Tribute to an unsung master – Ravindra Dave

Seasoned film historian Subhash Chheda pays tribute to one of the unsung talents of Hindi and Gujarati cinema

By Subhash Chheda

Ravindra Dave (1919-1992)

Time is a great leveller but the memory behind time makes us remember and forget the moments we lost and register in its sheen and spleen. What remains truly to memory are impressions that man made through his/her contributions, craft, skills and above all humanity. That has permanently remained recorded in the annals of history as fact and reality. 

21 July, 2020 marked the 28 death anniversary of one such artiste, Ravindra Dave, a filmmaker who perhaps wasn’t so celebrated as other iconic names of Hindi cinema.  Today is the [24 July] is birthday of his nephew Ashwin Acharya.  Seasoned historian Subhash Chheda – DATAKINO – Research and Documentation on Indian cinema looks back at the remarkable journey of the unsung filmmaker.

Dave made 30 films as a director and introduced many brilliant artistes to Hindi cinema. Hindi film fraternity fondly called him ‘Ravinbhai’. The filmmaker who remained active gave us many Hindi films in the time ranging from early 1950s to late 60s. Prominent among them were ‘Nagina’ (1951), ‘Agra Road’ (1957), ‘Post Box 999’ (1958), ‘Satta Bazaar’ (1959), ‘Dulha Dulhan’ (1964) and ‘Raaz’ (1967). 

Dave wore many hats – producer, director, production manager, editor, screenplay writer who not only pioneered and strengthened the spirit of Indian cinema but also brought golden revival to Gujarati cinema in his second innings. 

Born in Karachi, British India on 16 April, 1919, Ravindra Dave was Zalawadi Gujarati Brahmin with Halwad as his native of forefathers. His initial growing years of education and training were formed under care taking guidance and mentorship of his maternal uncle and popular film producer Dalsukh Pancholi. He started his career at age of 14 in pre-partition time as a Production Manager of Punjabi films under the tutelage of  Pancholi in his Lahore studio days. Pancholi was a sought after producer and remained the torch bearer for him in all these years. After managing many films in production management and learning film editing skills from Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, Pancholi considered his nephew reliable enough to give him the direction of the entire film. 

Ravindra Dave was mere 23 years old, youngest director of his time, when he made his directorial debut with ‘Poonji’(1943). The film was co-directed by Vishnu R. Pancholi and it was a runaway entertaining hit revolving around three sisters who want to prevent their old father from marrying again.

Poonji [1943]

Noted film journal ‘Film India’ reviewed the film positively in December [1943] issue stating, “A film that entertained and yet made a substantial contribution to the screen art of the country. The distinguished feature of the film is the remarkably pleasant music. The picture is directed by two newcomers and considering that they were new to the game, they could be said to have done a very well.”

In his second movie ‘Dhamki’(1945), he became an independent director and ploughed in the new field of suspense genre and came out with flying colours. Al Nasir played a different type of role here. As the murder mystery drama, the film borrowed heavily from Hollywood’s Noir and featured dark alleys and dim lighting creating chilling eerie atmosphere. “It was not as popular and appreciated by audience seeking ingredients of his early popular ‘Poonji’, but for discerning cinemagoer it was more integrated and competently made crime thriller,” noted chronicler of his time, V. P. Sathe. 

Although his cinema wasn’t landmark, he gave considerably good films on various genres. His cinema ranged from social dramas, light comedy, mythological, patriotism, murder mystery, suspense and at the same time depicting ethos of Indian culture and art. However his notable contribution is in the genre of suspense crime thriller. Though Kamal Amrohi made ‘Mahal’(1949), Bimal Roy made ‘Madhumati’(1958), Raj Khosla made ‘Woh kaun Thi?’(1964), Yash Chopra made ‘Ittefaq’(1969), most of these contemporary filmmakers of his time except Raj Khosla followed social and romantic musical melodramas. However Ravindra Dave honed mastery on suspense genre and was called the ‘Alfred Hitchcock of India.’

Popular Film Journal of its time, ‘Film India’, reviewed Ravindra Dave’s ‘Meena Bazaar’ (1950) a social drama, starring Nargis and Shyam as, “One of those pictures which seek to portray human drama as it is supposed to exist in the private lives of those players who face the footlights facing different characters at different times.” 

