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40 SHORT BIOGRAPHIES OF INDIAN CINEMA PIONEERS WHO WORKED BETWEEN THE YEARS 1897 - 1947

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GRANDFATHER OF INDIAN CINEMA

Photographer . Film Documentar . Equipment Distributor. 

H. S. Bhatavdekar was a portrait photographer in Bombay who witnessed the Lumiere Brothers film show in 1896 in Mumbai.

He acquired a movie camera and a projector of his own from London, at a price of 21 Guineas and filmed the first Indian documentary, a wrestling match in Hanging Gardens, Bombay, in 1897.

Bhatavdekar also filmed the first Indian news film, a record of Ragunath P. Paranjpe‘s return from Cambridge University upon securing a distinction in mathematics. He is best known for filming the Delhi Durbar that marked the enthronement of Edward VII in 1903.

In 1907, he sold his equipment, retired from cinema and established a successful business trading imported cameras and film equipment in the subcontinent.

FIRST FATHER OF INDIAN CINEMA

Director . Producer. Distributor. Editor. Special Effects. Sound Recordist

Ramchandra Gopal Torne was born on April 13, 1890 in Malwan, a village on the Konkan coast near Bombay. Following his father’s death, he and his mother lived in penury. At the age of 10 or 11, and with only four years of formal education behind him, Torne dropped out of school and headed to Bombay. In Bombay, he was employed by the Crompton Greaves Electrical Company, where he learned basic electrical installations and instrument repairs.

The repairing stints got him to work in places like the Shripad Theater Company. Impressed by their plays as well as the new foreign films being released in Bombay, now a young man, Torne was inspired to make his own movie. With another friend and financier, Mr. Chitre, he managed to import raw film and a movie camera from abroad and shot the first Indian feature film Shree Pundalik. Pundalik however was a mere shoot of a play in film-mode. The camera was fixed on one platform and so only one angle was possible. Not happy with the results, he decided to record it in sections from different angles, and then spliced the film together, a job now done by a film editor.

Shree Pundalik was released on May 18, 1912 in Mumbai’s Coronation Movie Theater and ran for about two weeks. Almost a year after the release of Pundalik, Dadasaheb Phalke released the second Indian feature film Raja Harischandra in the same theater on May 3, 1913.

Torne was still working as an employee with Crompton Greaves when his movie was released. The company then transferred him to Karachi (now Pakistan) and there he befriended a young man named Baburao Pai and with him, opened a distribution office to release Hollywood movies in Karachi. He is the first Indian to have a movie distribution company.

In Karachi, World War I had a thousands of people passing through the subcontinent, and that got him in contact with several distribution and film personnel from USA. Torne returned to Bombay and started his own Movie Camera Company, and began importing all equipment required for the movie industry, like cameras, raw stock, and later the Talkie-Machinery that he learned about with the help of Americans. The company turned out to be hugely profitable.

Around 1929, again with Baburao Pai, he started a distribution company for silent movies to the talkies, in Bombay called Famous Pictures. Enormously successful, it could compete with a company of the 21st century in its profits.

Realizing the popularity of talkies, Torne, while working in the Royal Art Studio of Bombay, met Ardeshir Irani and advised Irani to start his own studio, (Jyoti Studio) and film production company (The Imperial Film Company). Irani appointed Torne as a manager at both the places.

Later on Torne’s advice, Irani formed another company out of Imperial Film company unit, the Sagar Film Company. With the company, Torne directed two silent films: Sindabad the Sailor (1930) and Dilbar (1931). Considering, they already had all the machinery required for the production they decided to make their first talkie, ‘Alam Ara’.

The work on Alam Ara was kept a secret. Within a span of two months, history was created: on March 14, 1931, India’s first talkie, Alam Ara, was released in the Majestic Cinema Theater to an overwhelming response. After this success, Torne immediately supplied the machinery to several other studios (Prabhat, Ranajit, Wadia, etc.). All studios began making new talkies and that was the end of silent movies.

Torne eventually decided to form his own production company, and in Pune near Shankarshet Road, he founded Saraswati Cinetone (now Chakan Oil Mill). The company’s first movie was Sham Sundar that also became the first Silver Jubilee movie of the Indian film industry. It introduced two young artists, Shahu Modak and Shanta Apte. Chintamanrao Modak, the sound recordist, and Baapurao Ketkar, the music director, began their careers on this movie. The company’s second movie was Aout Ghatakecha Raja, which introduced Master Viththal and introduced the first double role in an Indian film. The third movie was Bhakta Pralhaad, which famously displayed large amounts of trick photography and amazing optical effects, all created by Torne. The special effects were appreciated by Indian as well as foreign technicians.

Torne also introduced many firsts in the film industry. Artists such as Mehboob Khan (Mehboob Studio), Kardar, Bhalaji Pendharkar, Vishram Bedekar, R. S. Chowdhary, C. Ramchandra, Jayashree, Ratnamaalaa (Dada Kondke’s “Aaye”) and Alam Ara’s heroine Zubeida were first introduced by him.

In all, Torne made 17 movies: three Hindi, eight Marathi and six Hindi+Marathi. A documentary film, Akshar-Olakh, was produced for the “Saksharata Prasar Mandal” for social causes than for entertainment or business. The last movie of Saraswati Cinetone was Aawaj, released on May 22, 1942, starring Maya Banerji, Swarnalata and Waasti.

In 1947, during Indo-Pakistan partition and while away on work, a colleague and friend stole all the movie cameras and other expensive equipment and took it to Pakistan. Religious fanaticism won over the decades-old friendships. The incident shook him and he had his first heart attack. Fortunately, the movie Sham Sundar had provided him with some financial stability along with a home of his own “Chandrika”, (named after his mother) at Shivaji Nagar, Bombay.

Dadasaheb Torne was the first Indian director and producer to make a feature film in India.  Although it was made just under a year before Dadasaheb Phalke made his, it is the latter who is regarded as the father of Indian cinema. The distinction lies with a technicality that, unlike Phalke, Torne sent his film for processing to the UK and used a British Cinematographer. Moreover, Torne’s Pundalik was 1,500′ (c. 22 minutes) long, about 1,200′ shorter than Phalke’s Raja Harischandra, which ran for about 40 minutes.

Torne died on the morning of January 19, 1960 in his sleep. Most of his movies and their sole copies were burnt and lost in a fire.

CREDITED FATHER OF INDIAN CINEMA

Producer . Director. Screenwriter

Dadasaheb or Dhundiraj Govind Phalke was born in a Marathi family and his father was an accomplished Sanskrit scholar.

At the age of 15, Phalke joined Sir J. J. School of Arts in Bombay (now Mumbai) and then Kala Bhavan, M.S University of Baroda, Gujarat where he studied and nurtured many interests – drawing & painting (both in oil and water colours) photography, lithography, oleography, architecture, amateur dramatics, print making and even magic tricks.

He bought himself a camera in 1890 and was sent to Ratlam, Bombay Presidency (now in Gujarat), to study under Baburao Walavalkar to learnt techniques of block making, ceramics and photo developing. In 1894, he travelled to Lonavala and began working as a print developer for the artist Raja Ravi Varma. He then worked in several jobs – in Baroda he was a painter of dramatic props, and in Godhra a portrait photographer. After the outbreak of plague in 1900, that caused the death of his first wife and child, he fled to Bombay and met a German magician / illusionist. Phalke offered himself as a disciple and assistant to the magician. In 1902, he began working in Pune at the Archaeological Survey of India as a draughtsman & photographer.

By 1909, Phalke decided to start his own press Phalke’s Art Printing and Engraving Works. After finding a business partner, he made his first international trip to Germany to fine-tune his knowledge of printing. Upon his return the name of the press was changed to Laxmi Art Printing Press, where he pioneered the then new three colour printing process. The press rose to national fame – with profits and success. Soon a dispute with a business partner caused Phalke to resign in 1910.

On Christmas Eve in Bombay, that year, a depressed Phalke decided to walk into screening of a film, The Life of Christ, at the American – Indian Cinema. For nearly two months he saw every film in town and studied every book and magazine he could find on film techniques. He also began corresponding with the editor of Bioscope, a British film magazine for more information.

A motivated Phalke then raised a loan from friends, (including Raja Ravi Varma), pledged his life insurance and bought himself a ticket to London. He sailed for England on February 1, 1912 to purchase the necessary equipment and acquainted himself with the technical aspects of filmmaking with the Hepworth Company, a studio owned by the British pioneer filmmaker Cecil Hepworth. After two weeks in London, Phalke returned to India with a Williamson camera, a perforating machine, developing & printing equipment, and raw stock. In six months, after pawning his wife’s jewellery he made his first film, Raja Harishchandra; it was first shown publicly on May 3, 1913 at Mumbai’s Coronation Cinema to a roaring success.

Phalke proceeded to make several silent films, shorts, documentary features, educational films. He even made a film on the filmmaking process, How Films Are Made, as early as 1917. The films’ financial success attracted business interests and soon Phalke formed a film production company, Hindustan Films in partnership with five traders from Bombay.

He set up a model studio, trained technicians and actors, but quickly ran into problems with his partners. In 1920, he resigned and announced his retirement from cinema and instead wrote Rangbhoomi that went to be an acclaimed play.  Meanwhile, left in the hands of clueless businessmen, Hindustan Films ran into financial losses, and Phalke was coaxed into returning. He directed a few films for the company, albeit reluctantly, and then again withdrew from it. With the introduction of sound, Phalke’s work lost popularity. After producing his last film Gangavataran, he retired to Nashik in 1938.

Starting with his debut film, Raja Harishchandra in 1913, known as India’s first full-length feature, he made 95 movies and 26 short films in his career spanning 19 years. His most noted works are: Mohini Bhasmasur (1913), Satyavan Savitri (1914), Lanka Dahan (1917), Shri Krishna Janma (1918) and Kaliya Mardan (1919).

The Dadasaheb Phalke Award, for lifetime contribution to cinema, was instituted in his honour by the Government of India in 1969. The award is the highest official recognition for film personalities in the country.

Dadasaheb Phalke died on February 16, 1944.

FIRST ACTOR

Actor, Cinematographer, Director

D. D. Dabke or Dattatraya Damodar Dabke was born around 1895 in a village Aasud, Maharashtra. He was the first Indian actor in the role of a Hero for India’s first ever Indian full length silent film Raja Harishchandra, directed by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913.

Not much is known about him, except that he was a Marathi stage actor.He co-starred with P G Sane. He acted in three more movies and later became a cinematographer, as well as a director. He directed the 1924 remake of Raja Harishchandra.

FIRST ACTOR IN A FEMALE ROLE

Actor. Cinematographer

Anna Hari Salunke, also known as A. Salunke and Annasaheb Saluke, was an Indian actor who performed female roles in early Indian cinema.

He is credited to be the first person to perform as a heroine in Indian cinema when he played the role of Rani Taramati of King Harishchandra in Dada Saheb Phalke’s first full-length film, Raja Harishchandra (1913). In 1917, Salunke became the first to play a double gender role in Indian cinema, by playing the roles of both the hero as well as heroine in Lanka Dahan.

Salunke worked as a cook, or waiter, in a restaurant on Grant Road, Bombay and frequented by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (Dadasaheb Phalke), the director and producer of the film. Phalke could not find a woman who would agreed to act in the film; even prostitutes and dancing girls refused. Phalke saw Salunke, who had an effeminate figure and slender hands, and convinced him to play a female role. While Salunke was working for a monthly salary of 10 rupees, Phalke offered him 15 and Salunke agreed.

Salunke also acted in Phalke’s Lanka Dahan (1917) and played the first double gender role in Indian cinema, by acting as both the male role of the hero Rama and the female role of his wife Sita, the heroine. However, Salunke had developed a more muscular physique by then and the audience could see his biceps even as he played the goddess Sita.

Salunke also acted in Satyanarayan (1922) directed by V.S. Nirantar and Phalke’s Buddha Dev (1923). He was also the cinematographer on both films. Later, Salunke abandoned his acting career and concentrated on cinematography. Besides Nirantar and Phalke, he worked with G.V. Sane (who acted with Salunke in Raja Harishchandra) and Ganpat G. Shinde (co-starred with Salunke in Lanka Dahan) as directors. Last of his films as cinematographer were in 1931.

Salunke, during his film career spanning 18 years from 1913 to 1931, acted in various films including five in the female role, most of them were on Hindu mythological themes.

FIRST SILENT FILM ACTRESS

Durgabai Kamat was born in 1899 in a Maharashtrian Brahmin Family. She studied up to class seven, considered a graduation and high grade class for the time. She was a talented woman, proficient at singing, painting and playing several musical instruments. And after the birth of her daughter in 1913 and much to her family’s disappointment she separated from her from her husband, Anand Nanoskar who was a professor of history at the J.J. School of Art. She was ostracised by her family and community, for whom the separation was a scandal.

