Prolific art director H Shantaram is known for films such as Sargam (1979), Bhai Bhai (1956), Chori Chori (1956), Jawab (1970), Geetaa Mera Naam (1974), and Do Phool (1974). His work spans approximately three decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. He is credited with art director for more than 20 films, often working with the director duo R Krishnan and S Panju, as well as A Bhimsingh.
Among the early films he art-directed are Ladki (1953) and Bedara Kannappa (1954). Ladki, a romantic comedy directed by M V Raman, was written by Hargobind Duggal (dialogue associate), Rajendra Krishan (dialogue), and R Venkatachalam (story). It starred Vyjayanthimala, Anjali Devi, and Bharat Bhushan. Bedara Kannappa, which he art-directed, was a Kannada language Hindu mythological film directed by H L N Simha and written by G V Iyer. The film starred Rajkumar playing the title character along with Pandari Bai, Kushala Kumari, G V Iyer, Sandhya and Narasimharaju in other prominent roles. The film is an adaptation of a stage play by the Gubbi Veeranna Nataka Company, based on the folk tale of the hunter Kannappa who proves his extreme devotion to the Hindu god Shiva by gouging out both his eyes.
Bhai Bhai, the M V Raman directorial, which he art-directed in 1956, starred real-life brothers Ashok Kumar, and Kishore Kumar, along with Nimmi. The story revolved around the widowed Dayashankar, a businessman who lives in Madras with his two school-going sons, Raj and Ashok. One day he catches Raj stealing some money from his vault; he beats him, locks him in a room, and threatens to cut off his fingers. A terrified Raj breaks the window and runs away, never to be heard of again. Ashok goes on to take over his father’s business, Superior Motors, which also has a branch in Bombay; gets married to Laxmi, and has a son named Munna. One day, Ashok needs to travel to Bombay to meet with Bulbul, the branch manager, to discuss business. Laxmi and Munna see him off. Several days later, Ashok returns home but he is not the same loving husband and father anymore. He decides to sell the business, has nothing to do with Munna and Laxmi, and asks them to take some money, while he returns to Bombay. Laxmi and Munna follow him to Bombay, but are unable to locate him. They are befriended by a petty thief and pickpocket by the name of Raja, who lives with a young street dancer named Rani and her father, Baba. When Baba finds out that Laxmi may be related to Raja and that Munna may be their child, he asks them to leave the house. Raja then takes them to Ashok, and to Laxmi's shock she finds her once-loving husband living with another woman, by the name of Sangita. Sangita asks Laxmi to be the maidservant, while Ashok refuses to recognise his wife and child.
The same year, H Shantaram also provided art direction for Chori Chori (1956). Directed by Anant Thakur, it revolved around a spoiled rich girl who is on the run travels with a reporter looking for a news scoop. It starred Nargis, Raj Kapoor, and Gope.
His 1957 film Miss Mary (1957) went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year. A comedy directed by L V Prasad, it starred Meena Kumari, Kishore Kumar, and Gemini Ganesan. An AVM production, it was also remade in Telugu and Tamil. The film was one of the few that saw Kumari in a light-hearted role.
Among the other films that he art-directed are the R Krishnan-S Panju romance directorial Barkha (1959) and the drama film Bindya (1960) also directed by R Krishnan and S Panju starring Padmini, Balraj Sahni and Jagdeep.
Chhaya (1961), the Hrishikesh Mukherjee directorial which he art-directed, starred Sunil Dutt, Asha Parekh, and Nirupa Roy; Roy won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for her performance. It told the tale of the young and attractive Sarita Choudhary who lives a wealthy lifestyle with her widowed dad, Jagatnarayan in a palatial house with her aunt, Rukmani; cousin, Lalli, and a maid-servant, Manorama Lal. Her dad recruits a tutor, Arun, to teach her essay-writing, and both Arun and Sarita end up falling in love, especially when Sarita finds out that he is actually a well-known poet named 'Rahee'. However, her aunt would rather she marry her nephew, Ramu alias Romeo, and she has Jagatnarayan recruit him to teach Sarita music. Jagatnarayan himself would like Sarita to get married to the son of a wealthy man, Moti Lal, and openly rejects any alliance with Arun, who comes from a poor family. Matters take a turn when Moti Lal receives an anonymous letter informing him that Sarita is not the real daughter of Jagatnarayan, and that her parentage, religion, and caste are unknown.
He went on to provide art direction for the comedy musical Man Mauji (1962) starring Kishore Kumar and Sadhana Shivdasani; the musical drama Khandan (1965) starring Sunil Dutt, Nutan and Pran; the Tamil language drama Aalayam (1967); the A Bhimsingh directorial Sadhu Aur Shaitaan (1968) starring Mehmood, Bharathi, and Kishore Kumar; the Ramanna-directed comedy drama Waris (1969) starring Jeetendra and Hema Malini; and Jawab (1970) starring Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, and Jeetendra.
In 1970, he art-directed the romantic drama film Humjoli produced by Prasan Kapoor under the Tirupati Pictures banner and directed by T R Ramanna. The film starred Jeetendra, and Leena Chandavarkar, with music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal.
He provided art direction for Maalik (1972) starring Ashok Kumar, Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore; the S Ramanathan directorial Do Phool (1974) starring Ashok Kumar, Vinod Mehra, and Aruna Irani which revolved around a wealthy man attempting to deal with his unruly sons; the thriller Geetaa Mera Naam (1974) starring Sunil Dutt, Sadhana Shivdasani, and Feroz Khan; the family drama Naya Din Nai Raat (1974) featuring Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bachchan; and Zehreela Insaan (1974) directed by S R Puttana Kanagal, and starring Rishi Kapoor, Moushumi Chatterjee, and Neetu Singh.
The musical romance Sargam, which he art-directed in 1979, told the story of a musician who helps a woman, who is unable to speak or hear, to achieve her dream of becoming a classical dancer. Directed by K Viswanath, it was a thumping hit, starring Rishi Kapoor and Jaya Prada.