Through The Lens
Way back in early forties, the golden era in Hindi cinema had just dawned. Young aspirant boys and girls from across the country would flock to Mumbai to try their luck in films. Some wanted to be hero and some directors. Offices of leading filmmakers were based in Mumbai, and the list included Sohrab Modi's Minerva movietone, Sardar Chandulal's Ranjeet, Vijay Bhatt's Prakash Pictures, V Shantaram's Rajkamal, Chimanlal Desai's Amar Pictures etc.
In one such company National Studio, film Kasauti was being directed by renowned writer of Gujarati literature Ramchandra Thakur. One day the studio owner sent a young man across to Thakur for a job interview. Should he clear the interview, the lad would join Thakursa'ab as an assistant director. But the young man turned out to be so impressive that for a moment Thakur wondered if he was an interviewer or interviewee. He was so taken in by the boy's overall personality that despite his lack of proficiency in Hindi-Urdu, he hired him as his assistant.
The young man was Vaju Kotak, the founder of Chitralekha-Jee. Later, Ramchandra Thakur had noted somewhere that Vajubhai had an amazing quality to make a complete stranger into a friend in flat five minutes. Once Kasauti was over, Vajubhai left the studio but his erstwhile employer Thakur, addressed as Ramubhai, remained his close friend. Aiming to become director, Vajubhai was an intense worker and passionate writer. Ramchandra Thakor notes, ‘Rather than copying others, he always insisted on something original.'
When Vajubhai left National Company, around the same time Chamanbhai Desai had founded Amar Pictures. Vaju Kotak wrote a full length screenplay based on the idea of a small incident Chimanbhai was toying with. The film that was made was Khilona. As the film received rave reviews, Vajubhai became overnight known as a successful story writer in the industry.
N R Acharya, the founder director of Acharya Art productions mentions, ‘when we got tangled in any story plot, Vajubhai would come to our rescue and show us the way out. His ability to weave a full story out of a tiny incident was quite praiseworthy. ‘For this reason, other film companies began demanding stories from Vajubhai. But at the moment, writing was not his priority. His goal was to become a director.
Having worked in Ranjeet Studio for some time, Vajubhai joined the newly-established Janak Pictures. For this company, director B Mitra was making Anguthi with Ashokkumar. As an assistant director, Vajubhai was required to constantly interact with all artists. Meantime, he befriended Ashok Kumar and his friendship became so close that the inaugural issue of Jee that he later founded in 1950 was dedicated to the doyen of Indian cinema.
Vajubhai got his first opportunity to become film director at Acharya Arts. For this company, Vajubhai had penned several film screenplays. Based on a news item that the teachers at Ravindranath Tagore's Shanti Niketan were forced to observe celibacy, Vajubhai prepared a light hearted screenplay. Mahesh Kaul made a film Paristan based on this screenplay. According to Achayra, ‘I have never seen in any other film such subtle and satirical humour. In fact, humour was Vajubhai's strong forte.'
Under Acharya's Banner, Vajubhai wrote the story of Parivartan, which dealt with how poor boys brought up in the squalor of dense slums in Mumbai turn to crime. Motilal was the hero and Anjalidevi the Heroine. Vajubhai then could spot acting potential in Raj Kapur who was then working as an assistant to Kedar Sharma. He recommended his name to director Acharya to give him a role in Parivartan. Thus, according to director Acharya, Vaju Kotak became instrumental in making Raj Kapur a hero'. Raj Kapur was so impressed with the Parivartan story that his subsequent film Awara made under R K Banner reflected its influence.
Vajubhai's association with actor Motilal started with Parivartan. Motilal has gone on record as saying, ‘I enjoyed Kotak's company as he knew the art of storytelling. He had a natural knack to befriend anyone in the very first meeting. It was fun to spend time with him on the sets. His presence ensured that boredom was dispelled fast.'
The turn of circumstances made Vajubhai a writer, though his initial goal was to be a director. His friendly nature was responsible for his success in whatever he did. He had no hang-ups about doing any work, small or big. He always accomplished the work he took up. During the picturization of the Mujra song, it was noticed that the Sarangi player was missing, now what to do? Soon, the assistant director Vajubhai got ready for the guest role as a Sarangi player. In fact, he demonstrated such sincerity in 2-3 films.
Vajubhai's ambition to become director was fulfilled. The film Shatranj released in 1946, featuring Krushnakant and Leela Chitnis, was directed by him. Later, he directed the film Gorakh Dhandha. In a career spanning over a decade, besides working as an assistant director in Kasauti and as a director in Shatrant, Gorakh Dhandha, he had written screenplays and dialogues for Khilauna, Nanand-Bhojai and Lagnamandap.
Later, he ended up being a writer-journalist, thanks to the intervention of circumstances. The story about ‘How I became a writer?' was published as a preface in his debut novel Ramkada Vahu.