Filmmaker V Shantaram’s last film with Prabhat Studios was Padosi (1941). Inspired by the friendship of the co-founders of the Studio, S Fatehlal, a Muslim, and Vishnupant Damle, a Hindu, the story makes a strong case for religious unity. The climax shows a dam bursting, which received much acclaim for its realistic imagery. Shantaram got a four-foot high miniature of a dam built and captured the action in slow-motion. A video camera from Germany with a shutter speed of 1/100 seconds was brought in. At the time, projector cameras came with 1/24 seconds speed.
Known for his innovative style and resourceful direction, Shantaram brought realism into Prabhat Films, which until then was only familiar with mythological and religious stories. All this was possible because Damle was the backbone of this enterprise that grew to become the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. It would become the one-stop destination for luminaries in the field of Indian cinema.
Damle was astute in laying out the plan for the 28-acre premises. The iconic Studio No 1 was designed to accommodate both indoor and outdoor shooting. Walkways around the studio helped the crew to navigate the space effortlessly.
Nitin Patki, video projectionist at FTII, who arrived at the campus in 1994, says “The balcony on two sides was also meant for guests who came to see the shooting or watch their favourite actors perform. Sundays and Wednesdays meant open house at Prabhat Studios, where guides would present the story of the campus to the public.” The five studios, done in RCC with cavity walls, provide sound insulation, while tree-lined avenues accentuate the lateral axis of the campus. It divides spaces into three zones — academic, administration and residential — making the most of the surrounding, from its hills to the forest-like ambience of jamun, guava, gulmohar, sandalwood and mango trees.
The well-known Shantaram Pond is at the farthest corner of the campus, made famous by Prabhat’s internationally renowned film, Sant Tukaram (1936). Set in a prime neighbourhood of Pune, its interaction with the city has always been seamless.
By the time Prabhat Studio was liquidated and the central government planned a film institute in 1961, they had produced nearly 45 films, across three decades, both in Marathi and Hindi. Bhupinder Kainthola, director, FTII, says, “The campus is a haloed space, it’s a pilgrimage for aspiring actors and filmmakers. The National Film Archives being next door has only enhanced the contribution of FTII to the world of cinema.”
Aman Wadhan, director and alumni, FTII, remembers his first ride into Prabhat Road. A road sign announced Prabhat Film Company, with its logo of the woman blowing a tutari. “I felt a sense of arrival, it was much more than having made it to FTII. There is film history everywhere. The two studios (No. 1 and No. 2) are so well built — the material used for cementing was pulverised from the foundation’s bedrock. Their high ceilings with the Kolhapuri tarafas (“catwalks” for installing studio lamps), is an ingenious and inexpensive way to light up a studio and has been in operation in India since silent-era films. My first-ever 16mm film project was shot in a derelict storeroom full of broken projectors, film cans, carbon-arc lamps, and typewriters from the Prabhat era. Little events such as these can awaken one’s senses. A film school should have hidden pockets where students can take refuge, and, until recently, the FTII campus had those qualities,” he says.
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘Building Blocks: A Home for Moving Pictures’