This year marks the birth centenary of an eclectic filmmaker whose name is not as celebrated as others. He directed 30 movies, worked as a producer, production manager, editor and screenplay writer, and introduced many brilliant artists to Hindi and Gujarati cinema. His name was Ravindra Dave.

Dave’s Hindi films between the early 1950s and the late ’60s include Nagina (1951), Agra Road (1957), Post Box 999 (1958), Satta Bazaar (1959), Dulha Dulhan (1964) and Raaz (1967). His films had numerous hits songs, and were largely popular with audiences. His contributions extend to Gujarati cinema, which he revived with the blockbuster Jesal Toral in 1971.

Dave was born in Karachi in undivided India on April 16, 1919. One of his early mentors was his maternal uncle and popular film producer Dalsukh Pancholi. Dave started his career at the age of 14 as a production manager for Punjabi films under Pancholi at his studio in Lahore (before Independence and the Partition in 1947, films were also being made in Lahore). Apart from training under Pancholi, Dave picked up vital editing skills from Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, the producer and husband of singer Noor Jehan who was one of the pioneers of Pakistani cinema after 1947.

Dave was only 23 when Pancholi entrusted him with Poonji in 1943. Directed along with Vishnu R Pancholi, the box office hit revolves around three sisters who want to prevent their old father from marrying again. “A film that entertained and yet made a substantial contribution to the screen art of the country,” the Film India magazine noted in its December 1943 issue. “The picture is directed by two new comers and considering that they were new to the game, they could be said to have done very well.”

Poonji (1943).

Dave went solo for his second film, the suspense thriller Dhamki (1945). Inspired by the film noir style and featuring dark alleys and dim lighting, Dhamki was “not as popular and appreciated by audiences seeking ingredients of his early popular ‘Poonji’, but for discerning cinemagoer it was a more integrated and competently made crime thriller”, film chronicler VP Sathe noted.

Dave later moved to Mumbai, and tackled social dramas, light comedies, mythologicals and patriotic films. He specialised in murder mysteries and suspense thrillers. Among the few Adults-only films of its time was Nagina (1951), starring Nutan and Nasir Khan. Nutan was only 15 years old at the time, and wasn’t allowed into the theatre for the premiere.

Tu Ne Hai Mere, Nagina (1951).

Nagina gave Nutan her first big break and introduced playback singer CH Atma through composers Shankar-Jaikishan. The film inspired the name of Dave’s production company, which he set up in 1956. The titles he made for Nagina Films include Satta Bazaar (1959), starring Balraj Sahni and Meena Kumari, and Dulha Dulhan (1964), pairing together Raj Kapoor and Sadhana for the first time.

His thrillers include Motimahal (1952), Char Minar (1956), Agra Road (1957) – this film was Vijay Anand’s acting debut – and Post Box 999 (1958). Starring Sunil Dutt and Shakila, Post Box 999 was inspired by the Hollywood film Call Northside 777 (1948).

The thriller Raaz (1967) was to have been the debut of Rajesh Khanna and Babita. However, the production was delayed, and Khanna made his debut with Aakhri Khat in 1966 and Babita in Dus Lakh the same year.

Paas Baitho Tabiyat, Punar Milan (Punar Milan (1964).

Dave worked with many leading composers, including Ghulam Haider, Husnlal-Bhagatram, Shankar-Jaikishan, C Ramchandra, Chitragupta, OP Nayyar, SD Burman, Roshan, Kalyanji-Anandji and Ravi. Dave also gave Manna Dey his first break as a composer with the 1953 production Naina, starring Geeta Bali and Abhi Bhattacharya.

Dave was launching newcomers even with his final Hindi film, Road to Sikkim (1969). It starred Anju Mahendru and Dev Kumar, and was the debut of music composer Vijaysinghraje Patwardhan (the father of Maine Pyar Kiya actress Bhagyashree).

In the 1970s, Dave switched to Gujarati films purely by chance. He set out to remake Nagina with Leena Chandavarkar and Sanjay Khan, but the project didn’t take off. To keep his production crew employed, Dave turned his attention to his mother tongue, Gujarati. In 1971, he directed Jesal Toral, based on the legend of the dacoit who is reformed by love. The blockbuster launched the careers of Upendra Trivedi and Ramesh Mehta, and is credited with reviving the Gujarati film industry.

Ravindra Dave’s Jesal Toral (1971) celebrates its 25-week run. Courtesy Subhash Chheda.

Dave went on to collaborate with Upendra Trivedi in 16 films. In all, Dave directed 26 movies in Gujarati. Avinash Vyas was the music composer for 20 of these films.

Ravindra Dave was fondly known as “Ravinbhai” in the Hindi film industry. The Gujarati film fraternity called him “Bapa”. Dave’s innings in Gujarati cinema included the blockbusters Raja Bharathari (1973), Hothal Padmani (1974), Kunvarbai nu Mameru (1974), Shetal Ne Kanthe (1975), Malavpati Munj (1976), Bhadar Tara Vehta Pani (1976), Son Kansari (1977) and Patali Parmar (1978). In Gujarati cinema, Ravindra Dave was his own competitor. He made and broke his own records. His last released Gujarati film was Malo Nagde (1985), starring Upendra Trivedi, Aruna Irani and Mulraj Rajda.

In a souvenir published for Dave’s sixtieth birthday, actor Upendra Trivedi wrote, “As Columbus in the search of discovering India unknowingly discovered the land of America, Ravindra Dave decided to make one Gujarati film to make his staff occupied immediately for work as his entire production unit was dangling with date problems of stars of his Hindi film remake titled as ‘Nagina.’”

Dave introduced technical innovations to Gujarati cinema, including shooting Jesal Toral in colour, Trivedi added. Other factors that propelled Dave’s Gujarati films towards success were lucid narrations, efficient editing, and cost-effective production values.

A song from Jesal Toral (1971).

Nearly all members of Dave’s extended family were recruited for his productions. His wife, Jashumatiben, kept the home front free of problems. Pratap Dave, Ravindra Dave’s cousin, was his cinematographer Post Box 999 onwards. His younger brother, Kantilal Dave, produced Jesal Toral. Kantilal’s son, Bharat, turned producer with Sant Surdas.

Another brother, Ramesh Dave, handled the production. Among the kin who made the Ravindra Dave production a family affair were Kumar Dave, Narendra Dave, Arvind Dave, Dinesh Raval, Balwant Dave and Ramnik Acharya.

Although Dave was a prolific filmmaker, he made the time to indulge his passions. He loved driving, and owned vintage cars, which he worked on himself. His fleet included cars of the Austin, Chevrolet, Hudson, Plymouth, Buick, Ambassador and Fiat makes. He once gifted the actress Sadhana a yellow-coloured station wagon.

Dave also had an interest in carpentry – he would make chairs for domestic use – and was an amateur painter and sculptor too.

O Neend Na Mujhko Aaye, Post Box 999 (1958).

After reviving Gujarat cinema, Dave hoped to return to Hindi films in the ’80s. He set out to make a crime thriller titled Mera Pati Mera Qatil. Dave’s long-time assistant director Shridutt Vyas said in an interview, “He had narrated the script to actor-producer Rakesh Roshan. This was not just a film, but his dream project. This was his swansong, where he wanted to prove his mettle. Unfortunately, due to his critical health and financial problems, the film didn’t make it to the production stage.”

Ravindra Dave died at the age of 73 on July 21, 1992, in Mumbai, leaving behind a rich legacy in Hindi and Gujarati cinema that continues to be celebrated.