By standards of censor board of early fifties, ‘Nagina’(1951) was considered too frightening for children. It was perhaps the first Hindi film to be given ‘Adult’ certification. As goes by one of notable strange anecdote, the film’s 15 years old star, Nutan, was escorted by family friend Shammi Kapoor to the film’s premiere, but was not allowed to the theatre. Based on the story by Ramashankar Chowdhury, the film has many terrifying horror sequences. The film gave Nutan her first big break and introduced new playback singer C. H Atma with happening company of musical duo Shankar-Jaikishan, reigning on the success of Raj kapoor’s ‘Barsaat’ (1949), their debut film as composer.

Nagina [1951]

As in ‘Dhamki’, ‘Nagina’ revealed Ravindra Dave’s flair for mystery and suspense. Since then he made number of crime thrillers notably ‘Motimahal’(1952), ‘Char Minar’ (1956), ‘Agra Road’(1957), in which he introduced Vijay Anand as the hero. ‘Post Box 999’(1958) starring Sunil Dutt and Shakila, apparently inspired from Henry Hathaway’s successful Hollywood film noir ‘Call Northside 777 (1948) starring James Stewart and Lee J. Cobb. Ravindra Dave’s ‘Raaz’(1967) starring Rajesh Khanna was the first film signed by Rajesh Khanna and destined to be his debut film. The pair of Rajesh Khanna and Babita were to be introduced by this film. However unfortunately the film got delayed for sometimes and Rajesh Khanna made his debut with ‘Aakhri Khat’(1966) and Babita with ‘Dus Lakh’ (1966), almost year ahead of the release of ‘Raaz’. 

Most of all these films and so many others he directed under the banner of Pancholi films. The most successful film that Ravindra Dave directed for Pancholi after ‘Nagina’ was ‘Farishta’(1958) starring Sohrab Modi, Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari. However in 1956 he brought to the front his own banner ‘Nagina Films’ and made many films. Among other notable and successful films he made was ‘Satta Bazaar’(1959) starring Balraj Sahni and Meena Kumari and ‘Dulha Dulhan’ (1964) starring Raj Kapoor and Sadhana for the first time.

After a long and successful career as popular Hindi filmmaker, he switched on to make Gujarati film by just a chance situation. When remake of his own Hindi film ‘Nagina’ starring Leena Chandavarkar and Sanjay Khan, got shelved and stuck due to number of reasons including finance, little did Ravindra Dave know that the setback was intended and destined to be the turning point of his career paving way to his second innings of success.

Silver Jubilee celebrations of Jesal Toral (1971)

His first Gujarati film debut as director ‘Jesal Toral’ (1971) not only launched the career of  three Gujarati popular star: Upendra Trivedi and Ramesh Mehta (his first as a comedian) but also become huge blockbuster hit and brought a renaissance in Gujarati Film industry. Apart of being huge hit the film also managed to win 17 awards in various categories from Gujarat State Government. Based on popular folklore of Gujarat, the film made its mark on audience and critics equally and for the first time the vast commercial potential of Gujarati film market was mapped. Prior to ‘Jesal Toral’, a few Gujarati films were made and handful among them saw sight of success. 

Noted Gujarati actor Upendra Trivedi who considered Ravindra Dave as his mentor and guide made long collaboration with Dave in his illustrious Gujarati film career. Out of 26 Gujarati films that he made in the span of his later career, Upendra Trivedi acted in 16 films and Avinash Vyas remained Music Director for almost 20 films. This is quite different from his Hindi film career where he had not repeated the stars, cast or music directors. Instead he worked with almost all brilliant music directors of his time like Ghulam Haider, Pt. Amarnath, Bulo C. Rani, Husnlal-Bhagatram, Shankar-Jaikishan, C. Ramchandra, Chitragupta, Ninu Mazumdar, Hansraj Behl, O. P. Nayyar, S. D. Burman, Roshan, Kalyanji-Anandji and Ravi. As a matter of fact he gave the break to Manna Dey as Music composer in ‘Naina’(1953) starring Geeta Bali and Abhi Bhattacharya. In his last Hindi film, ‘Road to Sikkim’ (1969), he launched newcomers Anju Mahendru and Dev Kumar and also introduced Maharaja of Sangli, Vijaysinghraje Patwardhan  (father of Bhagyashree of Maine Pyaar Kiya fame) as music director. In his book ‘A Rise from Ashes’, Vijaysingh Patwardhan mentioned fine incident how Asha Bhosle played the role making his entry to Dave’s film. 

