As a teenager in his native place at Palitana in Saurashtra, Gujarat, Vijay Bhatt used to sell gelatin Halwa (Indian sweetmeat) for pocket money. And with the money earned, he would sneak into cinema halls and feed his passion for movies.
After coming to Bombay with his family, Bhatt's attention turned to films and he began knocking at studio gates which didn't open easily for strangers. He was once turned away from a studio in Chowpatty by a watchman named Umer Lala. Years later, the same man was employed by Vijay Bhatt to keep watch at his Prakash Studios gates.
Vijay Bhatt's Ram Rajya was the only film seen by Mahatma Gandhi during his lifetime.
In 1943, Ram Rajya celebrated a successful run of over a 100 days - a rare feat indeed, those days!
On the way back from Moscow, Bhatt along with the other members of the Indian Film Delegation, went to Switzerland, where they were guests at Charlie Chaplin's huge mansion. Along with Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Bimal Roy, Dev Anand and Nirupa Roy, Bhatt spent hours with the master film maker, exchanging views and techniques of film making. Throughout his life he continued to cherish Chaplin's autograph, which all the delegates had taken.
On his visit to the famous studios of Hollywood, Bhatt also happened to get the autograph of a young upcoming actor, on the sets of the film, 'Voice of the Turtle'. This actor was none other than Ronald Reagan, who later went on to become the President of The United States of America.
The most cherished of all his memoirs from his travels abroad, was the personal note from the one of the greatest makers of historicals and mythological films in Hollywood - Cecil B DeMille (maker of classics such as 'Ten Commandments' and 'Sampson and Delilah'.)
It remains the prized possession of the Bhatt Family. In a humble gesture, DeMille wrote: " Greetings from one director who is still trying to make good pictures, to another director, who will make great ones long after I am gone."
In 1947, Bhatt's Ram Rajya, which had enjoyed a stupendous run at the box office, premiered in the US at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York on the 5th of May. Subsequent screenings were held on the 6th and 7th of May, under the auspices of Indian Society of America, of which Dr. Chandrashekhar was the President. Later, a banquet was held in Bhatt's honor at the Hotel Waldorf Astoria in New York, with the President of the Motion Picture Association of America, Mr. Eric Johnston as the guest of honor. On behalf of the hosts, Mr. Skouras, the President of Twentieth Century Fox, presented a scroll of honor to Bhatt for his contribution to the Indian Film Industry.
While doing rounds of the various studios in Hollywood, Bhatt had the privilege of meeting various celebrities like the fifteen year old actress Elizabeth Taylor, the swimming beauty, Esther Williams, the child star Shirley Temple and the famous Paul Terry of Terry Toons, the creator of Popeye, Mutt and Jeff and Bugs Bunny. He gifted Bhatt with a personally autographed book of his, 'How to Make Animated Cartoons.'
The premiere of Vijay Bhatt's 'Bharat Milap' was presided over by none other than Dr. Radhakrishna at the Majestic Cinema in Bombay.
It was a suggestion given by Gandhiji when Bhatt met him at Valsad that prompted him to make a film on the famous poet saint of Gujarat, Narsi Mehta, whose bhajan 'Vaishnav jan to...' was Mahatma's favorite.
In 1959, Vijay Bhatt directed the film 'Bapu Ne Kaha Tha' for the Children's Film Society. In the climax, Morarji Desai made a rare appearance as he told the children who had gathered around him about the wonderful life and principles of Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1954, Vijay Bhatt visited the Soviet Union as a member of the first ever Indian Film Delegation. The other members included Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Bimal Roy, Anil Biswas, Dev Anand and Nirupa Roy. Bhatt's' Baiju Bawra' was screened at various theatres all over Russia.
Meena Kumari won her first Filmfare award for her performance in Baiju Bawra. In fact, this was the first time the category for best actress was included in popular awards. Until Baiju Bawra, Meena Kumari was relegated to doing minor roles in B-grade action movies. It was Bhatt who gave Mehzabeen her screen name as a child star (Baby Meena) and her first major role as an adult. She later went on to establish herself as one of the finest actresses of all time.
How Stars were Born!
Vijubhai had planned to cast Dilip Kumar and Nargis as the leading pair in Baiju Bawra. However, it was to be so as they both had other pressing commitments. The result: Bharat Bhushan and Meena Kumari shot to prominence.
Rajendra Kumar, who gained a lot of fame after Bhatt cast him in Goonjh Uthi Shehnai, was cast to play the leading role in Hariyali Aur Rasta, but was unable to do so due to heavy shooting engagements down South. Instead he suggested the name of an upcoming actor, whom he thought would do justice to the role. Vijubhai interviewed the young man and found him suitable for the role, thus Manoj Kumar came into being.
Vijay Bhatt was responsible for giving Naushad his first major break way back in 1940. At that time, lyricist D. N. Madhok, who had also written the story and dialogues for 'Mala', recommended a young struggling music director, who had only scored the music for only one film till then, 'Prem Nagar'. The Bhatt brothers heard some of his tunes and signed him on a monthly salary of Rs.250. Naushad scored music for three Prakash films, 'Dushman' (1941), 'Station Master' (1942) and 'Baiju Bawra' (1952).
As a young man, Bhatt made mythologicals, glorifying Indian culture. In fact, he was even labeled as the 'Torch Bearer of Indian Culture'. Ironically, as he grew older, he made romantic movies. The members of the press often joked about this!
The charity show of Bhatt's 'Himalay ki Godmein' was presided over by Smt. Vijayalaxmi Pandit, who said that such films are a social service and give an inspiring message to the masses.
In 1990, Vijay Bhatt was felicitated by the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association for his outstanding contribution to the Indian film Industry.
Was honoured by the late Prime Minister of India, Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1978 for his contribution to Indian Cinema on the 75th anniversary of the Indian Film Industry.
On his demise on October 17, 1993, the Municipal Offices in Vile Parle district declared a holiday in memory of Vijay Bhatt.
Soon after his death, Bhatt was honoured at the International Film festival held in Calcutta in January 1994. A retrospective of his films was held here. Both filmmakers and artists paid him glowing tributes, at the same time lamenting the fact that he was never given the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, which he rightly deserved.
Know more about Vijay Bhatt, the family man.