Exactly 75 years ago on this day, Indian cinema had its watershed moment with release of Marathi movie 'Manoos' (man), that perhaps for the first time made a bold attempt to explore realities of the life of a sex worker.
It was legendary producer-director V Shantaram, who conceived the plot, based on a short story 'The Police Constable', which revolved around the theme of a simple, good hearted uniformed man attempting to unshackle and free a prostitute from a life of indignity.
Today, the theme sounds pretty run-of-the-mill kind, but presenting it in 1939 on the silver screen with a female actress portraying the character, condemned to the world of vice, was a real reel adventure that became a hit, said Anil Damle, grandson of Vishnu Damle, one of the pioneering five partners, including Shantaram, who set up the famous 'Prabhat' studio in the city that produced some of the best movies with social import.
Highlighting the finer nuances that went into the making of the Shantaram masterpiece, Damle told PTI, "A perfectionist artiste, Shantaram went to red light area of Bombay and visited brothels to lend a realistic touch to the sets created in Prabhat studios by S Fattelal. Eminent director Shyam Benegal had paid tributes to their creative genius saying it was hard to believe that the scenes involving Maina (Shanta Hublikar) and Ganapat Hawildar (played by Shahu Modak) were shot in a studio."
An effervescent Shanta Hublikar broke taboos to play the role of Maina, the prostitute who dreamt of a normal married life but remained street smart to survive and combat harsh realities of the world in which she lived. Recalling Hublikar's path breaking depiction of Maina, Damle quoted her as saying from his Prabhat archives: "I never felt that I was doing an inferior role of a prostitute. I was at peace with the character because I wanted to portray the agony of a social segment."
Shahu Modak, who had earlier played deified roles in some mythological movies, undertook a body building regime to develop a physique suitable for a police constable. The make-up man at Prabhat "inflicted" an old wound on his face to give it a rugged look to vibe well with the character of a law enforcer, he said.
A former military officer was engaged by Shantaram to make daily police parade drills look real.
The song, picturised on Shanta Hublikar, 'Kashala udyachi baat... Hi sarun chalali raat...(Why do you worry about tomorrow, the night is slipping away...)' became most popular, conveying a blithe spirit of an uninhibited woman - as the movie was premiered at Central cinema in Mumbai on September 9, 1939.
The lyrics contained words from six Indian languages and the audience regaled at its delivery in a dance sequence rendered by Hublikar, a sensation in the 1930's.
"'Manoos' was a terrific hit. People were happy watching it along with families as the movie, notwithstanding its bold theme, contained no vulgar scenes. It was a love story laced with sincerity of a simple straightforward police constable who gets involved with a woman who refused to resign to fate," said Damle.
He has completed an exhaustive exercise of digitising most of the 48 talkies and six silent movies produced by 'Prabhat' which closed in 1955, bringing down the curtain on the golden eras of Indian cinema. The film was subsequently adapted in Hindi the next year under the title 'Aadmi' which too held sway on the national audience. The English synonym given was 'Life for Living'.