Alone, with a daughter Kamala to support, Durgabai didn’t have any options except maybe to work as a domestic servant or to become an actress. Socially, they were equally reprehensible, but she chose to join a travelling theatre company as an actress and Kamala her daughter became a prompter. Her daughter Kamala was home schooled, by Durgabai and her theatre friends.

Durga’s wish to join films to act was met with huge opposition, she was beautiful but at the time only men played the female roles, and they became her biggest obstacles, so much so that some companies just would not hire women as a policy. But a break came when in 1912 when Dadasaheb Phalke, was casting for his film “Mohini Bhasmasur” and he chose Durga’s daughter Kamla for the lead role and her mother Durga was offered the role of Goddess Parvati.

Durgabai continued to act in theatre, while her daughter Kamala too became an established screen as well as theatre actress.

Durgabai was also the maternal grandmother of Marathi actor Chandrakant Gokhale and the great-grandmother of actors Vikram Gokhale and Mohan Gokhale. She died on 17 May 1997, in Pune, Maharashtra, at the age of 98.

FATHER OF TALKIES

Ardeshir Irani was born into a Zoroastrian family on December 5, 1886 in Poona, Bombay Presidency (now Pune, Maharashtra).

He studied arts at J.J. School of Arts in Bombay and then joined his father’s business in phonographic equipment and musical instruments. Restless do something more interesting, he began showing films in ‘tent cinemas’ in partnership with a friend, Abdulally Esoofally. In 1905, Irani began representing Universal Pictures, US, and exhibiting Hollywood films in India. In 1914, the two acquired Alexandra Theatre in Bombay (now a Mosque). At Alexandra Theatre, Irani began learning the art of filmmaking and in 1917, Irani produced his first silent feature film, Nala Dayamanti, which released in 1920.

In 1920, Irani joined Bhogilal K.M Davé, former manager of Dadasaheb Phalke‘s Hindustan Films to establish Star Film Company. Davé took a year off to study Cinematography at the New York Institute of Photography, and returned to start their first silent feature film, Veer Abhimanyu directed by Manilal Joshi (a former school teacher) that was was released in 1922 and starred Fatima Begum in the female lead. Star Film Company produced 17 films before Davé and Irani’s partnership dissolved. In 1925, Irani founded Majestic Films, joined by two talented young directors, B.P. Mishra and Naval Gandhi. After 15 films, Majestic Films shut down, and then he established an equally stunted Royal Art Studios. In 1925, Irani founded Imperial Film Company, where he made 62 films.

A few years later, he watched Universal’s Show Boat (part talkie/ part silent) at Excelsior Cinema and decided to make a ‘talking-singing’ film. Co-incidentally, Irani’s paths crossed with Dadasaheb Torne who had access to the talkie equipment and encouraged Irani to to visit London to study sound recording. Torne also began managing Irani’s film units. By the age of 40, Irani was an established filmmaker and became the father of talkie films with the release of the first talkie, Alam Ara on March 14, 1931. He hired Wilford Deming Jr, a Hollywood sound expert, but after the expenses mounted, Irani decided to do it himself. Soon, many of the silent films he had produced were later re-made into talkies with the same cast and crew.

For Ardeshir, there was no dearth of excitement or action. He made the first english feature film Noor Jahan (1931) and the first colour feature film of India, Kisan Kanya (1937).  In 1933, he produced the first Persian talkie, Dokhtar-e-Lor in collaboration with Abdolhossein Sepanta, a noted Iranian film director, producer, writer, journalist and promoter of liberal politics. He also played with the process of film-making to save costs – for instance he produced Kalidas in Tamil on the sets of Alam Ara, with songs in Telugu.

Irani introduced several actors to Indian Cinema, including Prithviraj Kapoor and Mehboob Khan. Prithviraj Kapoor is said to have been first discovered by Fatima Begum (Zubeida, the heroine’s mother) who saw him standing in line to audition for Alam Ara and introduced him to Ardeshir Irani.

Ardeshir made 158 films in 25 years and his last film was Pujari, in 1945. He died on October 14, 1969 at the age of 82, in Mumbai, Maharashtra.

FIRST FEMALE DIRECTOR / PRODUCER

Actress. Director. Screenwriter

Fatima or Fatima Sultana was born in 1892. Not much is known about her distant past, except that some historians say that she was known as Sultana in the Parsi theater company The Alfred Natak Mandali in Calcutta. Others say she was an accomplished actress on Urdu stage. Fatima’s sister Putli Bai was an actress too.

In the early 1910s, Fatima Begum had three daughters with a Nawab Ibrahim-Mohammed-Yakut Khan III. But without a marriage contract, the nawab refused to recognize them legally, or support them monetarily, primarily because they were daughters and not sons. Fatima moved to Bombay with her daughters, Sultana, Zubeida and Shehzadi. All three grew up to became actresses.

Fatima made her film debut in 1922 at the age of 30, in Veer Abhimanyu of Manilal Joshi. She plays the role of Subhadra, the sister of Krishna in an epic inspired by the Mahabharata. Her daughter Sultana also made her debut in this film, playing Uttara, the wife of Abhimanyu. Produced by Ardeshir Irani for his new studio, Star Films, the film was a box office hit. At the time it was common practice for men to play women in plays and movies, so for her to be a real woman, immediately made her a superstar. She was also fair skinned and wore dark make-up to create face contours ideal for the sepia/black & white images on screen.

Two years later, she participated in Gul-e-Bakavali, one of the first oriental fantasy films of Indian cinema. Her daughters, Sultana and Zubeida were included in it. In 1924, the mother and daughters reunited again in Sati Sardarba, the first production of the studio Saraswati Films. Finally, Fatima Begum and Sultana acted in Kali Naag, the first Indian film based on real recorded events of the Champsi-Haridas murder case. All films were commercial successes and established Fatima and her daughters in the industry.

In 1925, Fatima founded her own production company Fatma Film Company in 1925, becoming the first female studio producer of Indian cinema and a pioneer of fantasy cinema where she used trick photography. Under this banner, she wrote and directed Bulbul-e-Paristan, in 1926, an oriental fantasy with ambitious costumes and special effects. Her daughters, Zubeida and Shehzadi played the lead roles.

The production company changed its name in 1928 to become Victoria Fatma Films. Fatima Begum produced and made six films in 1928 and 1929, in which she usually acted, often accompanied by her daughters. In 1928, she directed the first film adaptation of the Punjabi poem Heer Ranjah with Zubeida as Heer.

In time, audiences began to tire of the repeated oriental themes and Victoria Fatma Film closed its doors in 1929. Fatima, however, resumed her acting career in 1934, mostly under the direction of N.G. Devore. She also managed her daughters’ careers, wrote, produced and acted for Kohinoor and Imperial Studios in their productions. With the advent of talkies, she continued to take roles, appearing in films like Sevaa Sadan (1934) for Nanubhai B Vakil, and Punjab Lancers (1937) for Homi Master, and finally retired from acting  in 1938 with her last film Duniya Kya Hai from GP Pawar.

Fatima Begum died in 1983 at the age of 91.

FIRST TALKIE ACTRESS

Actress. Producer

Zubeida was Born in Surat, Gujarat to Fatima Begum (read above) She was the daughter of Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan III of Sachin State and Fatima Begum and had two sisters, Sultana and Shehzadi.

Egged on by her mother, who believed that women needed to find their independence and earnings, Zubeida was only 12 when she made her debut in the film Kohinoor. Through the 1920s she made infrequent appearances on screen along with Sultana who by then was one of the most popular silent film leading actresses. She starred in a string of silent films before Alam Ara proved to be the turning point in her career and was her biggest hit. Suddenly she was high in demand and was paid well above the standards for a female actress in the film industry at that time. She was also successful in portraying some of the first screen kisses, that sparked off heated debates on censorship.

In 1934, Zubeida set up Mahalakshmi Movietone with Nanubhai Vakil and continued to appear in one or two films a year till 1949. Nirdosh Abla was her last film.

Zubeida married Maharaj Narsingir Dhanrajgir Gyan Bahadur of Hyderabad and had two sons Humayun Dhanrajgir and Dhurreshwar Dhanrajgir, and grandmother to former model Rhea Pillai. Zubeida spent her last years at the family’s Bombay palace, Dhanraj Mahal. She died in 1988.

FIRST TALKIE ACTOR / HIGHEST PAID STUNT HERO

Actor . Dancer . Director. Music Composer. Stuntman. Professional Wrestler

Master Vithal was the hero of India’s first talkie Alam Ara (1931) and of Marathi and Hindi silent stunt films (with cue cards). He was called the Douglas Fairbanks of India, a title he despised.

Master Vithal’s début was on the stage as a child artist with Raja Pur Ka Natak Mandali. He then started his career as an editor with the film company in Maharashtra Films, Kolhapur which was owned by Baburao Painter. His first film role was as a female dancer in Kalyan Khajina, the silent film directed by Painter. He continued to work as film editor and a dancer and played minor roles in films. His first break as a male lead was in the film Ratan Manjari (1926) produced by Sharda Studios whom he had joined earlier in 1925. After that, he was a permanent fixture in the role of a hero and he was the star attraction of the Sharda Studios, owned by Nanubhai Desai, Anand Prasad Kapoor and Harshadrai Mehta.

Nanubhai Desai was the studio founder and director of many stunt films produced by the company in which Vithal appeared in swashbuckling roles with Zebunissa as his heroine. A professional wrestler, he became a very popular fearless hero acting in films in historical themes. Audience adored him in his stunt hero role, which became his forte. By 1930, he was the highest paid male star in Indian cinema industry.

Vithal started his film career in Marathi films in 1924 and worked as a film technician and dancer. He was cast as the male lead in Ratan Manjari (1926) and followed with  roles in silent stunt films and became a very popular actor. Though he was the male lead of Alam Ara, he hardly had any dialogue due to poor Hindi diction. He returned to silent films and then to talkie Marathi films from 1932 till his last film in 1966. He also directed two films and gave music score to one film. He acted in more than 90 films during his career of 42 years from 1924 to 1966.

In 1930, Vithal’s popularity in Marathi films attracted Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Film Company to invite him to join his company to make India’s first talkie, though Mehboob Khan was also vying for the role. Vithal, who was quite excited by Irani’s offer, accepted and moved to Irani’s newly formed film company Sagar Studios in Bombay, breaking his contract with Sharda Studios. Sharda Studios sued him and he was defended by the lawyer Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who would later become the founder of Pakistan. Vithal won the case.

The following year, Vithal played the hero in the first Indian talkie Alam Ara with Zubeida as the female lead. Alam Ara was also the first film in which music was introduced, as many as ten music scores were part of the film. As his Hindi diction was poor, he could not deliver the dialogues properly; his acting quality was also questioned. He was thus shown mostly in a state of trans or semi consciousness in the film and hardly had any dialogue. Vithal could not adapt himself to the new genre of talking-singing films in Hindi and was “reduced to a hero who is (was) magically struck dumb in Alam Ara.” His talkie debut ended without any demand for his acting roles in Hindi films.

In 1932, he switched back to silent films, which were on its last leg. The talkies led to his decline in Hindi films; Vithal would never get a major role in Hindi films again. From 1934 onward, realizing his limitations he switched back to Marathi films. From the 1940s onward, he regularly appeared in films by Bhalji Pendharkar and those featuring Lalita Pawar and Durga Khote. He also played in a side role in the 1944 blockbuster film Ramshastri.  Towards the end, he played only minor roles in Marathi films; his last film appearance was in 1966.

In 1933, Master Vithal was the first actor introduced in double role by Ram Chandra Gopal Torne’s production Aout Ghatakecha Raja (in Marathi) and Awara Shahzada (Hindi), in which the role of a prince and a pauper was played by Shahu Modak, whereas Vithal played his first double role in the silent film Raj Tarang (1928).

Master Vithal acted in more than 90 films, directed two films (Swarajyacha Shiledar and Awara Shahzada), and composed music for albeit for only one film, (Kashmir Ki Kali).

FIRST FEMALE MUSIC DIRECTOR

Singer, Music composer, Director, Music Director. Actress. 

Jaddan Bai was born and brought up a small village near Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Her mother Daleepa Bai was a professional singer of courtesan tradition, well admired in the circles of Varanasi & Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Jaddan Bai was groomed to inherit her mother’s profession and gained fame in local and elite Calcutta circles (now Kolkata) for her exquisite vocal performances of Thumris.

In her early teens, Jaddan Bai moved to Calcutta and became a student of musician, Shrimant Ganpat Rao (Bhaiya Saheb Scindia) to craft her musical skills. After Ganpat Rao died, she mastered her training under Ustad Moinuddin Khan, Ustaad Barkat Ali Khan, Ustad Chaddu Khan and Ustad Laab Khan. In time she began recording Thumris and Ghazals with the Columbia Gramophone Company, performed for radio, and began participating in esteemed music sessions organised by Indian princely states of Rampur, Bikaner, Gwalior, Kashmir, Indore and Jodhpur. Around then she met her future husband Uttamchand Mohanchand who was on his way to England to study medicine but smitten with Jaddanbai, he decided to stay with her and her two sons (from previous relationships). In Calcutta, she became an established singer, and was noticed by K.L. Saigal and Hakim Ramprashad, the owner of Play Art Photo Tone Company in Lahore.

