Remembering Sudhir Nandgaonkar, the pioneer of Film Society movement in Maharashtra

He leaves behind a rich legacy and an extensive body of work


Eminent film writer Sudhir Nandgaonkar, known as the pioneer of the film society movement in Maharashtra, passed away on January 1 at the age of 84. Nandgaonkar leaves behind a rich legacy and an extensive body of work, which will continue to remain a ready reckoner for generations to come.

The late film writer inculcated a refined taste for science-inspired art cinema among people of his state, who were otherwise used to much melodrama in films. A cinema lover of the serious kind, he took his passion for films with him wherever he went.

A student of Marathi literature, Nandgaonkar grew up in the company of professors and mentors like Anant Kanekar and Ramesh Tendulkar. He was especially fond of poetry and briefly took up teaching Marathi language and literature at the renowned R. A. Podar College in Mumbai. This was in the late 1930s, a time when the entire cultural atmosphere was at the cusp of a change, and newer ideas were being introduced in popular culture. A young Nandgaonkar, while continuing to teach, became highly influenced by cinema, both as an art form and as a medium of communication. Gone were the days of silent films, the big screen had now come out alive with dialogues, music, and colour. Nandgaonkar's journey from print media to audio-visual media had already taken flight.

In his prime, he became actively involved on platforms such as the International Film Festival and the Film Society Movement. In 1964-65, he became a member of the 'Film Forum,' where he discovered world cinema, and on his initiative, Prabhat Chitra Mandal was formed on July 5, 1968.

Nandgaonkar had said there were two motives behind establishing 'Prabhat': one was to bring the film society movement concentrated in South Mumbai to the suburbs and the other was to make Marathi people aware of good cinema, the 'art' of this medium.

Prabhat Chitra Mandal continues unabated. But Nandgaonkar always felt that much more could have been achieved through the medium of cinema for the people of Maharashtra, had the entire Marathi society responded to his efforts, says Dinkar Gangal of Think Maharashtra. "Nandgaonkar remained immersed in his literature. After the medium of television came, he became more engrossed in it. Nandgaonkar said 'Prabhat' showed old Indian-Marathi classic films, organised international film festivals, brought the best films of different countries and exhibited them, informed people about Indian parallel cinema and kick-started discussions about and around films. The programmes attracted a large number of spectators, but it was not found that their curiosity increased," adds Gangal.

Soon, Nandgaonkar became an activist of the 'Film Society' movement, which had always been his long-cherished dream. Former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, noted film director Satyajit Ray, and British film critic Marie Seton promoted the 'Film Society' movement in India. Due to government patronage, the movement spread across the country. However, there were limitations to holding the activities of the movement due to institutionalism. Bengali supremacy was imposed on the Federation of Film Societies of India and its four sections in the country, writes Gangal.

Nandgaonkar, say experts, entered the federation and destroyed the 'Babushahi' there, bringing the 'spirit' of the movement back. He rose to the position of national vice president of the federation. From the beginning, the federation was presided over by eminent personalities from the film industry, including Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal. Nandgaonkar smoothed the affairs of the federation. A democratic system was introduced and Nandgaonkar was always admired for his organisational skills. After celebrating the federation's golden jubilee, Nandgaonkar withdrew from it and from Prabhat as well, and gave up his resolve to start fifty film societies in Maharashtra. For this, the 'Maharashtra Chapter' of the federation was created. Nandgaonkar also kick-started the efforts to develop a refined taste for good cinema among university students. He started the 'Campus Film Society' which became a huge succes.

In the last forty years, Nandgaonkar had been striving to bring knowledge of good cinema to Mumbai-Maharashtra, mainly to the Marathi community. It is to his great credit that he started the Mumbai International Film Festival (MAMI) and even judged a few film festivals including Cannes. His deepest was desire that people across countries experience and learn about each other's cultures. He established the Asian Film Foundation and through it the Asian Film Festival (Third Eye) began to be held in Mumbai every year.

Nandgaonkar, a die-hard film lover, once mentioned Satyajit Ray as his favorite director and the 'Apu Trilogy' his favourite film. His translated work, 'Abhijat' is a book on Satyajit Ray. Although Nandgaonkar led an ambitious life, his childhood was spent in the shadows of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. So he continued to follow the BJP, but he did not let politics enter the field of cinema.

Born in Nandgaon in Chiplun Taluka of Ratnagiri district, he went to college in Kolhapur and completed his post-graduation from Siddharth College, Mumbai. At that time, he was working in the 'Maratha' daily as a print journalist before starting a weekly called 'Ranjana' with the help of Vasant Soparkar. It was, however, short-lived. He then entered the printing business in association with Tikone.

Nandgaonkar is survived by his wife Sunanda, two sons, and a daughter.

Maharashtra Cultural Affairs Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar expressed his grief over Nandgaonkar's death. "The movement Nandgaonkar started through the Film Society was the turning point of his career. The work done by Nandgaonkar through Film Forum, Prabhat Chitra Mandal, Third Eye Film Festival is a guide and inspiration for everyone in this field. His efforts were instrumental in shifting the centre of films from South Mumbai to the suburbs. Nandgaonkar's death has caused immense loss to the film industry and we have lost a great scholar."