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Nanashaheb Sarpotdar: The Daring Pioneer

23 Apr, 2020 | Archival Reproductions by Sanjit Narwekar
Nanasaheb Sarpotdar

But there were others who dared to experiment with new themes or at least explore genres. Among them was Narhar Damodar alias Nanasaheb Sarpotdar who made the genre of the historical film, at least during the silent era, his very own. Born on February 11, 1896 at Nandavalli in Ratnagiri district, Sarpotdar was brought up in Pune and Indore. He abandoned formal education to join the Maharashtra Natak Mandali and later Achyut Balwant Kolhatkar’s repertory where he played female roles. He also showed a flair for writing and wrote at least three plays: Unad Pendhya, Chandrarao More and Bajiraocha Beta.

There were others who dared to experiment with new themes or at least explore genres. Among them was Narhar Damodar alias Nanasaheb Sarpotdar who made the genre of the historical film, at least during the silent era, his very own.
It was Ganpatrao Joshi who recommended the fledgling actor and aspirant writer to Baburao Painter who absorbed him in his Maharashtra Film Company in the dual capacity of story-writer and actor. He was also expected to coach new artistes. it was the year 1919 and the company had started just two years ago. Young Sarpotdar was a patient diligent student. For three long years he does not seem to have played any billed roles but in 1922 he was at last rewarded with the lead role Damaji. He also wrote the Marathi titles for films such Sairandhari, Vatsala Haran and Damaji. The five years that he was at the Maharashtra Film company he observed painter and absorbed the nuances of film direction from him.
 
It was Ganpatrao Joshi who recommended the fledgling actor and aspirant writer to Baburao Painter who absorbed him in his Maharashtra Film Company in the dual capacity of story-writer and actor.
In 1925 he was invited by Pandurang Taligeri of Deccan Pictures Corporation to direct Prabhavati. The film does not seem to have done exceptionally well and even the banner folded up soon after the release of the film because the partners parted ways amicably but Sarpotdar did strike up a friendship with Taligeri. So, when Taligeri launched his United Picture Syndicate at Kirkee in the same year he left to join him. The first film that Sarpotdar directed for the new company was based on his own play Chandrarao More. One of the early films to run into censor trouble because of its patriotic theme.
In the next two years (1925-26), Sarpotdar wrote and directed a record nine films for the new company before he left to form his own Aryan Film Company in 1927.
In the next two years (1925-26), Sarpotdar wrote and directed a record nine films for the new company before he left to form his own Aryan Film Company in 1927. Among the nine films that he directed were historicals like Thoratanchi Kamla and Dha Cha Maa, mythologicals and even a social Maharachi Por, dealing with the plight of the untouchables. This was the first film to deal with a theme which was to later become dear to Mahatma Gandhi’s heart and was highly praised by political personages such as Sarojini Naidu, Barrister Baptista and Shaukat Ali.
His very first film under his own banner was Arya Mahila followed by Udantappu (both in 1927). For the next five years, till the beginning of the talkie era, Sarpotdar wrote, produced and directed all the films made under the Aryan banner: a mix of mythological, historical and socials.
Sarpotdar directed one more film for an outside producer, Vilasi Kanta for the Bombay based Social Pictures about a flirtatious wife before starting his own Aryan Film Company at Pune with the financial backing of Baburao Kanhere. His very first film under his own banner was Arya Mahila followed by Udantappu (both in 1927). For the next five years, till the beginning of the talkie era, Sarpotdar wrote, produced and directed all the films made under the Aryan banner: a mix of mythological, historical and socials.

With the coming of the talkie era, the Aryan Film Company had to be closed down. Sarpotdar was among those who continued to make silent films for at least a year after the release of the first talkie. The last films under the Aryan banner were made in 1932.: Bhawan Talwar and Sultana Chandbibi. The first talkie film that Sarpotdar directed was for Maharashtra Cinetone for whom he made Prithviraj Samyukta (Hindi/1933). He then joined the Imperial Film Company in Bombay where he directed two Marathi and a Hindi films - Rukmini Haran (1933) and Devaki (1934) -  and a Hindi film Chalta Purza (1935). He tried to make a come-back in 1939 with R.G.Torney’s Saraswati Cinetone’s Bhagwa Zhenda but wasn’t successful.

This is a reproduction of the original published in Marathi Cinema in Retrospect published by Maharashtra Film, Stage and Cultural Development Corporation Ltd. in 1995
   
 

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About the Author

Sanjit Narwkar took his Bachelor's degree in Statistics and his Master's degree in Economics from the University of Bombay. After a year of banking research, he took up a full-time career in film journalism. He has been Assistant Editor, Film World, Chied Sub Editor, Star & Style, and News Editor, Screen. He is presently Bureau Correspondent (India) for the Tokyo-based trade magazine Movie/TV Marketing. Among the books he has written/edited include: Genres of Idnian Cinema, Indian Documentary In The Eighties, Films Division And The Indian Documentary. He has also complied and edited the single-volume reference book Directory of Indian Filmmakers & Films, published by Flicks Books, UK. He has also scripted four Marathi feature films, several television serials and innumerable documentaries. He has worked on several Selection Committees for international film festivals. He has also conducted interviews for the Ora Archives Programme of All India Radio. 

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