The director Atma Ram, while living in the formidable shadow of his elder brother Guru Dutt, lived a fascinating life himself and carved out a niche for himself with his engaging cinema.
He was born on 21 August, 1930 in Calcutta as Atmaram Padukone to Shivshankar Padukone, a clerk at Burma Shell and Vasanthi Padukone, a teacher. They were a Konkani Hindu family originally hailing from Karnataka. He had three brothers – Guru, Devi and Vijay and a sister – Lalitha Lajmi. In 1948 he joined the Socialist Party and did clerical work for them. He was the secretary of the Press Workers’ Union and remained an active trade unionist. In 1952 he studied at the University of Bombay. He assisted his brother Guru Dutt for a while before moving to London in 1958. There he directed advertising films produced under Arthur Elton and Stuart Legg for the Shell Film Unit. He also used to script the documentaries of India’s Shell Film Unit for James Beveridge. He made two documentaries himself – The Living Soil (1960) and The Peaceful Revolution (1961).
After his brother’s death in 1964, he took over the production company. 1964’s Kaise Kahoon starring Biswajit and Nanda was his directorial debut. Shikar (1968), a tightly knit murder mystery starring Dharmendra, Asha Parekh and Sanjeev Kumar was a big commercial success. The music by Shankar Jaikishan became especially popular particularly the song Parde mein rehne do. He followed it up with the Sanjeev Kumar-Padmini starrer Chanda Aur Bijli (1969). With this film, he also started his own production company – Gurudutt Films Combine.
In 1970, he made Umang, featuring a mostly young ensemble of actors (including a young Subhash Ghai), it was a far cry from his earlier star-studded affairs. He introduced a number of talented FTII trained actors like Asrani and Paintal, who would go on to become staples of Hindi cinema for years to come. He made films like Memsaab (1971) and Yaar Mera (1972), before directing the Dev Anand starrer nationalistic film Yeh Gulistan Hamara (1972). He returned to the thriller genre with Aarop (1973) starring Vinod Khanna, Saira Banu and Vinod Mehra. Featuring memorable music by Bhupen Hazarika the film was a commercial success.
He continued making films till the 90s like Resham Ki Dori (1973), Imaan (1974), Qaid (1975), Aafat (1977), Khanjar (1980), Pyar Ke Rahi (1982), Yeh Sach Hai (1988) and Tulsidas (1992). He also worked extensively on television on serials like Vividha (1993). In the late 70s he was involved with the Film and Television Institute of India. He made several advertising films with his brother Devi Dutt.
The accomplished producer-director passed away in 1994.