As Prithviraj Kapoor was called ‘Papaji’ by entire Hindi film industry, Ravindra Dave was lovingly called ‘Bapa’ by Gujarati film fraternity. “As Columbus in the search of discovering India, unknowingly discovered the land of America, Ravindra Dave decided to make one Gujarati film to make his staff occupied immediately for work as his entire production unit was dangling with date problems of stars of his Hindi film remake titled as ‘Nagina’. With his immense work experience as director, producer, editor, Ravindra Dave had erased the cliché of mediocre filmmaking in Gujarati cinema before his entry. He made everything in Gujarati cinema technically updated and made his first Gujarati film in Eastman colour and not in Black and White. The level of the film held high and it made history stamping the impression of the rising sun named Ravindra Dave”, noted Upendra Trivedi in souvenir celebrating Ravindra Dave’s sixtieth Birthday. 

Post the success of ‘Jesal Toral’(1971), Ravindra Dave played long successful innings in Gujarati cinema registering consecutive hits like ‘Raja Bharathari’(1973), ‘Hothal Padmani’(1974), ‘Kunvarbai nu Mameru’(1974), ‘Shetal Ne Kanthe’(1975), ‘Malavpati Munj’(1976), ‘Bhadar Tara Vehta Pani’(1976), ‘Son Kansari’(1977) and ‘Patali Parmar’(1978). All of them are silver jubilee hits. Ravindra Dave was his own competitor. He made and broke his own records in both Hindi and Gujarati cinema. His last released Gujarati film was ‘Malo Nagde’(1985)  starring his longest collaborator actor Upendra Trivedi with Aruna Irani and Mulraj Rajda as other cast.

Many new technicians and filmmakers arose in later times followed the footsteps of Ravindra Dave, yet nobody managed to bring the revival spirit in Gujarati cinema, the way Ravindra Dave surfaced for almost a decade. The solid reason behind this was his strong production unit where almost all family members of extended Dave family had been working together for long time, ranging from the camera man to assistant director. Along with them the experience and craft of Ravindra Dave’s editing knew the art of what to keep and what to dilute once the production of the film is over. The lucidity of the story and narration was  his first priority to connect with the audience. He earned the USP of dependability both for the audience and distributors of Gujarati film industry. As working in Hindi cinema for almost two decades, he knew the cost effectiveness of film making and remained too economical on every front of production value. 

The extended Dave family had close knit bonding and unitedly worked with perseverance and utmost sincerity. Dave’s life partner Jashumatiben’s contribution behind making them all united and not letting them bear the struggle at home was something that we have to consider so strongly. Pratap Dave; Ravindra Dave’s cousin was cinematographer ‘Post Box 999’ onwards, the younger brother Kantilal Dave became the producer with ‘Jesal Toral’, Bharat Dave (son of Kantilal) became producer with ‘Sant Surdas’, his another younger brother Ramesh Dave remained Production In-charge, the other members like Kumar Dave, Narendra Dave, Arvind Dave, Dinesh Raval, Balwant Dave and Ramnik Acharya remained associated with Ravindra Dave throughout their life making him feel the family even at work place. This was a reason why he remained grounded and at ease controlling all of his films. 

“He ushered an almost renaissance in Gujarati art and culture through his cinema and held out a super incentive in the shape of Tax exemption for all pictures produced in Gujarat. This was perhaps the motive force behind Ravinbhai’s shift to regional film making but it paid dividends in a big way. This is what I call FATE, when everything look dark on horizon of life, the superpower show the silver lining,” stated B. R. Chopra showing his feelings towards fellow filmmaker and always a gentleman friend. 

While celebrating Ravindra Dave’s sixtieth Birthday under Upendra Trivedi Foundation, the event organized on April 16, 1979 at Gandhinagar Gruh, Vadodara witnessed the presence of then Chief Minister of Gujarat State Mr. Babubhai J Patel, Home and Cultural Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Popatlal Vyas and noted Director Vijay Bhatt as Guest of Honour. The event also witnessed many notable personalities who greeted Ravindra Dave with fine praise for his contribution to cinema by letters, ranging from landmark filmmakers like V. Shantaram to B. R Chopra. It also showed how Mumbai Film fraternity remembered this humanitarian filmmaker and maintained their bonding to honour his contribution.    

 While having successful career in both Hindi and Gujarati cinema, with career ranging for four and half decades of satisfaction, there was no doubt about his sincerity, enthusiasm, commitment and devotion to his work. He also had so many other passions to ponder in his free time. Ravindra Dave was passionate about vintage luxurious cars. He loved driving and owned number of dream wheels that includes Austin, Silver colour Chevrolet, Black colour Hudson, Plymouth, Buick, Ambassador and a Fiat. As a matter of fact, he presented yellow coloured Station Wagon to heroine Sadhana Shivdasani. He was not only passionate about owning of cars but also knew the art of maintaining and repairing them. His family members reiterated that in his free time he kept them repairing on his own. Apart of cars, his other creative inputs lay in carpentry. He used to make chairs for kids dining table. He was also budding painter and loved art of sculpting. It seems that most of these skills and talent he honed during his initial years as a Production Manager of Punjabi films. Good food and humour were also traits that he acquired from long. He was also avid reader and loved exploring folklores of Gujarat. 

