indian cinema heritage foundation

Y D Sarpotdar

  • Primary Cinema: Hindi

Prominent cinematographer, writer, and director Y D Sarpotdar is known for his work in Raja Harishchandra (1929), Farari (1931), Namak Haram (1928), and Changez Khan (1957). Associated initially with well-known writer-director N D Sarpotdar’s production house Aryan Film Company, he would later work on several large productions of the Sohrab Modi-owned Minerva Movietone. Trained in colour cinematography in London, at Technicolor Limited, he was known mainly for his expertise in cinematography. He has to his credit more than 30 films as a cinematographer from the early silent era of Indian cinema of the 1920s to the 1960s. He also directed Raja Harishchandra and Farari, while also writing Namak Haram and Dashrathi Ram (1929). 

Among his earliest work as a cinematographer, he worked with noted writer-director N D Sarpotdar’s production house Aryan Film Company. In the year 1928 itself he worked in no less than five films, namely the historical/ war genre Ganimi Kawa/ Dav Pench (1928), Patittodhar/ Reclamation (1928), Arya Mahila (1928), the historical Namak Haram (1928), and the social genre Udantappu/ Vagabond (1928). In these films, he worked with stars such as Koregonker Durga Bai, Lalita Pawar, Varne Pandurang, Jadhavrao, Master Shantaram, Meera, Govindrao Shinde, Dattoba Rajwade, Krishnaji Ghanekar, Hansa, and C R Das.

In 1929, he came to attention for his cinematography in Raja Harishchandra (1929), as well as Thaksen Rajputana (1929), Dashrathi Ram (1929), Prem Pash (1929), Prithviraj Sanyogita (1929), Shri Balaji (1929), Subhadra Haran (1929) and the G P Pawar-directed Thaksen Rajputra/ Sawai Vikram (1929). 

The year 1930 saw him cinematograph Aryan Film Company’s Chatur Sundari (1930), and Bhimsen The Mighty (1930). They were followed by the historical Jeejabai/ The Fall of Raigad (1930), a United Pictures Syndicate production directed by Talgeri S Pandurang, and starring Wamanrao Kulkarni, Dattopant Sohoni, Jairampant Desai, and V S Bapat

The following year, he cinematographed Aryan Film Company’s V Gajanan Sane-directed Shri Krishna Maya (1931), and the historical Chandbibi (1931). 

In 1931, he directed Farari/ Outlaw (1931), produced by University Art Federation Kalhapur. Written by Niranjan Pal, it starred Hiralal, Gulab and Madhav Kale. The same year, he cinematographed Aryan Film Company’s comedy Nakoga Bai Lagna/ Goodbye Marriage (1931), and the historical Bhawani Talwar (1931).

Jeevan Natak/ Life Is a Stage (1935), Debaki Kumar Bose’s directorial which he cinematographed, starred Durga Khote, Rampiyari and Alaknanda. Produced by Jayant Pics, the Bombay Talkies Studios, the film’s plot was set in two historical epochs, 1735 and 1935. The spirited Miss Queen (Khote), performing in a period play, recalls a previous incarnation when she was the actual person she is now enacting on the stage. She inherited the throne because the state of Ranigarh had no constitutional heirs and her horoscope was deemed auspicious. Instead of being merely a figurehead, she opposes the corrupt minster Jairaj and army commander Mubarak (Pahelwan), and ensures the royal court is accessible to the suffering people.

Starting 1938, he worked with Modi’s Minerva Movietone, cinematographing the filmmaker’s social trilogy comprising Meetha Jahar (1938) which dealt with prohibition; Jailor (1938) which dealt with an illicit relationship concerning a married woman; and Bharosa (1940), a social melodrama with incestuous undertones. 

Meetha Jahar, the social drama film directed by and also starring Modi alongside Naseem Banu and Gajanan Jagirdar, dealt with the evils of alcoholism. It won praise for supporting the cause of prohibition in national interest. The plot dealt with an illicit relationship concerning a married woman. The overall box office value of the film was cited as good.