In 1932, around the age of 40, she was offered by Hakim Ramprashad an acting role of a mother, in their movie Raja Gopichand. She agreed on the condition that she would also compose the music for the film. After acting in three more films, Insaan ya Khaitan, Prem Pariksha, Naachwali and Seva Sadan, two of which she also scored the music for, she moved to Bombay (now Mumbai).

Already known as a formidable producer, music director and actress, Jaddan Bai was sought after for work and for grace by everyone who was anyone in films business in Bombay. By 1936, she established her own production company – Sangeet Movietone, writing, scoring and directing its films. Jaddan Bai was sympathetic to the predicament of courtesans, a theme that often reflected in her movies. Around four films were made under the Sangeet Movietone banner before it went out of business due to bad loans. One of the films, Talash-e-Haq, featured her daughter Fatima Rashid as a child artist, later renamed by Mehmood Khan as Nargis.

With sharp eyes and ears for the craft of film-making, and her silver paan-dean (Betel leaf box) by her side, Jaddan Bai remained an valued institution, advisor and mentor to several people in the film industry, including introducing Azurie, the first erotic dancer to Indian Cinema.

Jaddanbai was extremely well read, and was fond of poetry. Her home in Marine Drive, Bombay was known to host the best mehfils (an evening of cultural entertainment) with the finest of poets, musicians and storytellers from the subcontinent. She was always in the know of all the gossip and business deals of the film industry, and the political ongoings in the subcontinent. She groomed her own daughter, Nargis, into one of the most successful actresses of India. Nargis was not a good singer, and against the established norm, Jaddan Bai found and launched a new playback singing voice for her daughter in Geeta Roy (Later Geeta Dutt)

Jaddan Bai passed away at the age of 57 in 1949.

Disclaimer : Though it is disputed whether Saraswati Devi and Ishrat Jahan were the first, dates and anecdotes on Jaddan Bai point to her being the first female music director of the Indian film industry.

FIRST COMMERCIALLY VIABLE FILM MAKER

Producer. Actor. Technician . Studio Owner

In 1904, Dwarkadas Sampat, a Gujarati trader bought a projector and began showing 50 feet long films (film reel length) in his hometown Rajkot, and then later in other areas of the Bombay Presidency.

Deeply inspired by the magic of film, he decided to build a theatre in Girgaon, Bombay. Around the same time he got wind of another film maker, Sadashiv Patankar who had made a feature film called ‘Savitri’ before Dadasaheb Phalke but had failed to obtain a good print of it. Patankar was now bankrupt and planning his retirement. Dwarkadas with an investment of Rs 25,000 formed a partnership with him and the company was called Patankar Friends & Co. Together, they made a film called Raja Shriyal but the print was again defective and they had to drop the film. Dwarkadas then established a film developing lab in Lonavala, near Bombay to develop better prints. The entire lab ran on electricity, a first for that time.

For his next film, Kach-Devyani (1920) he invited two women Usha and Gui as actresses from Calcutta (now Kolkata) – with grand protests from his own partner, Patankar who was against women in films. He also introduced the Gujarati dance Garba for the first time on screen as well as lip movements to sync with written dialogues in silent films. He introduced wooden sets, doing away with the painted backdrops and sceneries.

Inevitably, intellectual and creative differences built up with Patankar, and Dwarkadas decided to part ways to establish his own studio – the Kohinoor Film Company in 1918, at the junction of Dadar Main Road. Dwarkadas brought in many talents like the first Dalit director Kanji Rathod and gave a break to Zubeida, Fatima Begum‘s eldest daughter.

Dwarkadas also befriended a film projectionist from Ahmedabad, Maniklal Patel and invited him to join the film company. Together they made ‘Shakuntala Janm‘ in 1919, but the film was a flop. But Dwarkadas was not one to give up.  His next film ‘Sat Ansuya‘ 1919, starring Sakinabai had the first nude scene, which he somehow managed to get past the Censors.

However, it was his other movie ‘Bhakta Vidur’ in 1921, directed by Kanji Bhai that seriously annoyed the British. One, though it was based on a story from Mahabharata, it insinuated the victory of good (India) over evil (British Empire), and two its protagonist Vidura, resembled Mahatma Gandhi. Vidura was played by Dwarkadas himself, Maneklal Patel as Krishna, while the role of Duryodhan was enacted by Homi Master.
The British government censors banned the film, a first, under the Rowlatt Act.

His next film Gul-e-Bilavati, is considered to be India’s first national commercial success and with almost 10 films a year, Kohinoor Film Company was the most profitable studios of the subcontinent at the time. Primarily because it also had the highest paid screen writer of the time, Mohanlal Dave on its rolls.

Unfortunately after a blaze destroyed most of the negatives at Kohinoor Film Company in 1925, Maneklal Patel parted company with Dwarkadas. The partnership deed stipulated that Maneklal could walk away with any prints of Kohinoor pictures if there were to be in trouble. He managed to make duplicates of several prints with his newly established labs, Srikrishna Laboratories and re-released the films under his new venture ‘Krishna Cinema’.

In 1926, helped by Eastman Kodak’s extended credit on raw stock, Dwarkadas managed to resurrect Kohinoor with new directors including Homi Master. In a span of a decade (1919-1929), Sampat made 98 films. He enabled Indian films to aim for profits. On other interesting note, he was famous for having a tiger as a pet.

FIRST FEMALE DOUBLE ROLE

Actress

Patience Cooper was an Indian and later Pakistani film actress. An Anglo-Indian from Calcutta, Cooper had a successful career in both silent and sound films. She was one of the early superstars of Bollywood. She is credited with the first female double roles of Indian cinema – as twin sisters in Patni Pratap and as mother and daughter in Kashmiri Sundari.

Cooper began as a dancer in Bandmann’s Musical Comedy, a Eurasian troupe. She later joined Jamshedji Framji Madan‘s Corinithian Stage Company as an actress.

Cooper first made an impact with Nala Damayanti (1920). The film starred Keki Adajania as Nala and Cooper as Damayanti . The film was a big budget Madan Theatre production and was directed by Eugenio de Liguoro, known in Italy for his Orientalist spectacles like Fascino d’Oro (1919).

Her next film was Vishnu Avtar, released in 1921. De Liguoro also directed Dhruva Chartitra (1921), a mythological based on the legend of Dhruva. The film was made as a bid for an international breakthrough for Madan Theatres and featured many Europeans in the cast along with Cooper who played the female lead, Suniti.

One of Cooper’s biggest successes was Pati Bhakti (1922). Cooper played Leelavati in the film, directed by the great JJ Madan himself, advocating that women should be devoted to their husband. The film is regarded as her greatest film and was also involved in a small controversy as in Madras, the censor demanded that a dance number be removed on the grounds of obscenity.

Cooper did films right through to the mid-1930s. One of her last major films was Zehari Saap (1933). Cooper acted in over 40 films until she retired in 1944, after performing in her last film, Iraada. Cooper was often cast in the role of a sexually troubled but innocent woman, always at the centre of moral dilemmas, often caused by the men in her lives.

A major aspect of Cooper’s star image was the successful achievement of the ‘Hollywood look’ in spite of different light and technical conditions. Her distinctively Anglo-Indian features, like dark eyes, sharp features, ebony hair and light skin tone, allowed technicians to experiment with the imported technique of eye-level lighting and achieve an appearance similar to Hollywood stars of the silent era.

Cooper married Mirza Ahmad Ispahani Saheb (MAH Ispahani), a well-known Indian businessman at the age of 21. In 1947, they migrated to Pakistan. After her divorce, she got married to Gul Hamid Khan, one of the first early silent movie actors. He died six years later due to Hodgkin’s Disease. Cooper changed her name to Sabra Begum and lived the last of her days with her two adopted daughters in Karachi, Pakistan. She fostered and/or adopted 17 children during her lifetime.

She remained friends with her ex husband, MAH Isphahani till the end of her life in 1993.

FIRST EXOTIC DANCER

Dancer. Teacher. Choreographer 

Azurie was born Annette Marie Nessette Gueizelor (Anna) in Bangalore in 1915 to a family where Indian Arts were taboo. Her German Catholic father was a Surgeon General and a strict disciplinarian, and her mother an orthodox Hindu Brahmin. When her parents separated, Anna remained with her father.

Anna was good at math, spoke perfect English and was extremely fond of dance but her father did not approve of Indian classical dancing, and would often reprimand her for even considering it. She was instead encouraged to study Russian ballet and to practice the piano. After studying in a Catholic convent she was sent to secretarial school to learn short hand & typing and then she attended nursing school.

Till the age of 14, Anna know nothing about films. It was her Indian cook and driver who first drew her attention to the “Indian films”. (words used with contempt among the higher classes).  When Anna reached her teens, the family moved to Bombay. Her father became a member of the weekly salon Three Arts Circle run by the well known Muslim intellectual and feminist Begum Atiya Rahamin. Atiya Begum was the answer to Anna’s strict father. She convinced him to let Anna study the arts of the subcontinent in her home. Anna began to study different schools of dance and music from renowned teachers.

At home in Bombay, Anna would also join in the entertainment and discussions of the Salon and and once quipped in an interview that “some English writer called Shah” liked her dancing “the old man liked my figure more than anything.” The journalist later found out that it was George Bernard Shaw who had visited the Salon while travelling to Bombay in 1933. In other words though, Shaw found that the Salon was a “waste of his time”.

After her father’s death, Anna stayed with Atiya Begum and on the sly began to go and watch films and shoots. The fourth time Anna went to see a shooting, someone offered her a bit role in a film. She had to carry a pot and swing her hips for the scene. In an interview she stated ” I found out that I was born to dance.”

A 5 feet high, slender, vivid, dynamic, Anna joined the Bombay film industry and in a rather short time Anna became Azurie, a dancing rage. Azurie was the first exotic and classical dancer who gained immense popularity in Hindi films. She was so popular with moviegoers that film distributors wouldn’t dare to release a film without a dance by Azurie in it and in many cases it had nothing to do with the plot, (thereby introducing the first ‘item numbers’) and Cuckoo too modeled herself after Azurie.

By 1935, she was writing columns for magazines, on Indian Dance, asking people to take the craft more seriously and to not condemn film dancers to low repute. In an interview, she claimed that Gandhiji was so impressed with her song ‘Main Harijan Ki Chhori’ that he sent for her and asked her to join his ashram to work for the upliftment of the Harijans, an offer that she found honourable but she tactfully declined.

With her career was well established, Azurie fell in love and married Josef Mahmud, an  ex-Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Indian Navy and a businessman. After Partition, in 1947, Azurie and her husband decided to live in Rawalpindi, in Pakistan. Though now and then she would visit India to work in Hindi Films. She was one of the few non-muslims who decided to live in Pakistan.

Much to the chagrin of the maulvis, she opened the first Academy of Classical Dance in Pakistan. The school however shut down due to lack of funds. She tried performing in a few Pakistani films but soon abandoned them. She then formed a successful troupe of 100 dancers along with Rafi Anwer, another dancer who had migrated from Bombay. Together they choreographed and performed duets, and toured foreign countries; it included a much applauded performance at the Buckingham Palace for the International Friendship League with her pupil Surya Kumar in 1949. Azurie even tried to establish a pure Pakistani Ballet, but the project was soon abandoned.

Soon Azurie was a member of the board of the National Council of the Arts and the founding member of the Pak-American Cultural Centre, where she taught classical dance for a number of years. Azurie’s dedication to the discipline of dance was serious and she battled every opponent – executives, officials, and governmental authorities. They left her alone largely because she spoke to them in fast and perfect diction of English which would confuse them, but which they took to be an authority of some sort.

Azurie danced in more than 500 movies in India and Pakistan. She also became a dance teacher and taught at the Station School, Rawalpindi all the way until the early 1990s and died in August, 1998, where she lived with her adopted son in a dilapidated apartment in Hotel Metropol. She was buried in a Church cemetery, under an old tree in Rawalpindi. Her funeral was attended by 15 people.

FIRST INTERNATIONAL MODEL

Singer. Actress. Fashion icon

Born in Patna, Jahanara Kajjan was the daughter of the courtesan Suggan and a Nawab of Bhagalpur.

Kajjan received education at home and even learnt English. Well versed in Urdu literature, she wrote poetry under the pen name “Ada” and some of her poems were published in Urdu magazines.