Many stars and fellow technicians of film fraternity bestowed their respect for Dave, calling him a thorough gentleman filmmaker. Rajesh Khanna said, “Though ‘Aakhri Khat’ is my first film, I received my first break as a leading actor in Ravindra Dave’s ‘Raaz’ in 1967. Though I had lots of confidence, I was shy in facing the camera initially. In my first three shots, I had to perform with stress on my body language and dialogue delivery. Though I was right with my dialogues, my movements were not up to the mark. Ravindra Dave explained me my scenes and movements very clearly correcting my way of walking.”

Ravindra Dave with Naresh Kanodia

Towards last phase of his career he was planning to make Hindi comeback film with what was considered as his forte: crime thriller. From direction to screenplay and from dialogue to editing he wanted to prove himself auteur with this film. Ravindra Dave’s long time assistant director and collaborator Shridutt Vyas shared an interesting anecdote. “When he was planning his last Hindi film, I was with him. The title of the film was ‘Mera Pati Mera Qatil’. He knew the gripping art of screenplay and the seed of the story was his own. Since his handwriting was quite bad, he had kept dictating narration to me and I had penned the screenplay on his behalf for this film. He had read and narrated the script to actor-producer Rakesh Roshan. This was not just a film but his dream project. This was his last swansong where he wanted to prove his mettle as a filmmaker of his own craft. Unfortunately due to his critical health and financial problems the film didn’t make to production stage. However Rakesh Roshan made a film on the same story and changed the title as ‘Khoon Bhari Maang’(1988),” said Vyas. However, today it is also a clear fact that Roshan’s film was almost lift off from three episodes of the Australian Mini-series ‘Return To Eden’(1983). Without disputing point of view of Shridutt Vyas, it is now a fact that Roshan’s film became blockbuster hit of that year and once again putting on pedestal the career of actress Rekha and producer-director Rakesh Roshan. Rekha won Best Actress Filmfare Award for this film and Kabir Bedi made his comeback to Hindi cinema after his Hollywood stint.

As nostalgia around all those old Hindi films lies in its timeless tunes and music. Ravindra Dave’s most Hindi films have beautiful melodies to cheer and cherish for long time. We may forget the films but not the melodies that made everlasting impressions to senses. Here are list of few lovely melodies of Ravindra Dave cinema that even today vibrantly craving us for those golden era of Hindi Film Music: ‘Post Box 999’s “Bichhde Hue Milenge Phir’, “Mere Dil Mein Hai Ik Baat”, “O Neend Na Mujhko Aaye”, ‘Satta Bazaar’s “Tumhen Yaad Hoga”, “Chaandi Ke Chand Tukdo”, ‘Punar Milan’s “Paas Baitho Tabiyat Machal Jayegi” and ‘Dulha Dulhan’s “Humne Tujhko Pyar Kiya Hai Jitna”, “Mujhe kehte Hai Kallu Qawwal”, “Jo Pyar Tune Mujhko Diya Tha”

It is no exaggeration calling Ravindra Dave as genius filmmaker who explored the talent and established them as stars on the firmament of Hindi and Gujarati cinema. Whether its Nutan, Nasir Khan, Vijay Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Babita, Geeta Bali, Pran, Om Prakash, Abhi  Bhattacharya, Anju Mahendru, Upendra Trivedi, Anupama, Veljibhai Gajjar, Rita Bhaduri, Snehlata, Manna Dey, C. H. Atma, Gulshan Bawra, Gulzar, Anand Bakshi, Shanshad Begum, Noor Jahan, Prafull Dave, Diwaliben Bhil, Karshan Sagathia or Vijay Singh. Dave bid us farewell at the age of 73, on 21 July , 1992 at Mumbai. His cinema always remains imprinted in our collective memory narrating a fulcrum of human emotions and life drama.

In the poetic nutshell of Harendranath Chattopadhyaya’s words to him, let’s pay homage to such gentleman filmmaker on his Birth centenary year:

“How very quietly you dream and fashion
Films full of human struggle, human strife;
Considerate and brimming with compassion
You handle artists and interpret life.”

3 comments

  1. Nostalgic! A heartfelt homage to an Indian cinema legend by a committed historian! Thanks for recovering such a rich history and honoring a great filmmaker.

    Liked by 1 person

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