One of the leading set designers of early Indian cinema, a cinematographer, a visionary sound engineer, one half of director duo Damle-Fattelal who made films such as Sant Tukaram, and one of the founding members of the iconic Prabhat Film Company — Vishnupant Govind Damle was a man of many talents. Filmmaker Virendra Valsangkar decided to tell his story but he avoided the traditional, linear narrative of a documentary.
“There is a vast amount of information on Damle and fitting it all in the documentary format would have made the film too dry. We instead chose to make a docudrama, which we believe tells his story more effectively,” says Valsangkar. The 2012 National Award-winning film, Vishnupant Damle: The Unsung Hero of Talkies, was screened on Tuesday as part of the 13th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF).
The hour-long film shows the reenactment of snippets from Damle’s life that show signposts of early Indian cinema. His innate instincts with machines led to many technical innovations such as the the first Marathi talkie Ayodhyecha Raja (1932), which is also the oldest Indian talkie available.
American film director Frank Capra described the Damle-Fattelal directed Sant Dnyaneshwar (1940) as “the most technically perfect Indian movie” he had seen. Damle’s films on mythology were socially relevant and the acting had a touch of realism — aspects that were rare at that time.
One immediately associates Prabhat Film Company with legendary filmmaker V Shantaram, but the film shows Damle as one of the forces without whom it may not have been possible. Damle’s astute administrative skills and sharp business acumen helped Prabhat establish itself as one of the best companies, with an underground water system, Asia’s largest sound recording studio, a state-of-the-art editing lab.