She was trained in Hindustani classical music from Ustad Hussain Khan of Patna. Noting her mastery of ragas, her mellifluous voice and  looks, she was hired by a theatre company in Patna. She is said to have performed on stage for three days at a fee of Rs. 250 per show, a rather large amount for the time and enchanted the audience.

The performance in Patna paved the way to her joining Alfred Company owned by Madan Theatres of Calcutta. Kajjan attained name and fame as a very popular singer and actor of the stage. She lived a lavish life at Calcutta. She knew western dancing, was a regular visitor to Calcutta Club, she mixed freely with the elite gentry. On a personal front, she was known to enjoy roaring love affairs with many of her co-stars. Fond of pets, she even bought herself two tiger cubs for some time. She was fashionable, popular and modern.

A studio portrait of late 1920s shows her wearing makeup, ear rings, nose pin with finger waived hair, dressed in a sari with laced blouse. This very photograph was the advertisement for face powder and hair products by “The Crisis (New York) 1928”.

Madan Theatres of Calcutta, hit the screen with “Shirin Farhaad” based on the stage play scripted by the renowned playwright Agha Hashar Kashmiri. Shirin Farhad, with songs sung by Kajjan Bai (Jahanara Kajjan), and Master Nissar. “Shirin Farhad” was a tremendous success across India with Kajjan emerging as the first superstar of Hindi cinema.

She was also a part of Bilwamangal (1932), the first ever Hindi film that was shot in colour and sent abroad for printing. It was followed by another super hit “Laila Majnu”, featuring Kajjan and Nissar. The film that created history was “Indrasabha” based on the play written by Agha Hassan Amanat, the court poet of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh. Loaded with 71 songs, the film still holds the world record as “film with most number of songs”. The film with duration of three and half hours (211 minutes) was entirely in verse.

Called the reigning queen of the stage, the glamorous movie actor, the trained singer, the fashionable modern girl, and a trendsetter, Jahanara Kajjan or Kajjan Bai, better known as Miss Kajjan was saluted as the ‘Lark of Hindi cinema’ and the ‘Beautiful Nightingale of Bengal Screen’.

By mid 1930s, the early enthusiasm for song-dramas, mythological stories and Persian love tales was wearing off and many film producers were forced to close shop, Madan Theatres among them. The classical numbers sung by the likes of Kajjan were losing their appeal and so was her theatrical acting style. She failed to receive any offers from the new producers. Nonetheless, she was financially independent, and stayed on in Calcutta, but after a couple of years with depleting resources, she was compelled to move to Bombay. Her Parsi connection, especially with Sohrab Modi, the doyen of Parsi theatre, helped her to get some acting assignments but her career in Bombay was short-lived from 1941 to 1944, during which she appeared in six marginal films, with the exception of Sohrab Modi’s “Prithvi Vallabh”. With only minor roles in her bag, she got little chance to display her singing calibre.

There is little information about her personal life in Bombay, where she passed away unsung in 1945 at the young age of 30. Her last film to have been released while she was alive was Bharthari (1944). Two other films she did—Jadui Putli (1946) and Tiger Man (1947)—were released after her death.

HIGHEST PAID ACTRESS

Actress . Studio Owner

Ruby Myers better known by her stage name Sulochana, was an Indian silent film star of Jewish ancestry, from the community of Baghdadi Jews in India

In her heyday she was one of the highest paid actresses of her time, when she was paired with Dinshaw Billimoria in Imperial Film Company. In mid-1930 she opened Rubi Pics, a film production house.

Ruby Myers was born in in Pune. The self-named Sulochana was among the early Eurasian female stars of Indian Cinema.

She was working as a telephone operator when she was approached by Mohan Bhavnani of Kohinoor Film Company to work in films. Though excited by the offer, she turned him down as acting was regarded as quite a dubious profession for women those days. However Bhavnani persisted with his offer and she finally agreed, despite having no knowledge of acting whatsoever. She became a star under Kohinoor before moving on to the Imperial Film Company where she became the highest paid movie star in the country.

Among her popular films were Typist Girl (1926), Balidaan (1927) and Wildcat of Bombay (1927) where she essayed eight roles including a gardener, a policeman, a Hyderabadi gentleman, a street urchin, a banana seller and a European blonde.

Three romantic super hits in 1928 – 29 with director R.S. Chaudhari – Madhuri (1928), Anarkali (1928) and Indira B.A. (1929) saw her at her peak of fame in the silent film era. In fact so widespread was her fame that when a short film on Mahatma Gandhi inaugurating a khadi exhibition was shown, alongside it was added a hugely popular dance of Sulochana’s from Madhuri, synchronised with sound effects.

With the coming of sound, Sulochana suddenly found a lull in her career, as it now required an actor to be proficient in Hindustani. Taking a year off to learn the language, she made a grand comeback with the talkie version of Madhuri (1932).

Further talkie versions of her silent hits followed and with Indira (now an) M.A. (1934), Anarkali (1935) and Bombay ki Billi (1936). Sulochana was back with a bang. She was drawing a salary of Rs 5000 per month, she had the sleekest of cars (Chevrolet 1935) and one of the biggest heroes of the silent era, D. Billimoria, as her lover with whom she worked exclusively between 1933 and 1939. They were an extremely popular pair – his John Barrymore-style opposite her Oriental ‘Queen of Romance’ image.

But once their love story ended so did their careers. Sulochana left Imperial to find few offers forthcoming. She tried making a comeback with character roles but even these were few.

However, she still had the power to excite controversy. In 1947, Morarji Desai banned the Dilip Kumar – Noor Jehan starrer, Jugnu, because it showed such a morally reprehensible act as an aging fellow professor falling for Sulochana’s vintage charms. In 1953, she acted in her third Anarkali, but this time in a supporting role as Salim’s mother.

She finally died lonely and forgotten in 1983 in her flat in Mumbai. A sad end for the woman who once became famous for drawing a larger salary than the Governor of Bombay and who even acted in a film named after her – Sulochana (1933).

Sulochana established her own film studio, Rubi Pics, in the mid-1930s. She received the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1973 for her lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. Ismail Merchant paid homage to her in Mahatma and the Bad Boy (1974).

REFORMIST AND ACTOR

Actor. Director. Producer. Stunt Composer

Raja Sandow was born in Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu in 1895 as P. K. Nagalingam.

From an early age, Nagalingam showed an flair for bodybuilding, gymnastics and wrestling. He also established a successful gymnasium and soon his reputation as a wrestler spread and Omar Sobhani, a Bombay-based millionaire (who was also keen on wrestling), took Nagalingam to Bombay to train him.

In 1918, journalist B. G. Horniman, editor of the Bombay Chronicle, featured Raja Sandow in his publication. The article resulted in a huge interest in Raja. The next step was to act in films. S. N. Patankar, National Film Company  the producer and director was then making ‘ Bhaktha Bhodhana’ (1922.). Impressed by Raja’s physique and good looks, Patankar hired him to play the hero in the film on a highest paid salary of Rs. 101. He was given the name “Raja Sandow” after strongman Eugen Sandow because of his physique. ‘ Bhaktha Bhodhana’ became a hit and Raja began to command a big salary.  Raja was the first silent film actor in Bombay to perform his own stunts.

After acting in a few silent films he also worked as a director in Ranjit Studios. His first film as director was Sneh Jyoti (1928). During the 1920s, Raja Sandow was one of the leading heroes in Bombay, and had acted in over 70 silent movies. He was also the action star, who performed his own stunts. Raja, with ambitions to become a director, began watched and learned the tricks of the trade.

After the first talkie Alam Ara in 1931, he began to star in many Hindi and Tamil talkies, often paired with the actresses Gohar and Sulochana (Ruby Myers). In 1935, he was commissioned to direct his first Tamil film Menaka and returned to Madras (now Chennai). In Tamil Nadu too he directed and acted in a number of silent films for R. Padmanaban‘s Associate Film Company. Sandow was the first Tamil film director to adopt the practice of using names of actors in film titles. He was also the first to introduce intimate kissing scenes and revealing costumes in Tamil Cinema.

Padmanabhan launched the first Associated Films production in 1929 called titled ‘Anadhai Penn’ (or Orphan Girl, a.k.a. Orphan Daughter) the first Tamil film based on literary works ; Vai. Mu. Kothainayagi Ammal’s novel of the same name. ‘Anadhai Penn’ was a trendsetter.

Raja Sandow had a violent temperament and was known to slap his crew and cast including women. Ironically,  as a director, his films conveyed social messages highlighting the cruel, discriminatory behaviour towards the poor and the low caste people and the ill-treatment of women by autocratic, selfish men. His films made him seem like a reformist but in reality he was far from it.

In Bombay he directed ‘Parijatha Pushpaharanam’ in (1932) with K. T. Rukmini as the heroine. In 1933 he made ‘Kovalan’ for Imperial films, in which Telugu actor Narasimha Rao was hero. Then in 1934, an invitation came from the Jupiter twins, M. Somasundaram and S.K. Mohideen, to direct ‘ Menaka’ (1935) for them for their  film production company named Shanmughananda Talkies. Somasundaram entered into an agreement with the TKS Brothers to produce ‘Menaka’ for which they would be paid Rs.16000 – a fortune in the mid-1930s.  The famed comedian N.S. Krishnan was also engaged to act in it for a salary of Rs.600. The cast included popular talents of the
day, M.S. Vijayal and K.T. Rukmini in the two main female roles.

‘Menaka’ turned out to be a major box-office success. The popularity of the play and the popularity of TKS Brothers, N.S. Krishnan and Raja Sandow helped in good measure. The film also won an award from the Government of the Madras Presidency. Crowds mobbed T. K. Shanmugham and N.S. Krishnan in Madurai.

‘Chavukkadi Chandrakantha’ a controversial novel by J. R. Rangaraju, became popular when adapted by M. Kandaswami Mudaliar for the stage. ‘ Chandrakantha’ became a hit and The success added to the stature of Raja.
In 1938 Raja Sandow made ‘Vishnu Leela’ in Madras. . P. Orr & Sons (on Mount Road) had another department besides wristwatches, silverware, and guns, that made gramophones under the name of Orrs Gramophone. Orrs Gramophone and Talkies, the company, which was then under foreign ownership, launched ‘Vishnu Leela.’ The plot was based on an episode in ‘ Vishnu Purana. ‘ The producers put up a thatched studio that was held up by casuarina poles near the Thousand Lights Mosque area. Raja Sandow directed the film besides playing three different roles (Hirnyakasipu-Ravana- Sisupala).

When he came to know that breakfast, lunch and snacks were being served in separate enclosures (one for Brahmins and the other for non-Brahmins), he walked into the enclosures and tore them down to shreds. The shocked producers had no option but to serve food in one enclosure without discriminating against caste, creed or community. This incident created a sensation in those days and Raja was hailed as hero for his reformist outlook.
Raja Sandow also made a film in Telugu featuring Pushpavalli and C.S. R. Anjaneyulu under the banner of Janaki Films (Janaki Bai was his wife). In this film, he introduced a new character, a Brahmin, who was forced by poverty to become a barber. He was called Mangali Sastri ( Mangali in Telugu means, barber). The role was played by the then unknown actor K. Shiva Rao, who later became a sensation and an iconic Telugu (film) comedian.
Raja Sandow expressed his reformist idea through this film that there was nothing wrong in a Brahmin taking up the profession of a barber in order to make a living and that communal and caste divides were only man-made and could be broken by man.
Then came the final film, ‘Sivakavi’ (1943), featuring Thyagaraja Bhagavathar,
T. R. Rajakumari and Serukalathur Sama among others. This film was launched at Central Studios, Coimbatore, by K. S. Narayana Iyengar of Pakshiraja Films. S. M. Sriramulu Naidu was his agent and manager.
Serious differences arose during the making of the film between Naidu and Raja Sandow, which led to the unceremonious exit of the director. Naidu took over the direction and completed the film.
After this unexpected and sad exit, Raja worked on another production, ‘Malai Magal’ with Thyagaraja Bhagavathar as hero and was on the lookout for a new heroine. This project never took off. Sandow suffered a heart attack and died at Coimbatore on 25 November 1943.

A strict disciplinarian, Raja Sandow’s reformist stance set him apart from the rest. It is regrettable that this fine filmmaker’s death went unnoticed by the press. He continued directing and acting in films till his death in 1943. The last film he worked in was Sivakavi (1943).

OWNER OF 127 THEATRES

Owner of 127 Theatres

J. F. Madan was born into a Parsi family in Bombay. His father worked with the Backbay Reclamation Company whose stated purpose was to reclaim the whole of Backbay (from the tip of Malabar Hill to the end of Colaba).

With the end of the American Civil War, in 1865, and the onset of depression, land prices fell, and the company was liquidated consequentially leading several people including Madan’s family to almost go bankrupt. The young Madan had to abandon school, and joined a drama club Elphinstone Nautanki Club, Bombay (headquarters in Calcutta) as a prop-boy in 1868.

