In the late 1930s, when the World War II was on and there was unrest everywhere, filmmakers Vishnupant Damle and S Fattelal decided to make a film on the life of Sant Dnyaneshwar to send the message of peace to the world.
Produced by Prabhat Film Company, Hindi-Marathi film Sant Dnyaneshwar went on to create a record of sorts when it ran for 36 weeks in cinema halls in Pune and Mumbai, doing a business of Rs 4.67 crore, a huge figure those days. It was the first Indian film that was released commercially in the US as Dnyandev, Light of Asia. On October 7, 1972, the launch of Mumbai Doordarshan was marked by the telecast of Sant Dnyaneshwar.
Based on the life of 13th century Maharashtrian saint, poet and philosopher Saint Dnyaneshwar, the film turns 75 on May 18.
Recollecting the glory associated with the film, Anil Damle, grandson of Vishnupant, who founded Prabhat Film Company, says, “For the role of young Dnyaneshwar, both (Damle and Fattelal) wanted a child with an innocent face. After a lot of search, they found the actor in young boy named Yeshwant Nikam. After his selection, the boy very innocently asked, ‘I have two young brothers; can you give them some work?’ They were also called to the studio and were cast as brothers of Dnyaneshwar in the film.”
Anil adds that the director duo, who also made films like Saint Tukaram (1936) and Gopal Krishna (1938), visited Nevasha and other religious places to see the how temples looked.
Touring these places gave them an idea for the location of their film that demanded a look of 13th century, the time when the Tukaram lived.
On the day when Sant Dnyaneshwar was released in Pune 75 years ago, the print of the film was brought to Prabhat Talkies with a big procession that was marked by drum beats, lezim, jhanjhar and chanting of Dnyanba Tukaram. “On the way, hundreds of people gathered to witness this grand procession,” recalls Anil Damle.
According to him, since reflectors were used for outdoor shooting, actor Shahu Modak, who played Sant Dnyaneshwar in the film, used to train his eyes to bear piercing brightness by looking at the rising sun for several minutes.
“Also, before shooting the last shot of the film, which shows Dnyaneshwar taking a ‘samadhi’, Shahu (Modak) fasted for three days. The peace and the glow that the audience sees on his face in the last shot was due to Shahu’s dedication for his work,” Damle adds.
Other than Modak, the cast of the film included Datta Dharmadhikari, Pandit, Tamhankar, Shanta Majumdar, Sumati Gupte and Bhagwat. The movie was written by Anand Kumar and Shivram Vashikar.