Marathi theatre and cinema would not be the same without the skilled and versatile acting of P Y Altekar. An actor, director and producer, he made significant contributions in translating avant garde Marathi theatre practices into cinema.
Born in Ratnagiri in 1897, he received his education from Kolhapur and graduated from the Wellington College in Sangli. Going on to study law in Bombay, he was bitten by the theatre bug instead. He directed and acted in his first play Rajsanyas in 1922. Marathi writer Mama Warerkar was a key influence on him in his early years. He made his film debut in Manilal Joshi’s landmark Prithvi Vallabh (1924) which was an adaptation of K M Munshi’s controversial tale of King Munja. He joined United Pictures in 1925 and went on to feature in some significant historicals, particularly N D Sarpotdar’s Chandrarao More and Maharachi Por (both 1925). He also played the lead role in Sarpotdar’s Chhatrapati Sambhaji (1925). He played Prithviraj in Prabhavati (1925). Joining hands with the Bhalji and Baburao Pendharkar, he helped make Vande Mataram Ashram (1926) which criticised British educational policies and faced a brief ban from authorities. In 1927 he directed his first film Jugari Dharma, in which he also essayed the role of Bhim. He later shifted to Imperial Film Company, making films like Jagadguru Shrimad Shankaracharya (1928) and Gori Bala (1929) which was scripted by Mama Warerkar. By this time he had become involved with the Natyamanwantar theatre group, who were experimenting with naturalist theatre. He moved to Saraswati Cinetone in 1933.
Not limiting himself to Marathi cinema, he made the Kannada film Bhakta Dhruva (1934) based on a Ratnavali Theatre play. He also remade Chhatrapati Sambhaji (1934) with Master Vithal in the lead. He kept up his nomadic ways, first working with Master Vinayak’s Huns Pictures and later with CIRCO Films. Some of his films during this time were the Tamil films Parvati Kalyanam, Pati Bhakti, Bhisma Pratigna (all 1936), Begunah (1937), Geeta (1940), and Mahatma Vidur (1943). He partnered with Durga Khote, Mubarak and Govindrao Tembe to form Natraj Cinetone which made the musical Savangadi (1938). He started a theatre training school in 1938. He remained involved in theatre with Natyamanwantar, Radio Stars and the National Theatre Academy. He also turned theorist, penning essays on acting for the journal Yashwant. The veteran actor-director passed away on 22 November, 1957 in Kolhapur.