By 1875, the drama club turned into a professional theatre company staging shows all over India. Madan began to manage, raise funds and produce shows, and also dabbled in several business  like importing food and liquor. In 1883, after a short stint in Karachi (now Pakistan), he moved to Calcutta and began supplying goods to army cantonments. The business made him wealthy and enabled him to buy Elphinstone Nautanki Club from its founder Cooverji Nazir. He even bought the Corinthian Hall, that was redesigned and renamed Corinthian Theatre. It was extremely popular for Parsi theatre shows, with grandeur and women actors.

In 1902, under the banner of the renamed drama club, – Elphinstone Bioscope Company Madan began bioscope shows in a tent in Maidan, Calcutta with equipment procured from Pathé Frères of Paris. Soon he began producing and exhibiting a number of silent movies including Jyotish Sarkar’s Bengal Partition Movement in 1905. He also bought Alfred Theatre, that same year.

In 1907, he established Elphinstone Picture Palace (now Chaplin Cinema), which was the first permanent show house in Calcutta, and Palace of Varieties (now Elite Cinema). After acquiring rights to Pathé Frères films that same year, he became the largest importer of American films and his influence increased even more. His ‘Elphinstone’ was one of the few Indian companies, among other European production houses, which filmed the historic 1911 Delhi Durbar attended by King George V and Queen Mary.

Elphinstone merged into Madan Theatres Limited in 1919 which brought adapted many of Bengali’s most popular literary works to the stage.

During the First World War, Madan began to help as a supplier to Supply and Transport Corps in the British Indian Army in Lucknow and his businesses started growing rapidly. In 1919, after he produced the first Bengali feature film, Bilwamangal, the first to be screened in the Cornwallis Theatre (now known as the Sree Cinema), his film business became Madan Theatres Limited. Madan Theatres and its associates began to have great control over theatre houses in the subcontinent. The Electric Theatre (now Regal Cinema), Grand Opera House (now Globe Cinema) and Crown Cinema (now Uttara Cinema) were all owned by Madan Theatres.

Madan also took the initiative in obtaining film rights for works Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore. Madan Theatres reached a peak in the late 1920s when it owned 127 theatres and controlled half of the country’s box office. His films were marked by a high degree of technical sophistication, facilitated by his employment of experienced foreign directors like Eugenio de Liguoro, Camille Le Grand and Georgio Mannini. Such expertise was complemented by grand sets and popular mythological storylines which ensured good returns. Many of these films were versions of earlier popular theatrical forms.  Madan Theatres produced a number of popular and landmark films until 1937.

After the war, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1918 Birthday Honours for his support, and was invested as a Commander of the Order in 1923. That same year JF Madan passed away.

FACE OF A FAIRY / ACTRESS / COSTUME DESIGNER

Producer. Actress. Singer

Roshan Ara Begum, aka Naseem Bano was the daughter of Nawab Abdul Waheed Khan of Hasanpur (UP), and a well-known classical singer and courtesan in Delhi, Shamshad Begum aka Chhamiya Bai. Shamshad Begum was financially independent and was able to offer Naseem a comfortable childhood and an elite education at Queen Mary’s High School. She wanted Naseem to become a Doctor.

In 1935, during a summer vacation, Naseem visited a film studio in Bombay organised by her mother and that’s when Naseem decided that she wanted to be on screen. Naseem’s beauty had many producers contact Shamshad and it seems that Naseem herself threw several tantrums to join films until her mother relented. She was nickname “Pari Chehra” – The face of a fairy.

Naseem’s first film was Sohrab Modi’s adaptation of Hamlet, Khoon ka Khoon (1936) in which she played Ophelia and her mother Shamshad Begum too played Queen Gertrude (Minerva Movietone). After the movie, she returned to Delhi to complete her studies, but she was denied admission to any college because by then she was considered to be part of a very low profession. Nonetheless, Naseem’s beauty had won her several suitors and films and soon they moved to Bombay and took an apartment on Marine Drive. Her mother became her full-time manager.

Naseem’s high-point came with Sohrab Modi’s Pukar (1939) in which she played the role of Empress Nur Jahan and by 1941, Naseem was a superstar drawing a huge salary of Rs. 3500.

Around this time, Naseem’s childhood friend, a young man called Mian Ehsan-ul-Haq returned from England with a degree in Chemistry and established a film company called Taj Mahal Pictures and signed on Naseem as the leading lady in his first production, Ujala, and by the end of the film Naseem had agreed to marry him. The wedding was followed by the announcement that Naseem would give up her acting career. They returned to Delhi and had two children. Ujwala had not fared well and eventually her husband Ehsan wanted to try his hand at movies again. Ironically he stopped Naseem from working in any movie other than his own.

After World War II, and the temperamental moods of the industry, Taj Mahal Pictures got into serious financial problems. S. Mukherjee left Bombay Talkies citing differences to set up Filmistan Ltd and wanted star power as his former colleague and rival, Devika Rani with his maiden production. He tried to convince Ehsan to let Naseem act again, but Ehsan had conditions – He would let Naseem work for Filmistan only if Mukherjee produced his next film. The barter was finalised and Naseem started work on Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944), written by Manto.

Very soon, Naseem Banu separated from Ehsan and he eventually migrated to Pakistan On him, he carried all the negatives of the films she had made with Taj Mahal Films. In Pakistan he re-released the films that made him enough money to last a while.  Naseem could not or did not claim any benefits. Nonetheless, in India, Naseem took on the role to groom her daughter, Saira Bano for a career in the Industry.  Naseem also became her daughter’s dress-and jewellery designer introducing the new trend of embroidered Sarees.

Naseem passed away on June 18, 2002 in Mumbai at the age of 83.

MUSIC COMPOSER / ACTRESS

Music Composer . Singer . Actress

Bibbo was singer-actress working in Hindi/Urdu films. She acted in Indian cinema from 1933-1947 before moving to Pakistan following Partition of India in 1947.

Bibbo was born Ishrat to a famous singer and courtesan Hafeezan Bai of Delhi, and “belonged to the Ishratabad Chawari Bazar area of Delhi”. She was cited as being a famous singer from Delhi who came to Bombay to join films.Bibbo was a trained singer with a “coarse husky quality” like Zohrabai Ambalewali and Shamshad Begum.

She started her acting career with Ajanta Cinetone Ltd. in 1933, working with directors like M. D. Bhavnani and A. P. Kapoor. She was one of the top leading ladies of the 1930s along with actresses like Devika Rani, Durga Khote, Sulochana (Ruby Myers), Mehtab, Shanta Apte, Sabita Devi, Leela Desai and Naseem Bano.

She was referred to as “one of the most important female stars of the 1930s and 1940s”. Her fame had her featured in the lyrics of a popular song from the film Gharib Ke Lal (1939) sung by Mirza Musharraf and Kamla Karnataki, with music by Sagheer Asif and lyrics by Rafi Kashmiri. “Tujhe Bibbo Kahoon Ke Sulochana” (Should I call you Bibbo or Sulochana), where Sulochana (Ruby Myers) referred to another popular actress of the time. This was the first time a song featuring famous actors was used in the lyrics of a film song.

Bibbo became a music composer of Indian cinema, when she composed the music for Adal-e-Jahangir in 1934, a year before Jaddanbai, mother of actress Nargis, composed music for Talash-e-Haq (1935). She was also the music director for a second film called Qazzak Ki Ladki (1937).

She worked with actors like Master Nissar, Surendra and Kumar and formed a popular working relationship with them. Her pairing with Surendra was especially well-liked with the pair giving several hits. She worked in nearly thirty films as a lead actress in India from 1933–47, shifting to character roles in later years, following her move to Pakistan. She won the Nigar Award for the best character actress for her role in the Pakistani film Zehr-e-Ishq (1958).

Bibbo chose to move to Pakistan following partition of India in 1947. She started working in films there as a character artist doing about twelve films from 1950-1966.

Her first film in Pakistan was Shammi (1950), a Punjabi picture directed by Munshi Dil.

Her last cited film is Armaan (1966) directed by Parvez Malik, with music by Sohail Rana.[9]

Bibbo was married by the end of 1930s to Khalil Sardar, who directed her in Adal-e-Jahangir for which she gave music. Following the marriage they left Bombay and moved to Lahore, where they produced a film under the banner of Rainbow films, Qazzak Ki Ladki (1937), where she was also the music director. The film was a commercial failure and Bibbo finally returned to Bombay. Following Partition in 1947, Bibbo moved to Pakistan, where she worked as a character artiste. According to Zulqarnain Shahid (The Weekly MAG, Pakistan) re-published in Cineplot, it was stated that Bibbo was married to Shahnawaz Bhutto, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s father. In the June 1943 issue of Filmindia, Baburao Patel answered a query about Bibbo claiming she was “indeed married to Bhutto”.

The last days of Bibbo’s life are claimed to have been lonely with her life described as being “miserable and poverty stricken”. She died on 25 May 1972.

FOUNDER OF BENGALI CINEMA / MASTER OF DISGUISE

Entrepreneur. Actor . Writer . Producer. Director. Master of Disguises

Dhiren Ganguly or D.G was born in Calcutta in 1893.
He studied in the Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan and studied under Rabindra Nath Tagore.

Impressed with his skills, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan,  invited Ganguly to become the headmaster of State Art School in Hyderabad where he earned a princely salary of Rs.1,300 a month.

In 1915, Ganguly released a book of photographs on make-up techniques called Bhavki Abhibyakti in (1915, Hindi and Bengali) where he assumed male and female disguises displaying his mastery over makeup techniques. His skill in creating disguises brought him in contact with the imperialist police and he was requested to teach CID officers the art of camouflage in both British India and independent India.

In 1918, Ganguly’s photography book brought him in contact of Jamshetji Framji Madan, who agreed to invest in his films but soon there was a conflict of interest. Ganguly then joined a former Madan Theatres’ manager Nitish Lahiri to formed the Indo British Film Co, the first film production company to be owned by Bengalis. Their first production was Bilat Ferat (1921) (The England Returned), released only two years after the first Bengali feature ‘Bilwamangal’. It was a silent comedy film directed by Nitish Lahiri. The film faced resistance from the exhibition sector controlled by the Madans but was successful. It  encouraged them to make and release two more movies in 1922: Yashoda Nandan and Sadhu Aur Shaitan.

In 1919, after the Jalianwala Baug massacre, Rabindra Nath Tagore returned his knighthood and the British jailed Mahatma Gandhi. The embargo on media resulted in heavy censoring of films. The Calcutta Board of Censors denied certificates to 13 of the 49 films. Dhiren Ganguly then returned to Hyderabad, and under the Nizam’s patronage, formed the Lotus Film Company.

In 1921, The British Imperialists communal policies instigated the Moplah Disturbances and disrupted the unity forged by Gandhi and the Ali brothers under the Khilafat banner (1919-1923). In 1924, Ganguly accepted the distribution and release of Razia Begum, a film made in Bombay about Razia Sultana, the daughter of Iltutmish and her love for an Abyssinian slave. The theme enraged the Nizam of Hyderabad who sided with the British on segregation of Hindus and Muslims, and Ganguly was ordered to leave Hyderabad within a day.

In 1929, Ganguly returned to Calcutta (now Kolkata) and set up British Dominion Film Company. In 1930, he released Flames of Flesh, featuring his own wife Premika Devi in the lead rolebased on the life of the celebrated beauty, Rani Padmini of Chittor, shot in Amber Palace, Rajasthan.

With the arrival talkies and new sound technologies, Ganguly’s film company failed. and he joined Barua Pictures company. But, soon both of them joined B. N. Sircar‘s New Theatres. Sound however encouraged Ganguly to experiment more freely with slapstick and satire. He revealed a genuine flair for comedy in such films as ‘Excuse Me Sir’ and ‘Mastuto Bhai’. With some funds from the East India Company he made three more films, ‘Night Bird’, ‘Love Factory’ and ‘Blood and Beauty’.

Throughout his career, Ganguly was known as a thorough professional and soon began to make films based on Tagore’s and Saratchandra’s stories. He also introduced actors Debaki Bose and Pramathesh Barua, and his own daughter Monika to the movies.

During his career Dhiren Ganguly directed about 30 films, and acted in about 10.  He received the prestigious Padma Bhushan in the year 1974 and was honoured with Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1975. He died in Calcutta in 1978.

ACTRESS

Actress. Stuntwoman. Dancer

Akhtar was born in 1915, in Lahore, British India. Sardar Akhtar’s sister Bahar Akhtar was also an aspiring actress. Sardar started as a supporting “dancer-artiste”, and commenced her film career by acting in stage plays produced by Madan Theatres Ltd.

