok Shahir Ram Joshi (1947)
In 1952 - Vishwamitra
In 1953 - Mahajan