Playing the only male role of his career, the Marathi stage legend Bal Gandharva's flm debut in one of Prabhat's elite Shantaram-directed releases made this saint film one of the most eagerly awaited productions of the year. He acted Sant Eknath (1533-99), a major Marathi poet, author of the Eknathi Bhagavata
and of numerous abhangas
evoking folk poetry, esp. the bharuda
form of solo performances. The film focuses on Eknath's humanitarian defence of the 'untouchable' castes. Opposed by the evil Mahant (Kelkar/Chandramohan), Eknath becomes a social outcast when he arranges to have the lower-caste people fed before the Brahmins during a prayer meeting at his house, compounding the offence by going to eat in one of their houses. The drama is heightened by Eknath's son Hari Pandit (Kale) who joins the ranks of the opposition. The happy ending occurs when the film transcends the food motif and Eknath defends himself by reading his poems to the Pradyananda Shastri of Kashi. The ambitious film enjoyed a larger budget than e.g. Sant Tukaram (1936)
. Its key author was Kale who intended it as a political film and played down the mandatory 'miracle' scenes while drawing an explicit analogy between Eknath and Gandhi. The film was originally titled Mahatma
but the title was changed after the censor objected. Shantaram's direction brought it into the Hindi mainstream, making e.g. the Mahant into an ordinary film villain with a nervous tic in one eye, while continuing on another level his expressionist preoccupation with several high-angle close-ups. The only character contrasting Gandharva's bland performance, extended into most of the other 'goodies', is the wisecracking Shrikhandya (Chhotu).