Akhtar started her career at Saroj Movietone doing what were then termed as “stunt” films. In 1933, she acted in films directed by A. P. Kapoor (Anand Prasad Kapoor) like Roop Basant, Id Ka Chand, Malti Madhav, . Some of the action films she did at Saroj were directed by J. P. Advani (Jagatrai Pesumal Advani), which included films like Gafil Musafir, Johare-Shamsheer, Shah Behram and Tilasimi Talwar. In 1934 she acted in Hothal Padmini directed by Kanjibhai Rathod.She finally came into prominence in the role of washer-woman Rami Dhoban in Sohrab Modi’s Pukar (1939). Her career defining role was as a “peasant woman” deserted by her husband, in Mehboob Khan’s Aurat (1940), a role that was later made famous by Nargis, in Mehboob’s remake Mother India.

1940 had Akhtar working in Ali Baba. The film was directed by Mehboob Khan. The film turned out to be a commercial success and Mehboob and Akhtar embarked on a romantic relationship. They got married in 1942.

Akhtar  stopped acting in films after completing pending films however, she resumed as a character actress in the 1970s. She acted in over fifty films in a career span of 1933–45.

Mehboob Khan called Sardar his inspiration for making films like Aan (1952), Andaz and the remake of Aurat, Mother India (1957).

After Mehboob’s death in 1964, Sardar Akhtar became his legal heir with shares in Mehboob Studios and three flats. The property went into litigation once Akhtar’s nephew made claims regarding Akhtar’s will. Sardar Akhtar died on 2 October 1986, following a heart attack in New York City, US. The two-decade old dispute is still pending.

MUSIC DIRECTOR / SINGER

Saraswati Devi was a Parsi film score composer who worked in Hindi cinema in the 1930s and 1940s. She was one of the few female composers, working with Bombay Talkies, and is most noted for her score, Mein Ban ki Chiriyra Banke Bun Bun Bolun Re (Achut Kanya 1936). She was the second female music director in the Indian film industry, after Jaddan Bai.

Khorshed was born in an affluent Parsi family, and was good at music. Acknowledging her talent, her father had her learn and study Hindustani classical music under Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. Later she joined Marris College (later Bhatkhande Music Institute) at Lucknow and studied music.

With the setting up of an All India Radio station in Bombay in the late 1920s, Khorshed along with her sister Manek performed on air regularly. The programme, known as the Homji Sisters, was very popular with the listeners.

At the time, the founder of Bombay Talkies, Himanshu Rai was looking for a good classical singer for his movies. When heard them on radio, he got in touch, and invited her to visit the studio where she was shown the music room. He wanted her to manage the music department and score music for his movies. Himanshu Rai offered Khorshed a handsome salary for the post of Music Director, while Manek was offered a acting-singing character. The sisters accepted the offer for film, Jawani Ki Hawa (1935).

With unpleasant turn of events, Jawani Ki Hawa and the word about the two sisters was followed by shocking objections by the Parsi community.  Ironically, the community in India was small but they were educated. They considered themselves to be liberal and were active participants and initiators of social reform for women. They had also been active contributors to Indian Cinema. Parsi women and men were aligned to western and liberal ideas of life – they dressed well, they drank, drove cars, went to the races, visited clubs, parties and elite westernised events. Nonetheless, the entire community went rogue and demanded that the sisters be replaced – They wanted the Parsi girls out of the talkies, a profession considered too low for women of their community ( and by majority of Indian communities).

Himansu Rai was even threatened with his life. But the film was already half way through production and there was no way he could agree to the Parsis demands. He tried to defend the sisters by renaming both women— giving them Hindu names –  Khorshed became Saraswati Devi, and Manek became Chandraprabha. Nonetheless the Parsis didn’t succumb – They invoked the police, The Parsi Council and the Film Censors to stop the film. However, contrary to their objections and after a special screening for the board, the film was cleared for release. The film premiered in 1936 at the Imperial Theatres, Bombay.

Khorshed (now known as Saraswati Devi) first hit movie was Achut Kanya (1936). Ashok Kumar, along with Devika Rani spent hours rehearsing for a song before it was filmed.  The most successful song of the movie “Mai banki chidiya banke ban ban bolun re” was rendered / picturised on Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani. In 1936, Khorshed also composed  music for the film, Janmabhoomi, released during the Indian independence movement, and featured one of the first explicit nationalistic songs of Hindi cinema, “Jai Jai Janani Janmabhoomi” (Hail the land of our birth) written by J. S. Kashyap. Subsequently, a tune from the chorus of this song was used by BBC as a signature tune for its “Indian News Service”.

Khorshed now Saraswati Devi continued composing film music until 1961. She and her sister never married and they adopted a maharashtrian family with six children. She passed away in 1980 at the age of 68. Alone.

PRODUCER

Chandulal Shah was a director, producer and screenwriter of Indian films, who founded Ranjit Studios in 1929.

Shah was born  in Jamnagar, Gujarat, British India. He studied at Sydenham College in Bombay (now Mumbai) and got a job at the Bombay Stock Exchange in 1924. While waiting to get a job he helped his brother, J. D. Shah, who was a writer for mythological films. He was called by Laxmi Film Company to direct a film Vimla in 1925 as its director Manilal Joshi was bedridden. Chandulal Shah not only directed the film but also went on to do two more films for the company, Panch Danda (1925) and Madhav Kam Kundala (1926) before returning to the Stock Exchange.

Amarchand Shroff, a friend of Shah, who was with the Laxmi Film Company, brought him to Kohinoor Film Company where he first came into contact with Gohar, a contact that eventually developed into both a personal and professional relationship.

The first film independently directed by him at Kohinoor was Typist Girl (1926) starring Sulochana and Gohar which was made in 17 days. The film did extremely well at the box-office leading Shah to direct another five films for the studio all featuring Gohar. Of these, the most famous was Gunsundari (1927).

In 1929 Chandulal Shah founded Ranjit Studios at Bombay, Maharashtra. It produced films between 1929 and mid-1970s. The company began production of silent films in 1929 under the banner Ranjit Film Company and by 1932 had made 39 pictures, most of them social dramas. The company changed its name to Ranjit Movietone in 1932 and during the 1930s produced numerous successful talkies at the rate of about six a year. At this time, the studio employed around 300 actors, technicians and other employees. With the advent of sound, Ranjit Film Company became Ranjit Movietone.

Besides Filmmaking, Chandulal Shah also devoted a lot of time to the organizational work of the Indian Film Industry. Both the Silver Jubilee (1939) and the Golden Jubilee of the Indian film Industry (1963) were celebrated under his guidance. He was the first president of The Film Federation of India formed in 1951 and even led an Indian delegation to Hollywood the following year.

Shah’s downfall started when Raj Kapoor and Nargis starrer Paapi failed at the box office, followed by Zameen ke Taare. He took to gambling and horse racing. On 25 November 1975, the industry’s most powerful man, who once owned a fleet of cars, was reduced to travelling in buses and died penniless.

CABARET QUEEN

Dancer

Cuckoo Moray was an Anglo-Indian dancer and actress in Indian cinema. Cukoo was the queen of film dancing in Hindi cinema of the 1940s and 1950s. Though unfamiliar name, she was known as the “rubber girl” of Hindi cinema  it was her talent that made cabaret dancing a norm in Bollywood films during the 1940s and 1950s.

Cuckoo made her screen debut in the film Arab Ka Sitara in 1946. In the film Stum Chandi, the large audience and directors noticed her dancing abilities for the first time. The turning point in Cukoo’s career was in Mehboob Khan’s films. Her dance number in his film Anokhi Ada (1948) established her as the lead dancer of the era and in Andaz (1949), however, a romantic drama starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar, and Raj Kapoor, gave her opportunity to display her acting skills. In Mehboob Khan’s 1952 film Aan she had a brief cameo, her only film in colour. She would charge Rs 6,000  for a dance number, an enviable fee in the 50s.

Cukoo was a family friend of the Anglo-Burmese dancer and actress Helen. She was known for helping unknown actors get a break in Bollywood, for instance Pran in Ziddi. Cuckoo introduced the 13-year-old Helen into films as a chorus dancer in the films and most notably appeared in song and dance sequence together like in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and Yahudi (1958).

Cuckoo remained the best dancer in Hindi films until dancers like Helen and Vyjayanthimala stormed the industry. Her three cars (one for her use, one for taking her dogs for a drive, and the last   used to summon protégées like Helen to play with her sister), her flats and jewellery were confiscated by the Government of India when she was found to evading income tax. Her last film appearance was in Mujhe Jeene Do in 1963 after which she had disappeared from the film industry.

Cuckoo died of cancer at the age of 52; during her last days she could barely afford to buy painkillers. Some actors did help but it was too late, much too late. Her funeral was unattended by the film industry.

PRODUCER / SINGER / ACTRESS

Actress. Singer. Producer. Studio Owner

Gohar Kayoum Mamajiwala was also known as Miss Gohar. Gohar was 16 years old when her father’s business collapsed and the family funds depleted. A a family friend, Homi Master who was working as a director for Kohinoor Films, suggested that Gohar take up acting as a career. Her parents agreed.

Gohar was fond of reading and was self-assured even as a teenager. She began with the silent film Fortune and the Fools (1926) directed by Kanjibhai Rathod and the role of the hero was portrayed by Khalil and the film was produced by Kohinoor Films. The film was a Hit. It was the “silent” era of movies when audience took de­light in “stunt” films, adventure and mythological stories.  Her success in the very first film was followed by her second Picture for Kohinoor. “Fairy of Ceylon” which proved even more successful for both the young star and the studio. An entertainment packed fantasy, this fairy tale adventure was directed by Homi Master and produced by Dwarkadas Sampat and the hero again was Khalil.

Her performances brought her to the notice of Chandulal Shah who was then about to start directing “Typist Girl” for Kohinoor Films. The heroine was Sulochana but Mr. Shah insisted that Gohar, an established star, play a cameo part as the drunkard’s wife.

For two years Gohar under contract to Kohinoor Films. In 1927 came the break, a mutual friend of Gohar and Chandulal Shah, Jagdish Pasta decided to start a film produc­ing concern of his own with their co-operation and technical help. Gohar along with Jagdish Pasta, Chandulal Shah, Raja Sandow and cameraman Pandurang Naik started the Shree Sound Studios. There they made about ten pic­tures including “Vishwa Mohini” (produced in both the silent and talkie versions) and “Chandra­mookhi”. In 1929, Gohar opted out of the collective and along with Chandulal Shah she founded the Ranjit Studios which was (later known as Ranjit Movietone), which grew and led to the eventual acquisition of a studio with four sound stages.

She retired in the 1970s and passed away in Bombay, Maharashtra on 28 September 1985.

ACTRESS / SINGER / SOCIAL WORKER / AUTHOR

Actress. Singer. Social Worker . Author

Renuka Devi aka Khurshid Mirza was a Indian and Pakistani film actress.

Khurshid was sixth, in line of seven siblings born to Sheikh Abdullah and Waheed Jahan Begum, the founders of Aligarh’s Women’s College, (now  a part of Aligarh University). Her father was a lawyer and philanthropist with liberal views and was deeply interested in the cause of educating and empowering Muslim women.

Khurshid was brought up and educated in Aligarh too. She was athletic, with a deep interest in sports (tennis and basketball), she was beautiful and sang well. In 1934, she married a senior police officer on the British colonial rolls, Akbar Mirza and had two sons.

In 1938, one of Khurshid’s British house guests at a party commented on her beauty and that she would be fit for a movie career. Within a few months a cousin who had happened to be visiting Bombay wrote to her about Bombay Talkies and the most charming Devika Rani & Himanshu Rai. The 21-year-old Khurshid instinctively wrote to Himanshu Rai, attaching a photograph of herself, asking if she could meet with him for a job. Himanshu Rai wrote back, inviting her to visit with all expenses paid.

Akbar at first refused to let Khurshid go to Bombay, but after his boss, a british police officer, insisted he send Khurshid to explore her dreams, he decided to accompany his her to Bombay and visit Himanshu Rai. Rai and Devika Rani left no stone unturned to charm them and convince Akbar to let Khurshid act in his film. Akbar reluctantly agreed under the condition that she would take no salary, because a salary meant she was a “professional”, a status that was unacceptable for a respectable family.

In 1939, Himanshu Rai hired Khurshid as an actress in his studio for his new film Bhabha under the screen name Renuka Devi in order to protect her esteemed identity. Initially not many in the family knew what Khurshid was up to, but after the release of the film, the community was up in arms. The family was accused of blasphemy who had dared allow their daughter & daughter-in-law to become an actress, and her mother asked her not to visit Aligarh. Khurshid could not visit home for two years.

Meanwhile, Akbar gradually began to enjoy the benefits Khurshid/Renuka’s fame and “salary” brought : He bought himself a new car, planned expensive game-­‐hunts, and pleasure trips to Mussoorie and provisioned excellent schooling for the children. A decade later in 1944, after acting in several films she announced her retirement from the Indian film industry. After partition, Khurshid migrated to Pakistan though after a few years revived her career with Pakistan Television Corporation acting in drama serials and earning household fame.

