One of the things that Tukaram regrets the most is the loss of all his family’s photographs in the floods that came when the Khadakwasla dam in Pune, India, burst in the year 1961. All the photographs of his father and him with actors and actresses of the past, with V. Shantaram, Damle, Ulhas, Sapru, Durga Khote, Guru Dutt, and all the photos of the studios were now lost. For him those photographs meant that he could prove to all the students and staff of the film institute who came to him that he too was a part of that glorious past of Prabhat Studios, that started producing films in the 1929 in Kolhapur, moving to Pune in 1933.
Tukaram’s father was employed with Prabhat Studios as a laundryman around the year 1935 when the film Sant Tukaram (the first Indian film to receive international recognition, being screened at the 1937 Venice Film Festival) was being shot there. The story goes that Tukaram was born when the film had just been completed and V. Shantaram suggested that he name his son after the film. That is how Tukaram got his name. Today he still resides in the same place with his family and takes care of the laundry needs of the current generation of students and staff at the FTII.
Around the time Tukaram was growing up, several new films were being shot, and new actors were being seen around Prabhat Studio. During this time, a film called Lakhrani was being shot there. Tukaram’s father told his son that instead of whiling away his time, he should help him to deliver laundered clothes to people. His father handed him a set of clothes and sent him off to the guest house. When Tukaram reached there, he saw that most doors were shut. He pushed open the one door that was slightly ajar. The person inside asked “kaun hai” (who is there), and Tukaram answered “maine kapda laya” (I’ve brought the clothes). At the time, he didn’t recognize the young, new actor standing before him. It was the celebrated Indian actor Dev Anand. Some of the clothes that the little boy was carrying belonged to Dev Anand but the rest weren’t his. They both came out of the room and went in search of the rightful owner.
They knocked on the door of the room next door, which was opened by a bespectacled young man holding a book in one hand. Dev Anand introduced the little boy and explained the clothes situation, which turned out to belong to him. The man asked Dev Anand if he worked at Prabhat. Dev Anand explained that he had come from Karachi to work on the film and introduced himself. He then asked the young man before him how he was associated with the film. The man explained that he was a dancer by profession and was there to train the actors. His name was Guru Dutt, and he would go on to become one of the greatest film directors of all time. This was to be the start of a long friendship between the two men, Tukaram proudly tells everyone.
After his film was shot, Dev Anand stayed back at Prabhat studio for a while. On the day he was scheduled to leave, riots broke out in Pune following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Dev Anand, having taken a tonga (horse-cart) to the station, was forced to turn back and stay at Prabhat Studio till the situation returned to normal. On entering Prabhat Studios, he bumped into Tukaram’s father, who invited him to his house for a meal, since it was nearly impossible to get food anywhere else. For fifteen days Dev Anand ate with Tukaram’s family. Indebted to the family, Dev Anand wished to repay them somehow, but Tukaram’s mother refused to take money from him. While leaving, Dev Anand asked Tukaram to visit him in Bombay whenever he wished to see the city.
In the year 1952, Tukaram travelled to Bombay, hoping to meet Dev Anand. Arriving there, he got off at Dadar station, from where he went straight to Kamdar Studio. The watchman at the gates told him where to find Dev Anand, and as Tukaram approached the spot, he saw him seated with known faces from the industry—Raj Khosla, Guru Dutt and K.N. Singh—discussing a shot. Hesitant, he waited on the side but Guru Dutt spotted him instantly. He told Dev Anand to turn around and see who had come to meet them. Tukaram recounts how they shared tea with him and asked him to stay back with them in Bombay. He refused, saying he could not stay away from his mother even for a night, so Dev Anand took him to the Parel market in Mumbai, bought him two shirts and put some money into his pocket to pay for his ticket back home.
Prabhat Company shut down in 1949. Almost a decade later it was reborn as Film and Television Institute of India. Tukaram still works there as the laundryman, and the students sometimes ask him to act in their project films, which he accepts quite willingly. Everyone at the film institute knows and respects Tukaramji as an inseparable part of the campus. He simply acknowledges the place as his home. He has known no other.