Kalamaharshi Baburao Painter of Kolhapur was the first Indian filmmaker to cast women in his films

Taking inspiration from a painting at the Archer Art Gallery we delved deeper into the legacy of Baburao Mistry (aka Baburao Painter,) who mentored at least 500 people in his lifetime – including the legendary V. Shantaram. 

This featured portrait is of Mohanlalji Khusalram, a Gujarati stage actor, painted by Baburao. c. 1920, Oil-on-Canvas, Collection of the Archer Art Gallery.

There was little that Baburao Painter (1890-1954) didn’t excel at : oil painting, sculpture, wood-carving, movie making. He was known to have revolutionised set design in theatre too. He was one of the many artists from Kolhapur that lent the city its moniker, Kala-pur.

🖼 Looking at this painting of a Gujarati theatre actor, you might think it’s a portrait set in a room. But therein lies Baburao’s magic : the 2D backdrops he painted were such that it gave the illusion of depth as in a real room. Can you imagine what he’d do to an entire theatre set!  

🎥 He was first Indian filmmaker to cast women in his films – Gulab Bai and Anasuya Bai (aka Kamala Devi and Sushila Devi) – at a time when acting was so taboo that men played the role of women in theatre as well as early silent-era films like Raja Harishchandra. 

🎞 🔥 Why we know little about him today is perhaps because a fire at his film studio damaged his life’s early works. In the early 1930s, with the advent of the talkies, he quit filmmaking, going back to art and sculpture work. 

In 1948, when Kolhapur decided to commemorate Gandhi with a 12-ft sculpture (largest in India at the time), Baburao was the natural choice for the commission. Incidentally, it was his last sculpture.

Research Support: Arunesh Varade

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