Khurshid Mirza penned an autobiography in 1982 called the The Uprooted Sapling. The collection was compiled in 2005 as a book under the title A woman of substance: the memoirs of Begum Khurshid Mirza. She worked for the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) as a volunteer helping destitute women. She then took charge of an APWA centre for healthcare in a rural area and wrote and aired programmes on women’s issues on radio.

She retired in 1985 and was awarded the Pride of Performance in Pakistan.

SILENT MOVIE STAR

Actress

Seeta Devi was one of the early stars of silent films in the Indian film industry. Himanshu Rai cast Smith, a 14 year old Anglo-Indian, in Prem Sanyas, the movie which is better known by its English title: The Light of Asia. This was her debut film as Seeta Devi, and it made her a star immediately. Later she acted under the banner of Madan Theatres as well.

Three of her most successful films were: The Light of Asia, Shiraz, and Prapancha Pash. All three of these films were made through the collaboration of German film director Franz Osten and Indian actor-producer Himanshu Rai along with Bavarian company Emelka.

This unique trilogy were connected to three different religions and based on three different stories of Indian history/mythology: The Light of Asia was based on the life of Buddha, Shiraz was based on construction of the Taj Mahal and Prapancha Pash, better known by its English title A Throw of Dice, was based on a story from the Mahabharata. Seeta Devi was the leading actress in all these three films, though the role in Shiraz was that of ‘the other woman’.

Three of her other successful films, Durgesh Nandini, Kapal Kundala and Krishnakanter Will were based on popular novels of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.

FIRST NATURAL ACTOR

Actor. Director. Writer

Motilal Rajvansh was an Indian film actor and  is credited with being among Hindi cinema’s first natural actors.

Born in Shimla on 4 December 1910, Motilal came from a distinguished family from Delhi. His father was a renowned educationist, who died when Motilal was one year old. He was brought up by his uncle who was a well-known civil surgeon in Uttar Pradesh. At first, Moti was sent to an English school at Shimla and later, in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Thereafter he shifted to Delhi where he continued with school and college.

After leaving college, Moti came to Bombay to join the Navy, but he fell ill and could not appear for the test. Fate had other choices charted out for him. One day, he went to see a film shoot at Sagar Studios, where director K. P. Ghosh was shooting. Motilal, even then, was quite the man about the town and he caught Ghosh’s eye. In 1934 (aged 24), he was offered the hero’s role in Shaher Ka Jadoo (1934) by the Sagar Film Company. He later featured in several successful social dramas.

Perhaps the role for which he received the most critical appreciation was that of the gentleman crook in S. S. Vasan’s adaptation of R K Narayan’s book Mr Sampat (1952). He is most remembered for his role as ‘Chunni Babu’ in Bimal Roy’s Devdas (1955), for which he won his first Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award.

He had a very intimate relationship for several years with the actress Nadira and was involved with actress Shobhna Samarth after she separated from her husband, he played the role of Samarth’s real-life daughter Nutan’s father in Hamari Beti, Shobhana’s launch movie for Nutan. He also played her guardian in Anari, though this time the role had a villainous touch to it.

Though Motilal was very suave and polished, and moved in high society, he enjoyed gambling and races, and died almost penniless in 1965. He was posthumously awarded a Certificate of Merit for the Best Story Writer.

ACTOR/ SCREENWRITER/ DIRECTOR

Actor. Screenwriter. Director

Gul Hamid was born in Pirpiai, a village in the North West Frontier Province of British India (now in Pakistan).

He acted in Heer Ranjha, the first film produced in Punjabi and in Seeta, a talkie that won an honorary diploma in the 1934 Venice Film Festival, the first Indian film shown at an International film festival.

Hamid also wrote the script, acted in, and directed the film Khyber Pass (1936 film).

Gul Hamid, became an all-India celebrity when A.R.Kardar cast him in his hit movie ‘Sarfarosh’ alias Brave Hearts in 1930, which was a silent movie made in Lahore. He also worked in the first ever Punjabi feature film Heer Ranjha released in 1932. This film was made in Lahore and directed by A.R.Kardar.

In 1933, his film Yahudi Ki Ladki was released based on Agha Hashar Kashmiri’s play Yahudi ki larki.

Gul Hamid worked with his wife, Patience Cooper, in three films i.e., Baghi Sipahi, Murderer (1935) and Khyber Pass. After starting his film career from Lahore, he moved to Calcutta where he worked in more than a dozen of silent films and talkies while some of his films were made in Bombay.

Hamid died of Hodgkin’s Disease in 1936.

FIRST COMMERCIALLY VIABLE DIRECTOR

Kanjibhai Rathod was from a Dalit family in Maroli village in Gujarat, was considered the first successful director in Indian cinema. His rise to fame in an era when most people stayed away from films due to peculiar stigmas attached to films.

Rathod began as a still photographer with the Oriental Film Company. His experience earned him a job in Kohinoor Film Company and its owner Dwarkadas Sampat made him a director.

Rathod’s ‘Bhakta Vidur‘ released in 1921, was perhaps the first criticism of the British colonialism in a popular feature film. This mythological allegory directly alluded to political issues, particularly the controversy over the Rowlett Act.

An adaptation from a section of the Mahabharata, this film showed the British as the Kauravas and its protagonist Vidur as Gandhi. Dwarkadas Sampat himself played the role donning the Gandhi cap and khadi shirt. The film raised a storm – while a big hit in Bombay, it was banned by the British in Karachi and Madras.

Rathod was the first film-maker to direct a crime thriller in 1920s on contemporary events. His Kala Naag (1924) was based on ‘the Champsi-Haridas murder case’ in Bombay.

By the time he left for Saurashtra Film Company in Rajkot in 1924, Rathod had enough work on his name. At the launch of Krishna Film Company, he returned to Mumbai in 1931, the year of first talkies.

Rathod directed five talkies out of 17 made in 1931. And in all directed more than 70 films. He remained active in the industry even in 1940s, but he was not as successful directing talkies.

ACTRESS / STUNTS WOMAN

Actress . Stunts Woman

Nadia was born Mary Ann Evans in Perth, Western Australia. She was the daughter of Scotsman Herbertt Evans, a volunteer in the British Army, and a Greek mother, Margret. When Mary was one year old Herbertt’s regiment was seconded to Bombay. Mary and her family migrated to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1913 at the age of five.

In 1915, her father’s untimely death during World War I prompted the family to move to Peshawar (now in Pakistan). During a stay in the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) she learned horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and shooting. In 1928, she returned to Bombay with her mother and a son, Robert Jones, about whom not much is known. She began to studied ballet under Madam Astrova and joined her dance troupe.

Nadia had earlier tried her hand at a job in the Army & Navy Store in Bombay as a salesgirl and had at one point wanted to learn “short-hand and typing to get a better job”. Meanwhile, she performed  for British soldiers at military bases, with Astrova’s troupe, for Indian royalty and for crowds in towns and villages. Under the suggestion of an Armenian fortune teller who foretold great success and a change of name that began with letter ‘N’, she chose the name Nadia.

Nadia began touring India as an stunt artist, mastered the art of cartwheels and splits and began working for Zarko Circus in 1930. She was introduced to Hindi films by Jamshed “J.B.H.” Wadia who was the founder of Wadia Movietone, the behemoth of stunts and action in 1930s Bombay. At first, J.B.H. was bemused at Mary’s insistence on trying out for the movies, but he took a gamble by giving her a cameo as a slave girl (in a hand-painted colour sequence that accentuated her blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes) in the film Desh Deepak, and then as Princess Parizaad in Noor-e-Yaman. Nadia proved a huge hit with the audience, whereupon, considering her skills at performing circus and other stunts, J.B.H. by then joined by his younger brother Homi chose to develop her into a star.

Over the next decade, Nadia went on to star in over 50 films, performing her own stunts in every single one of them. In 1967-68, when she was in her late 50s, she appeared in a James Bond spoof called Khiladi (The Players).

In 1993, Nadia’s great grandnephew, Riyad Vinci Wadia, made a documentary of her life and films, called Fearless: The Hunterwali Story. After watching the documentary at the 1993 Berlin International Film Festival, Dorothee Wenner, a German freelance writer, and film curator, wrote Fearless Nadia – The true story of Bollywood’s original stunt queen, which was subsequently translated into English in 2005.

ACTRESS / SINGER / MODEL / FIRST FEMALE PRODUCER

Indian model, actress and first woman film producer in the Hindi film industry.

Pramila was born Esther Victoria Abraham in Kolkata, to a wealthy Baghdadi Jewish family. She was the daughter of Reuben Abraham, a businessman from Kolkata, and Matilda Isaac, from Karachi. She had three siblings from her father’s first marriage, and six siblings from her own parents’ marriage.

Esther was beautiful, a good student, a talented sportswoman (a hockey champion and won many trophies in sports), she was also good at drawing & painting. On graduating from High School she received an Arts Degree, administered from Cambridge. However, a sudden reversal in family fortunes led Esther and her sisters to seek employment and Esther became a teacher at the Talmud Jewish Boys’ School.

Esther was very drawn to the emerging Hindi cinema and was interested in the theater. Her first job at 17, was as a dancer for a Parsi theatre company, dancing during the 15 minutes pause while the reel projector was changed. These interests were not surprising as the entire family was quite exposed to Indian dance and music nonetheless her father gave her a beating for these interests had not yet hit home.

Jaddan Bai was her father’s close friend and Esther’s first cousins Rose and Sophie, were actors at the Corinthian Hall. Esther eloped with a Marwari theatre director Manicklal Dangi and had a son, Maurice, but her parents had the marriage annulled and she decided to bring up Maurice on their own.

By 1934, Esther was 19, divorced, and a single mother. She admired her cousins Rose and  Sophie (Romila) who had by then left Calcutta to join the Bombay film industry and were under contract with Ardeshir Irani‘s Imperial Film Company. A casual visit to Bombay changed her life. Director R. S. Chowdhari spotted Esther while she visited the studio and her cousin, Rose was acting in The Return of the Toofan Mail. Chowdhary offered Esther a screen test and was signed up immediately.  She sent a telegram to Calcutta saying “she will not be returning.” The Return of the Toofan Mail, however, was never completed but Esther’s career in the Bombay film industry took off.

Esther too signed up to work at Imperial Company. Since actors at the time were bound to the studio, Esther was loaned to Movietone to play a westernised vamp in Bhikaran. When Bhikaran was released in 1935, Esther’s anglicized Hindi became quite a rage. Baburao Pendharkar gave her the screen name Pramila, and she went on to act in several movies including Ulti Ganga, the first version of Mother India (she also worked as the even worked as colour coordinator and design consultant on the film) and later often playing the role of a scheming Vamp. She was also a good seamstress ; designing, drawing and sewing her own costumes which were saris with a western twist, much like today.

In 1939,  Esther fell in love and married an already married film star (a wife and children in Lucknow), Syed Hasan Ali Zaidi whose screen name was Kumar (Kumar is best known for his role as the sculptor of Anarkali in Mughal-E-Azam). Esther’s name was changed to Shabnam Begum Ali but she remained a practicing Jewess to the end.  Esther and Zaidi (Pramila & Kumar) lived together for 22 years in Bombay, living a lavish life-style – they danced all night long at the Taj, and were regulars at the races and loved fast cars. The glamorous couple had three sons and one daughter : Akbar, Asghar, Haider and Naqi. She dominated magazines of the 30’s and 40’s and even got a couple of film offers from Hollywood, however the outbreak of the World War II hindered the offers from materializing.

In a bid to gain more financial and professional control and stability, she set up her own film production concern along with Zaidi (Kumar). In an interview she remembers being inspired by Devika Rani’s single-­‐handed administration of Bombay Talkies. On March 16, 1942, Pramila and Kumar launched Silver Films and Devika Rani was invited to perform the mahurat ceremony for their first film Shankar.

By 1947, Pramila was in the exact same position as Devika Rani, managing a successful production and distribution business.  That same year she was awarded the first Miss India award by Morarji Desai (the chief minister of Bombay), at the age of 31, pregnant with her fifth child, Naqi, at Liberty Cinema. Ironically, Morarji Desai also suspected her of spying for Pakistan, due her regular visits to Pakistan with her husband (to visit his family) and had her arrested. Later it was proven that she travelled only to promote her films.

In 1963, her husband Zaidi had a change of heart and decided to join his elder brother and first wife in Pakistan, leaving Esther astounded. She was not ready to uproot her life and her business and despite the possible challenges, stayed on in India with her five children, running the studio all by her self albeit in debt. Esther’s parents helped her buy a home near Shivaji Park, and the home was called Pramila Vilas. (still in the family’s possession after she fought massive court battles for it). She fell in love again with Parsi film maker Nari Gadhali and lived with him thereafter.

