The story of Shewakram Nottani’s life is stuff for a film. Born with a silver spoon, Nottani suffered a lot during his career in films. But towards the sunset of his life he swung back to prosperity. But this time it was not through cinema but through business.
Born into a middle class Parsi family in Bombay, cinema was a passion for Nottani right from his childhood. He wanted to be an actor and he had the looks for it . Tall, handsome, blessed with a good physique, neatly combed hair, a pleasant visage and always dressed immaculately, Nottani was a head-turner.
When he was barely 20 Nottani knocked the doors of Bombay Talkies seeking a chance to act. The management declined his request but agreed to include him as a trainee in the studio. His first appointment was in the editing room. A very hard working man Nottani quickly picked up the tricks of editing. Very soon he gained valuable lessons in cinematography, recording and direction.
It was during this time that T.R. Sundaram, a stalwart of South Indian cinema visited Bombay Talkies. He wanted to learn more about the modern techniques of film making and also to recruit good technicians for his Modern Studio. Nottani’s enthusiasm and capabilities caught Sundaram’s eye. He offered Nottani, a chance to work as an independent cameraman, which Nottani accepted and he joined Modern Studio.
Sundaram was working on the Malayalam talkie Balan. Nottani who was to be the film’s cinematographer turned director due to certain circumstances. In addition to Balan, Nottani directed two Tamil films also for Sundaram. Subsequently, Nottani was invited by Annamala Chettiar for his film Jnanambika, the second talkie in Malayalam. When shooting of Jnanambika was on in Newton Studio, Appan Thampuran invited him for his film Bhootharayar. Nottani accepted the invitation and immediately after completing Jananmbika reached Trichur for the new film.
This was the beginning of a reversal of Nottani’s fortunes. Appan Thampuran gave Nottani and his pregnant wife a house to stay. Unexpected financial issues hit the film project. The actors contracted began to leave the rehearsal camp following a short supply of food. It was at this time that Nottani’s wife gave birth. With no money forthcoming Nottani struggled to find means to feed his wife and child. He had to sell his wife’s ornaments to keep the wolf from the door. It is said in desperation he went begging for food.
One night he left with his wife and child to Madras in a crowded third class compartment. He hoped to find a job in some studio in Madras. But, the Second World War forced a shutdown of the studios and Nottani had no other option but leave for Bombay. He sold his wife’s only remaining bangle to pay for the train tickets.
Landing in Dadar he trudged to the Parsi colony nearby. He knocked at the door of a friend’s house who was stunned to see Nottani and his family in that terrible condition. He provided Nottani all help. For sometime he lived with his friend’s assistance.
Nottani went job hunting looking for any job that would help sustain his family. By this time his wife began stitching torn clothes and began using the old sewing machine in the house. This opened the doors to a second coming in Nottani’s life. His wife’s efficiency saw her getting a lot of orders from the neighbouring houses. Nottani began to help his wife. They rented a house and put up a board, Liberty Garments.
Within a short span of time, this business expanded to new horizons. Their new product, the half sleeved shirt designed by Nottani proved to be a huge hit. It gained a safe market in Europe and the Middle East.
The family swam past their financial crisis. Nottani never went back to cinema and died a successful businessman.