Rajesh Devraj

Arts Research
2017-2018

Grant Period: One year and six months

The grant supports Mumbai-based filmmaker and writer Rajesh Devraj to write a book on the life and works of Baburao Painter, producer, director and the founder of the Maharashtra Film Company. As a director, Rajesh has worked on television promos and shows, as well as commercials for leading Indian brands. He has  written a graphic novel titled Sudershan (Chimpanzee) and several screenplays such as Quick Gun Murugan, the UTV-Disney film Arjun: The Warrior Prince and Fakir of Venice. As a film researcher, Rajesh has written a comprehensive history of Bollywood poster art titled The Art of Bollywood (Taschenm 2010), and edited the anthologies From Darkness into Light: Perspective on Film Preservation (2015) and Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow (2017) - a compilation of essays on cinema by the archivist PK Nair. Besides this, he has contributed to many national and international publications.

This project takes off from his earlier research conducted for his book The Art of Bollywood, for which Rajesh identified key resources and archives related to Baburao Painter’s work in art, theatre and cinema, besides gathering some visual material on the subject. Regarded as the true pioneer of Indian cinema, Baburao Painter (1890-1954), has not received the critical attention that he deserves. The aim of this project is to dispel the silence surrounding Painter’s remarkable life, journey and personality.

Rajesh, through this project, will explore the evolution of regional cinema in Kolhapur by situating Baburao’s work amidst literary and visual cultures of his time. Tracing his influence on and connections with contemporary artists, thinkers, writers and political figures, Rajesh will study Painter’s work in the context of contemporary debates on nationalism, in order to understand how during Painter’s times myth and history were used to serve nationalistic politics.  He will look at the artistic environment in Kolhapur at the turn of the twentieth century, in the context of the non-Brahmin movement and efforts to uplift the artisanal castes. Rajesh aims to go beyond the conventional biography format to paint a portrait of Baburao Painter against the backdrop of early twentieth-century cultural history of India alongside the emerging visual technologies that shaped and transformed Indian popular culture.

One of the aims of this project is to understand the evolutions of cinema in the regional centres such as Kolhapur and the resources it drew on in terms of talent, capital, and technology. Rajesh will analyse how traditional patronage underwent changes with the advent of cinema and influenced the arts and culture of the period.

Research on early Indian cinema is fraught with daunting challenges in the absence of films and archival material that have been lost or destroyed. To tackle this seemingly insurmountable problem, Rajesh will focus on the hitherto neglected archival resources such as magazine articles and advertisements, committee reports, guidebooks, accounts of movie-going audiences etc. in order to stitch together the fragments to build a larger  picture of the times. He will read Painter’s lost films against their literary sources and trace their antecedents in theatre and fiction. In addition, Rajesh will study Painter’s artisanal approach as an alternative to Phalke’s ‘home-movies of the gods’ perspective and other contemporary approaches to cinema.

Rajesh will conduct interviews with his family members, and families of Painter’s colleagues as well as other significant personalities in the field in Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur. Interviews with film historians, scholars, experts on Marathi theatre and the history of regional arts will also form part of Rajesh’s fieldwork. Considering the paucity of serious writing on Baburao Painter in English, Rajesh will focus on the more exhaustive and wide-ranging material which is available in Marathi. Apart from the standard biographies/memoirs of Painter, Rajesh will draw on biographies and autobiographies of Painter’s colleagues, contemporary discussions of his work, newspaper and magazine articles, as well as from background material on Marathi theatre and the artistic context of Kolhapur. He also plans to draw on literary works adapted by Painter, which will be read against the available synopses of his films. While Rajesh has a basic knowledge of Marathi, he will recruit a Marathi translator to go through the specialised material and a translator for the field trips.

Through this project, Rajesh also attempts to compile all the available visual material related to Painter’s work in theatre, cinema and painting. He has already identified the cinema collectors with stills, sketches and other photographic material related to Painter’s films. A comprehensive list of artworks compiled on the occasion of Painter’s centenary with details of ownership is available. Rajesh needs to verify the facts and cross-refer it with other sources. He will look at the material which is available at public archives such as NFAI, Ravindra Natya Mandir/KT Deshmukh Archive and the Department of Archeology and Museum, Maharashtra.

This project is part-supported by the Film Heritage Foundation, Mumbai. The outcome of this project will be a biographical account of Baburao Painter, which will be subsequently published as a book. The Grantee’s deliverables to IFA with the final reports will be the manuscript of the book including images. The decision to make this grant is embedded in IFA’s mandate to support work from marginalised or relatively unexplored areas in the arts and culture. The budget is commensurate with the proposal. 

 This grant is made possible with support from Titan Company Limited