Esther Victoria Abraham aka Pramila became the first major woman film producer in India, with 16 films under her banner Silver Productions. Her daughter Naqi Jahan was crowned Eve’s Weekly Miss India in 1967 in Australia. They are the only mother and daughter to have won the Miss India title. She died five months short of her 90th birthday in 2006 – soon after she had played her last role – a grandmother in Amol Palekar’s Thang (Quest). At her funeral, Maurice recited the scriptures in Hebrew.

PRODUCER / SINGER / ACTRESS

Sultana Razzaq was one of the earliest film actresses in India and acted both in silent movies and in talkie movies. She was the daughter of India’s first female film director, Fatima Begum and the elder sister of Zubeida and Shehzadi, also actresses.

Sultana and her sisters were among the few who worked in movies at a time when it was not considered an appropriate profession for girls from respectable families.Sultana was the daughter of Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan III of Sachin State and Fatima Begum. Though the Nawab never acknowledged their relationship formally.

Sultana was a popular actress and was usually cast in romantic roles. She started her career as an actress in Veer Abhimanyu (1922) film and later performed in several silent films. With talkie movies in tow she worked in almost 30 films during her career as an actress.

When India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947, she migrated to Pakistan with her husband, Seth Razaaq. Her daughter, Jamila Razaaq was also encouraged by her to act in Pakistani films. Sultana produced a film in Pakistan, named Hum Ed hain (1961), written by scriptwriter, Fayyaz Hashmi. The film was partly shot in colour, but it flopped and Sultana stopped producing any films thereafter.

PRODUCER / SINGER / ACTRESS / COLUMNIST

Sabita Devi was born Iris Gasper into a Jew family. Her father Percy Osborne Gasper, died in November 1938, in Bombay. Her mother remained as her manager-cum-companion.

She changed her name to find acceptability in Hindi cinema like the other Anglo-Indian and Jewish actresses of her time.

Her first film Kamaner Aagun (Flames Of The Flesh) was produced by British Dominion Films Ltd., Calcutta, in 1930. It was directed By Dinesh Ranjan Das and was a semi-historical version of the Queen of Chittor, Rani Padmini.

After working with British Dominion Films Ltd., Calcutta, she moved to Bombay and performed mainly in films produced by Sagar Movietone with her co-star in most films being Motilal Rajvansh.

Counted as one of the top three female artistes of her time, in 1938 she was the third highest paid actress after Sulochana (Ruby Myers) and Gohar, drawing a salary of Rs. 3000 per month. Classic writers like K. M. Munshi and Ramanlal Vasantlal were commissioned to write stories for her films, with elaborate sets and special rehearsals provided along with an overwhelming pre-release publicity.

Sabita formed her own production company, Sudama Pictures, in collaboration with Sarvottam Badami along with the assistance of Ranjit Studios.From 1935–1943 Sabita acted in fifteen films, all directed by Badami, with the exception of Silver King cited as one of the best stunt films of its time. It was directed by C. M. Luhar and starred Motilal with music by Pransukh Nayak.

In 1947, she starred in Sarai Ke Bahar also known as Inquilab which is stated to be the only film directed by the famous Urdu writer Krishan Chander. It had lyrics by Niaz Haider and Vishwamitter Adil, with music by D. C. Dutt.

Sabita Devi was  one of the earliest female artists to write about film acting as a decent profession for ladies from respectable families, however it was partially a regressive stand for its time. In a letter to the Filmland English weekly, November 1931 issue, titled “Why Shouldn’t Respectable Ladies Join the Films”, she countered claims of immorality and low moral standards of producers and directors, raised by an anonymous actress in the September 1931 issue, “Should Respectable Ladies Join Films”. She stated that “the attitude a man takes towards a woman is governed by the latter’s own integrity, by her actions, words and manner”. She went on to state that people had a “mid-victorian conception” of women on stage and that “A Lady Artiste” in movies at that time, was perhaps herself to blame for any unwanted advances.

COMEDIAN OF CALIBRE

Meena was born Khurshid Jehan in Raiwind, Punjab, the second of four children. Her father squandered the property they had, and then worked at a dyeing business in Lahore, which also failed. Meena’s elder sister, Wazir Begum, who lived in Bombay, had their mother and siblings move in with her.

Sohrab Modi noticed Meena at the initiation of his film Sikandar (1941), which she attended with her brother-in-law, and offered her a supporting role in the film, giving her the name, Meena. She started her acting career playing a character role, as Ambhi, Raja of Taxila’s sister. The film became “an all-India hit” and provided an instant launching pad for her.

Roop K. Shorey a producer from Lahore migrated to Bombay and wanted to sign Meena for his film, Shalimar (1946). However Meena was under contract with Sohrab Modi, which prevented her from working not only in Shalimar, but also in Mehboob Khan’s Humayun (1945). On a visit to Lahore, she was signed by producer Dalsukh Pancholi, for two films Shehar Se Door (1946) and Arsi (1947). She finally freed herself from the contract with Sohrab Modi’s wife, Mehtab’s help, paying a lower amount of money for a release of contract.

In 1948, Chaman (Garden) in Punjabi, was directed by Roop K. Shorey, who had suffered a loss of the family business in Lahore and moved to Bombay following the partition. There he set up his banner Shorey Films and produced the film with Meena’s finances.
It had Meena act in the first post—Partition, Punjabi film in India.

In 1949, came Ek Thi Ladki, produced and directed by Roop K. Shorey, with story written by I. S. Johar. The music was composed by Vinod whose song “Lara Lappa Lara Lappa Laayi Rakhdi” became the highlight of the film and remained popular over the years. Meena became “known thereafter as the La-ra-Lappa Girl”. The film was a runaway- hit making Roop K. Shorey one of the top comedy film directors and established Meena as an icon for new liberated young women. She was one of the first women to be recognised in Indian cinema as a “comedienne of calibre”.

In 1956, she went to Lahore, Pakistan with her husband, where they were invited by Pakistani producer J.C. Anand to make a film, Miss 56, a copy of the Guru Dutt-Madhubala starrer Mr. & Mrs. 55. Instead of returning to India when her husband did, she decided to stay back in Pakistan, continuing her acting career there.

In Pakistan, she become the first Pakistani actress to model for Lux and became known as the “Lux Lady of Pakistan”.

Meena is reported to have married five times. Her first marriage was to actor-producer-director Zahir Raja that lasted six months. Her second marriage was to actor and co-star, Al Nasir. She separated from him by mid-40s. Al Nasir then married film actress Manorama. Her third marriage was to Roop K. Shorey which lasted till 1956. She is reported to have then married Raza Mir, and later Asad Bokhari, her co-star in Jamalo.

Meena lived a life of penury towards the end, and had to struggle to survive after 1974-75. Upon her death in in Lahore, Pakistan, her funeral arrangements were made by charity money.

POET / LYRICIST

Kavi Pradeep was born in a middle-class family in Bandager near Ujjain. Since his student days he had a passion for writing Hindi poetry. He hypnotised audiences at poetic gatherings with his inimitable style. It was during this time he adopted the pen name ‘Pradeep’. After graduating from Lucknow University in 1939, he decided to join a teacher’s course to become a teacher.

While at a poet’s gathering in Bombay he was offered his first film Kangan (1939), by Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies. Pradeep moved to Bombay and wrote four songs for the film, all of which became very popular – He sung three of the songs himself. The next film was Bandhan (1940) produced by S. Mukherjee and directed by Gyan Mukherjee. The music director was Saraswati Devi and all the songs were huge hits.

The most notable is “Chal Chal Re Naujawan”, which made waves since the Indian freedom movement was at a crucial juncture. His first recognition came for his patriotic lyrics for the film Bandhan (1940). His status as a nationalistic writer got immortalised for writing a daringly patriotic song Door Hato Ae Duniya Walo (Move Away O Outsiders) in India’s first golden jubilee hit Kismet (1943) but he invited the ire of the British government and was forced to go underground.

During 1962 (Indo-China) war days, he heard about Param Vir Major Shaitan Singh Bhati. He was so touched by his sacrifice that he penned the lines “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo”. This song was originally supposed to be sung by Asha Bhosle. Kavi Pradeep though, was adamant about having Lata Mangeshkar sing the song, as he felt that hers was the only voice that could do justice to the number. C. Ramchandra was unsure whether Mangeshkar would agree to sing, so Kavi Pradeep began the task of convincing her to hear the song. On hearing the song she was moved so much that she instantly agreed to sing the song on condition that Kavi Pradeep be present at the rehearsals.

Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo (O people of my country) went on to become one of the greatest patriotic songs of the country.  Kavi Pradeep was conferred the honour of “Rashtriya Kavi” (National Poet) by the government of India. Despite many offers, Kavi Pradeep pledged the royalties of the song to ‘War Widows Fund’.

In a career span of five decades, Kavi Pradeep wrote about 1,700 songs, and nationalistic poems including the lyrics for 72 films. He was made the Rashtrakavi, (Poet Laureate), and came to be known as, Kavi Pradeep. His songs were so popular that fans would see the movies repeatedly just to listen to his soulful songs.

In 1997, he was honoured by India’s highest award in Cinema, the Dada Saheb Phalke Award for Lifetime Achievement and received numerous other awards throughout his life. Kavi Pradeep died at the age of 83 in Vile Parle, Mumbai on 11 December 1998. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, Sargam Thaker and Mitul Pradeep, who later set up the Kavi Pradeep Foundation.

ACTOR / DIRECTOR / PRODUCER

Actor . Director. Producer. Writer

Himanshu Rai was born in an aristocratic family, and was schooled at Shantiniketan, Calcutta (now Kolkata). After obtaining a law-degree, he went to London to become a barrister. There he met a playwright and screenwriter Niranjan Pal. An association with Pal led to making of a film The Light of Asia, which he co-directed with Franz Osten. Himanshu Rai was also one of the main actors in this film. While making his third film, A Throw of Dice, he met and fell in love with beautiful Devika Rani, a great-grandniece of the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Before this film was complete, he married her.

Himanshu Rai is best known as the founder of the Bombay Talkies studio in 1934, along with actress Devika Rani Chaudhuri, his wife. Suspecting a romance between the leading man, Najmul Hassan, and his Devika Rani wife, a jealous Himanshu Rai sacked the leading man and instead cast Mukherjee’s brother in law, a technician hanging around in the studio, an awkward-looking and reluctant Ashok Kumar, as the leading man.

After Rai’s death, and struggles for studio control Mukherjee broke away to form Filmistan Studio, and Devika Rani married Svetoslav Roerich and moved away from Bombay and films.

Bombay Talkies, the studio shut down and is now a decrepit property in Malad.

DIRECTOR . ART DIRECTOR SCREEN WRITER . PUBLICITY DESIGNER.

Baburao Painter was born Baburao Krishnarao Mestry in 1890 in Kolhapur. He taught himself to paint and sculpt in academic art school style. Between 1910 and 1916, he and his artist cousin Anandrao Painter were the leading painters of stage backdrops in Western India painting curtains for Sangeet Natak troupes and also for Gujarati Parsi theatres. Following the release of Raja Harishchandra, they became avid filmgoers.

Baburao and his cousin Anandarao bought a movie projector from the Bombay flea market and proceeded to exhibit films and study the art of movies. They turned to cinema first as exhibitors while trying to assemble their own camera. Anandrao however died in 1916 and Painter and his main disciple V.G. Damle eventually put together a working camera in 1918.

Baburao founded Maharashtra Film Company in 1919, with borrowed money from Tanibai Kagolkar, a long-time admirer. Movie acting, especially tamashas were looked down upon in conservative societies like Kolhapur, so the studio itself became living quarters for quite a few  leading ladies – Gulab Bai (renamed Kamaladevi) and Anusuya Bai (renamed Sushiladevi). Painter got onboard his old colleagues including Damle and S. Fatehlal and later on V. Shantaram, a trio who later abandoned him to set up their own company, the Prabhat Film Company.

Baburao’s first feature film Sairandri (1920) got heavily censored for its graphic depiction of slaying of Keechak by Bhima. However, the movie itself recieved commercial acclaim, encouraging Painter on to take on more ambitious projects. He wrote his own screenplays, and began to design three-dimensional sets. As early as 1921–22 he was the first to issue programme booklets, complete with details of the film and photographs. He also painted himself tasteful, eye-catching posters of his films.

Baburao was a man of many talents – He was the first Indian filmmaker to adopt the method, Eisenstein had described as ‘stenographic’ – he sketched the costumes, movements, and characters. He changed the concept of set designing from painted curtains to solid multi-dimensional lived in spaces, introduced artificial lighting and understood the importance of publicity.

The advent of sound in 1931 was bad news for Painter. After a few more silent films, the Maharashtra Film Company pulled down its shutters. A resentful Baburao believed that sound would destroy the visual culture. He returned to painting and sculpture, barring random ventures like remaking Savkari Pash in sound in 1936.

Pratibha (1937), one of his few preserved films is a good example of Painter’s talent of big sets, lighting and crowd scenes.

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