A well-known film editor, Sadanand Desai was highly respected for his meticulous dubbing and editing skills. He edited the film Municipalti (1941), as well as more than 55 Soviet Union films between 1947 and 1970. He also produced the film Chhota Jawan (1963), which won the state’s Best Film of the Year award in 1964. He worked tirelessly to establish the Film Editor’s Association, which empowered editing technicians. To him also goes credit for starting the movement to recognise the contribution of Dadasaheb Phalke, the Father of Indian cinema, to the film industry; he made a documentary on the pioneer’s life and achievements. He was the nephew of prominent music director Vasant Desai.
Born on 24 April, 1916, he initially worked alongside his uncle Vasant Desai at the Prabhat Film Company, Poona. In 1940, when his guru, V Shantaram moved to erstwhile Bombay and become a chief at the Films Division of the Government of India, Vasant Desai and Sadanand followed in his wake. Joining Films Division in Bombay as an editor, he received several raises over the years and grew in reputation as a skilled editor.
While working in the Films Division, he crossed paths with the Films Division of the Soviet Union. Though he had no interest in Stalin’s manner of running the nationalised film business nor in communism, he was fascinated by Russian culture, language and filmmaking techniques. Impressed by his skills and understanding of film production techniques, he was offered a job by the Soviet Union that came with a hefty increase in remuneration, as well as a posh office in Bombay’s Flora Fountain area.
At the time, the Soviet Union Films Division had taken the decision to dub their popular films in Hindi in order to reach the people of India. As a skilled technician, Sadanand was entrusted with the dubbing department. Dubbing Hindi dialogues over Russian dialogues was a challenge, and he had to figure out the story as well as the dialogue impacts on all the scenes of the film. Hiring a team of good writers to convert the Russian dialogues into Hindi, he created highly successful dubbing techniques, achieving perfection in India at the time. From 1947 to 1970, he dubbed more than 55 Soviet Union films. He was honoured for his work and invited to visit the Soviet Union. On his visits there, he would procure equipment to enhance his work. Four films that he dubbed became particularly popular—The Stone Flower (A Legend From The Urals) (1946), Ivan The Terriible (1944), Alexander Nevsky (1938), and The Fall Of Berlin (1946).
Achieving fame for his work in dubbing Russian films into Hindi, he was awarded a gold medal by the government of India for the highest achievement in dubbing, which was presented to him by one of the first five governors of India, Mangaldas M Pakwasa. This honour inspired him to start his own enterprise in editing films and dubbing Soviet films independently. He set up office at Film Centre building opposite the Mahalaxmi racecourse, which also housed the offices of several independent film services businesses and laboratories.
Early in 1953, he was approached by renowned Oscar-winning Italian filmmaker Vittorio de Sica, to dub his own favourite production, Shoeshine (1946). During 1953 and 1954, he received accolades for his work. Prominent newspaper articles recognised his talent and film critics appreciated him for creating work that showed the complicated and intricate process of the art of dubbing with skill and efficiency. He was praised as an expert and authority in the field. He formed a strong team with artistes such as writer G S Potdar, Raj Mehra,Shivraj, Varsha Rani, Zohra Sehgal, and Mumtaz.
He also dubbed several English films and documentaries into Hindi. His Hindi version of famous Hollywood filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s Salibi Jang was a critical and commercial success. It depicted how the Christian world fought against the Muslim world in the middle ages.
After moving into his own office space and starting his independent business, he became aware of the many problems his co-workers faced in the film industry. Most films were produced on the basis of verbal assurances; legal agreements were rare. Lower level technicians, with no way to defend their rights, suffered the most. Thus, he was committed to establishing the Film Editors’ Association, serving as its president for many years. Film producers benefitted from this association as well, as they could file complaints to the association’s governing body in event of any difficulties encountered with film editors.
Disturbed by the Chinese attack on India of 1962, he decided to co-produce a patriotic film on the Chinese aggression in 1963. It was titled Chhota Jawan. The Desai trio, namely Vasantrao Desai, Sadanand Desai, and Mangesh Desai came together, to make this film. It was the first war film in the Marathi language. It revolved around a little boy, who is worried about the safety of his father, who is a soldier fighting at the border. The boy runs away from home in search of his father, and meets a Sherpa boy from Nepal. After many adventures together, the boy is finally reunited with his wounded father.
He cast Jairaj, who had dubbed Soviet Union films for him, in the main role. A non-Marathi speaker, Jairaj’s dialogues were dubbed in Marathi by well-known theatre actor, Dr Kashinath Ghanekar. Young Mahesh Kothare, who was introduced in the key role in this film, won an award for his performance and went on to become a well-known actor and filmmaker in later years. The role of the Sherpa boy was played by Samar Nakhate, whose work was also appreciated in V Shantaram’s Do Ankhen Barah Haath (1957). The film had music by Vasantrao Desai, who composed five songs for the film, three of which were rendered by Asha Bhosle. The film was lauded for depicting patriotic values sans any bloody details of the war, winning box office success as well as awards, such as the state’s Best Movie of the Year award in 1964.
Well aware of the immense contribution of the ‘Father of Indian Cinema’ – Dadasaheb Phalke, he worked to create greater awareness in the world regarding the achievements of the pioneer by making a documentary on Phalke’s life. He was supported in his endeavor by his uncle Vasantrao, who created a vibrant musical score for the same.
Father to six children, his son Ravindra Desai joined him as a negative film editor or cutter.
Sadanand Desai passed away on 24 July, 1985.