Baburao Painter (1890–1954) was an Indian film director
He was born Baburao Krishnarao Mestry in 1890 in Kolhapur. He taught himself to paint and derives its name “Painter”. (hence the name) and sculpt in academic art school style. He and his artist cousin Anandrao Painter between 1910 and 1916 were the leading painters of stage backdrops in Western India doing several famous curtains for Sangeet Natak troupes and also for Gujarati Parsi theatres. They became avid filmgoers following Raja Harishchandra.
Baburao and his cousin Anandarao bought a movie projector from the Bombay flea market and proceeded to exhibit films, studying the art of movies all the while. Anandarao was busy with assembling a camera for their maiden venture, and his untimely death at this juncture compelled Baburao to go it alone
They turned to cinema first as exhibitors while trying to assemble their own camera. Anandrao however died in 1916 and Painter and his main disciple V.G. Damle eventually put together a working camera in 1918.
Baburao was one of the leading stage painter for West Indian theatres during 1910 and 1916. He was also an film enthusiast and founded Maharashtra Film Company in 1919. To enable this Baburao had borrow money from Tanibai Kagolkar, a long-time admirer. Movie acting, especially tamasha’s were looked down upon in conservative societies like Kolhapur so the studio itself was an living quarter for quite a few including leading ladies – Gulab Bai (renamed Kamaladevi) and Anusuya Bai (renamed Sushiladevi). Painter got onboard his old colleagues including Damle and S. Fatehlal and later on V. Shantaram, trio who later on left to set up Prabhat Film Company.
Baburao’s first feature film was Sairandri (1920), which got heavily censored for its graphic depiction of slaying of Keechak by Bhima. However the movie itself got positive critics and commercial acclaim spurring Painter on to take on more ambitious projects. He wrote his own screenplays, and led the three-dimensional space rather than stage-painting in the Indian movie. 1921/22, he published the first Indian films and programs designed to even the movie posters. Publicity was not alien to Painter’s many talents – in 1921–22, he distributed programme booklets complete with photographs and film details.
Baburao was a man of many talents – he wrote his own screenplays and he was also the first Indian filmmaker to adopt the method Eisenstein had described as ‘stenographic’ – he sketched the costumes, movements, and characters. He changed the concept of set designing from painted curtains to solid multi-dimensional lived in spaces, he introduced artificial lighting and understood the importance of publicity. As early as 1921–22 he was the first to issue programme booklets, complete with details of the film and photographs. He also painted himself tasteful, eye-catching posters of his films.
A perfectionist, he insisted upon any number of rehearsals. As Zunzarrao Pawar, a cast member, said ‘` He would take umpteen rehearsals before actual shooting….but he was very slow in film-making. That was why we used to get annoyed with him sometimes.’`
The advent of sound in 1931 did not excite Painter. However, after a few more silent films, the Maharashtra Film Company pulled down its shutters with the advent of sound. Baburao was not particularly keen on the talkies for he believed that they would destroy the visual culture so painfully evolved over the years.
He returned to painting and sculpture, his original vocation barring sporadic ventures like remaking Savkari Pash in sound in 1936, Pratibha (1937), one of his few preserved films which is a good illustration of Painter’s control over big sets, lighting and crowd scenes and Lokshahir Ramjoshi (1947) on Shantaram’s invitation.
The beautiful posters that Baburao painted for his films prompted the advice of not wasting his talent on dirty walls, that an art gallery was the correct destination! Prophetic words indeed, because later his posters were up at J.J. School of Art, Mumbai and much admired by the principal, Gladstone Solomon.