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Penning the remarkable life of Bollywood's V. Shantaram

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

The extraordinary life of the late Bollywood filmmaker Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram will be penned for a second time by his daughter.

Madhura Jasraj will write the new biography of her father who rose from an illiterate gofer to become one of the pioneering directors of the Indian film industry and was honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke award.

For Madhura, the wife of Indian classical music doyen Pandit Jasraj, this will be the third tribute to her father's memory.

She had earlier written a 550-page slender biography of her father in Marathi, "Shantaram", and made a documentary film on him.

Her new book on the director - who passed away in 1990 - is to be published by the government of Maharashtra.

Madhura, who was in Kathmandu accompanying her husband, said she had badgered her father for two years to chronicle his life before he finally agreed.

Initially, he dismissed her pleas, she said. "'Who would want to read about my life', he would say," she reminisced. "I would tell him, 'it's not your story alone, it's also the story of the growth of Indian cinema and how you were instrumental in that.'"

Finally, they reached a compromise. He would endure a book about himself but with a condition -- a literary expert would have to take a look at her writing and approve it. Only then would a full-length book emerge.

She was game and the first sessions started with the tape running. She would ask questions, he would answer and she would take notes. Armed with that, she wrote the first five chapters and showed them to a family friend whose literary judgment was valued by her father. He said she had the right touch and then, all of a sudden, he capitulated wholeheartedly.

"From then on," Madhura remembered fondly, "the nature of the sessions changed. He switched off the tape and started talking to me freely, like a friend. He tried to answer my questions as best as he could and, sometimes, they were difficult questions for a daughter to ask. Like his three marriages."

The illiterate boy from Kolhapur who began his career in the theatre as a curtain puller with the Gandharva Natak Mandali learnt the fine art of filmmaking from Marathi director Baburao Painter and directed his first film, "Netaji Palkar", in 1927.

In 1929, along with four other partners - V.G. Damle, K.R. Dhaiber, S. Fatelal and S.B. Kulkarni - he formed the Prabhat Film Company, which he left later to start his own company, Rajkamal Studios, in 1942.

The new company's debut film was "Shakuntala", and Shantaram married its heroine Jayshree, even though he was already married to Madhura's mother.

Though he remained married to her, he later married yet another of his heroines. After making his first film in colour, "Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje", which was highly successful, he wedded its heroine Sandhya.

The new biography is likely to provide an insight into the intricacies of his different relationships.

"He opened up so much that a different kind of tie developed between us," Madhura said. "Those were the days when I actually grew up."

Before embarking on her father's biography, Madhura has tried to establish herself as a writer in her own right.

She is well known in her home state Maharashtra where she won the V.S. Khandekar award for her novel "Rajjo", a tender love story about a girl who comes from a classical music background.


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