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International distributor of Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt's films, Maganbhai Savani passes away

Owner of International Film Distributors, Savani was the among the pioneering distributors who took Indian cinema overseas.

Shriram Iyengar

The pioneering owner of International Film Distributors Maganbhai Savani passed away early on Thursday morning in Mumbai. He was 93.

Born on 6 March 1924, Savani was part of a family interested in the film trade. His father was the first distributor to start the overseas business in 1933. The family managed a successful trade to buy their first theatre in East Africa in the early 1940s.

It was during this time that Savani entered the trade himself. Soon, he followed the success of East Africa with chains of theatres in Mauritius and later, the United States of America and London.

The key contribution of Savani to Indian cinema was in his effort to take Indian cinema overseas. Among the directors who often trusted Savani with their films were Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, SS Vasan, V Shantaram and Shakti Samanta.

In fact, it was Savani's efforts to promote Indian films in Scandinavia, Europe and Russia that resulted in the release of Awara (1951) in Russia. The film went on to become one of the most famous Indian films to ever release in the region, and established Raj Kapoor as the most popular Indian director in Russia.

A friend and admirer of Guru Dutt, the distributor distributed Dutt's first film, Baazi (1951), and also helped in the funding of the next three films.

As a distributor, Savani held rights in perpetuity to more than 1,200 films in Gujarati, Hindi, and Punjabi languages. He was also the only distributor to possess an import export licence in the early ages before liberalisation. This allowed him to often buy gifts, including as a source said a radio for actress Madhubala.

A trade expert, he was also one of the key members involved in the first ever International Film Festival of India held in Mumbai in 1952. It was his efforts that brought in several international buyers and delegates interested in Indian cinema.

The distributor is survived by his son, Ashwin and family.