Recently, Kolhapur’s Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal protested against Lata Mangeshkar for selling the studio founded by the pioneering Marathi filmmaker Bhalji Pendharkar.
Pendharkar began making films in the 1930s but fell on bad times by the 1970s, at which time Lata Mangeshkar purchased the land to help him. Ms Mangeshkar sees it as property while the ABCM considers it a shared heritage to be preserved. But we must admit, land has appreciated far more than the value of art.
We are currently observing the centenary year of Indian cinema. This is a dubious assertion, as the first Indian cinema images were little documentaries shot by Bhatvadekar in 1899. It’s really the centenary year of the fiction feature film (Raja Harishchandra, 1913) and the tendency has been to focus attention on the achievements of the Mumbai film industry rather than the many cinemas of India.
But this industry has deep roots in many places, including Kolhapur. Here, Baburao Painter established the Maharashtra Film Company in 1919, laying the foundations of the film industry in this state along with Phalke’s Hindustan Film Company, which was in Mumbai. Kolhapur was home to Fateh Lal, Damle and V Shantaram, who went on to create the Prabhat Film Company and make a seminal contribution to both, the Marathi as well as the Hindi film industry of which Lata Mangeshkar has been such a significant part — and which has been such a significant part of her own story.
Kolhapur has a record of honouring these roots, hosting film festivals and film museums. So perhaps this insistence that Ms Mangeshkar preserve the studio rather than sell its land is understandable. Or is it unjustifiable because she has the right to make any decision about her private property?
One could argue that time marches on and things change. If the city’s traffic grows and sticks, should we build more flyovers to facilitate its movement, or should we maintain a certain pristine quality in Peddar Road? Shouldn’t the Peddar Road Residents Association, of which Ms Mangeshkar is a member, just accept that this is the relentless march of time and that which was once special may now become merely ordinary?
Lata Mangeshkar’s life is a monument to the arts. From her childhood she has pursued little but her art and immersed herself in the music of cinema. This idea of the arts as a calling an artist has no choice but to answer acknowledges that there are rationales other than material ones, a logic which is not mathematical. In our admiration of artistes and their dedication, we too celebrate this. When a society patronises the arts, we acknowledge that pleasure and beauty of form are vital to a its existence and endorse a system of values other than only the material.
In present times, this idea may not seem one we can take for granted. The arts today are not just dependent on other people’s money, as they always have been, but seem subordinated to the very idea of money. We struggle to define what we value in terms of its intrinsic nature and are more reassured whether it can be valued in terms of numbers sold and money made. There may be a perverse democracy here — most people can count, but you may need a particular type of exposure to appreciate intangible ideas of quality and craft. But the dream is that more and more people should have the chance. Surely it is also the dream of any artiste — to affirm this history and heritage and make it accessible not just to afficionados, but to all.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.