Jailor was Modi's first psycho-dramatic role as a kind-hearted, liberal jailor who becomes an intolerant tyrant when he loses his wife to another man who then goes blind. The jailer locks up his wife in their own home, forbidding her to have any contact with their child. Later, the jailer himself falls in love with a blind woman. Written by Kamal Amrohi and J K Nanda, the film starred Modi alongside Leela Chitnis and Sadiq Ali

Bharosa revolved around an incestuous relationship that develops unwittingly between a brother and sister, a theme that was considered to be quite revolutionary at the time. The plot featured Gyan (Mazhar Khan) and Rasik (Chandra Mohan) who are good friends. When Gyan has to go to Africa for work, he leaves his wife Shobha (Sardar Akhtar) in the care of Rasik and his wife Rambha (Maya Devi). Rasik has always nursed a silent liking for Shobha and when Rambha goes to her parents' home, leaving Rasik and Shobha alone in the house, he acts upon his feelings. Shobha reciprocates. In time, Shobha gives birth to a daughter (Indira) whom Gyan believes to be his child. Then the unexpected happens when Gyan decides on an alliance between Indira and Rasik's son Madan seeing their closeness. 

In 1939, Sarpotdar cinematographed Modi’s Pukar, considered to be the earliest Muslim social film. It depicted Mughal emperor Jehangir (Chandra Mohan)'s legendary justice and his inner conflict when his wife Nur Jahan (Naseem Banu) kills an innocent citizen by mistake. 

Sikandar (1941) saw him cinematograph Minerva Movietone’s historical war drama directed by and starring Modi, alongside Prithviraj Kapoor and Vanamala. Set in 326 BC, the film begins after Alexander the Great (Sikander in Hindi/Urdu) conquers Persia and the Kabul valley and approaches the Indian border at Jhelum. He respects Aristotle and loves the Persian Rukhsana (known in the west as Roxana). Modi played the Indian king Puru (Porus to the Greeks), who requests the neighbouring kingdoms to unite against a common foreign enemy. The battle sequences featuring thousands of extras along with horses, elephants and chariots were said to be filmed in Kolhapur. The film’s release coincided with World War II and the Quit India was at its peak. Sikandar further aroused patriotic feelings and nationalistic sentiment, and though approved by the Bombay censor board, was later banned from some of the theatres serving British Indian Army cantonments. Such was its appeal to nationalism that it remained popular for years.

After cinematographing Minerva’s drama film Prarthana (1943) directed by Sarvottam Badami, Sarpotdar’s next release that year was Prithvi Vallabh (1943), the Modi-directed drama film revolving around Talip and his sister, Mrinalvati, of a neighboring kingdom who imprison Prithvi Vallabh, the kind king of Avantipur. Besides Modi, the cast comprised Sadiq Ali, Durga Khote, and Leela Mishra

In 1955, he cinematographed Jagat Pictures’ Pehli Jhalak, a romantic comedy about a woman who rejects her father-approved groom, runs away, and falls in love with a petty thief/gambler. Directed by M V Raman, the film starred Vyjayanthimala, Kishore Kumar and Pran

The year 1957 saw Sarpotdar cinematograph Changez Khan, an action adventure historical directed by Kedar Kapoor, starring Premnath Malhotra, Bina Rai, and Sheikh Mukhtar.

The following year, he cinematographed Jailor (1958), a crime drama directed by Sohrab Modi. It depicted how a disfigured but compassionate and dedicated jailor's life undergoes changes after his wife leaves with another man. It starred Modi, Geeta Bali, and Abhi Bhattacharya. This psychosocial melodrama was a remake of Modi’s Jailor of 1938. 

In 1961, Sarpotdar cinematographed the Mohan Segal-directed Krorepati, starring Kishore Kumar, Shashikala and Kumkum. It portrayed the story of a movie stuntman who is recruited to impersonate a lookalike mentally unstable heir to a vast estate.