The 1951 film "Albela" made actor-director Bhagwan Abaji Palav aka Bhagwan Dada a household name. Now director Niranjan Patwardhan is bringing "Albela", a biopic on the late actor, and the makers say they had a tough time making it as ready reference material was unavailable.
Very little is known about Bhagwan Dada and it includes the fact that he apparently introduced hand-to-hand combat in Indian cinema. He is even credited for introducing the concept of a body double for performing stunts.
"Since there is no ready reference material available on Bhagwan Dada, it took a lot of time in doing research on the film," Kunal Shetye, director marketing, Kimaya Motion Pictures Pvt. Ltd., which is producing the film, told IANS.
"In the last 18 months of the research, the team has visited places right from National Film Archives to various private film collectors and libraries in Mumbai, Pune, Nasik and Baroda.
"Most of the negatives of Bhagwan dada's films were destroyed in fire and no films prior to 'Albela' (1951) are readily available for reference," he added.
According to available information, seen mostly as a simpleton in films like "Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and "Chori Chori", Bhagwan began acting in the silent era with "Criminal".
It is said that during his stint in filmdom, he scaled great heights of success, directed-produced films and even owned a studio. In fact, in the 1940s, he was seen as the richest actor with a fleet of 40 cars.
But then destiny took a turn, and he lost his wealth. He died in penury in 2012 aged 88.
Bhagwan's eldest son Arun Bhagwan Palav came as a ray of hope for the makers and provided valuable inputs for the film.
"Bhagwan Dada's eldest son Arun has played a very important role by giving us the story inputs for the film. Additionally, senior film journalist Isak Mujawar, who has also written a book on Bhagwan Dada, has contributed," said Shetye.
Patwardhan, who worked with Bollywood director Madhur Bhandarkar in films like "Heroine" and "Fashion", decided to make the film after reading an article on Bhagwan Dada a few years back. It quoted the late actor saying: 'The distance between Forras Road and Lamington Road can be easily covered in 15 to 20 minutes, but it took me (Bhagawan) 12 years to reach there."
After reading that piece, he got curious about the legendary actor and decided to explore. The opportunity came when Monish Babre, managing director of Kimaya Motion Pictures Pvt. Ltd., suggested he make a film on the life and times of Bhagwan.
The film will not only show Bhagwan's journey from being a goon to a successful actor and filmmaker, it will also explore the era between 1930 and 1951 and present life in Bombay pre- and post-independence, and the early stages of the Indian film industry.
After finding material on Bhagwan dada, another mammoth task for the makers is casting.
"This being a biopic, the main focus will be to get look alikes of yesteryear's legendary actors on the screen, including Bhagwan Dada, Raj Kapoor, Geeta Bali, Guru Dutt and Lalita Pawar, in addition to actors from the silent movie era like Master Vitthal and Baburao Pehelwan and music director C. Ramchandra," Shetye said.
Makeup of the actors to create look-alikes on screen will be done by National Award winning makeup artist Vikram Gaikwad.
The biopic will be released in Hindi and will be sent to various international film festivals with English subtitles.