Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1933
The year 1933 saw the release of as many as 76 talkie films mostly of leading film companies like Imperial, Madan, New Theatres, Prabhat, Ranjit, Sagar, Saraswati Cine,Saroj, Sharda to name a few.
Content wise, there was nothing prolific from most of the older film companies which continued to churn out the same old formula ridden films. In contrast, studios like New Theatres and Prabhat were slowly making their mark and impact with distinct subjects and style, techniques and treatment, image and identity. The studio system was emerging in the true sense and producing some of the best creative filmmakers like Debaki Bose, Mehboob, Shantaram within the system.
None of the earlier films of New Theatres was in any way distinguished or different from films of others and they too just followed the routine formula. B N Sircar wanted to cut a separate path and create a special niche for himself and his company. And, soon he turned to stories rooted in Bengali life and literature i.e. themes based on the contemporary works of Rabindranath Tagore, Bankimchadra Chatterjee, Saratchandra Chatterjee and others as well as subjects drawn from history.
A first step in this direction was taken by Sircar in the previous year itself when he persuaded Tagore to direct a Bengali film “Natir Puja” based on the latter’s dance drama. He followed it up with two surprise hits in 1933: “Puran Bhagat” and “Rajrani Meera” both devotionals and directed by Debaki Kumar Bose.
However, the company’s costume drama “Yahudi Ki Ladki” starring K L Saigal did not create the desired impact. It is stated that a few songs were recorded in the voice of S D Burman but they were rejected and recorded again in the voice of Pahari Sanyal (for instant identification, the actor who played Sharmila Tagore’s father in “Aradhana”).
“Puran Bhagat” featured Mijjan Kumar or more popularly known as M Kumar or just Kumar in the title role; he had played second lead in the company’s “Subah Ka Sitara” and “Zinda Laash” (both 1932) which had K L Saigal in the lead. His original name was Syed Ali Hasan Zaidi which Debaki Kumar Bose felt was too long for the audience to remember and to relate to the character he was to play. As Syed Ali was cast as a young Hindu prince in “Puran Bhagat”, Bose rechristened him as Kumar and never again appended the youthful generic title to his own name.
While Bose came to be known as Debaki Bose thereafter, Syed Ali became popular as Ali Mir or Mijjan Kumar or M Kumar or just Kumar. He was, arguably, the first Kumar in Hindi films; Some of his prominent films include Mehboob Khan’s “Najma”, Bombay Talkies” “Mahal”, Raj Kapoor’s “Shree 420 and, never the least, K Asif’s “Mughal-e-Azam” in which he played the sculptor and on whom was picturised the eulogy to immortal love Zindabad ae mohabbat zindabad…
“Puran Bhagat” was a biopic based on a famous Punjabi devotional story and was quite bold and unconventional for its time. The film starred Kumar and Anwari (wife of music director Rafiq Ghaznavi and grandmother of singer-actress Salma Agha of “Nikaah” fame) and had classic music by R C Boral.
The film was about a young prince of Sialkot who is sent on exile for 16 years due to a prophecy or prediction. When he returns, he finds his father has married again and the young queen, on seeing her handsome step son, falls in love with him hopelessly. When her advances are spurned away by the prince, she turns vengeful of the perceived injury and accuses him of molestation. He is exiled once again, his arms are cut and he is thrown in a well. A miracle restores his arms and he is subjected to some severe test of asceticism. Ultimately, he chooses the path of renunciation which wins him the sympathy of the audience.
Saigal was also in the film though he had no specific acting role as per the script. Boral, who was in overawe of Saigal’s voice, recorded four classical bhajans in his voice. And, much against the wishes of the film’s director, ensured that the songs were picturised on Saigal as a passer by singing. Songs like Avsar beeto jaat praani, Radhe rani de daaro (both in Thumri style), Bhajun main to bhaav se, Din neeke beete jaat hai (all by Saigal) became a nation-wide rage making Saigal a household name. Other songs which became equally popular were Jao jao ae mere saadho and Kya kaaran hai ab rone ka by K C Dey. R C Boral blended classical ragas with folk music and set a new trend in film music.
The film was a big hit particularly in the Northern India. The Punjab Cinema Art Society acclaimed the film as a ‘masterpiece’ and the film ran to packed houses in Lahore.
Another noteworthy film from New Theatres was “Rajrani Meera” on the life of the 16th century poetess queen who renounced the luxuries of the palace to become an ascetic and who wrote sublime and sensuous hymns in praise of Lord Krishna. The film starred Durga Khote, Prithviraj Kapoor, Pahari Sanyal and K L Saigal among others. This film was also directed by Debaki Bose. Incidentally, Bose went on to direct one more musical based on poets of yore viz. “Vidyapati” (1937). Success of “Puran Bhagat” and “Rajrani Meera” strengthened Sircar’s conviction to break away from the formula laden films and cut a new path.
Sagar Movietone continued with its costume, fantasy, legends, mythological fare; forgotten films like “Chandrahaas”, “Mahabharat”, “Mirza Sahiban”, “Pandav Kaurav”, “Premi Pagal”. All these films featured Mehboob Khan in non consequential roles. In years to come, the man, brimming with confidence and conviction, surprised and shocked one and all in the company with his meteoric rise from a mere ‘extra’ to an ‘extraordinary’ director.
Mehboob Khan ~ Zubeida in Mahabharat
Shantaram made an earnest attempt to make what would have been the first colour film “Sairandri”. The film had its story inspired from the epics and the highlight of the film was the extensive sets, exquisite costumes and elegant jewellery which were designed by Syed Fatehlal, one of the partners in Prabhat. For want of adequate colour processing facilities in India, Shantaram took the film to Germany for processing. To his dismay, he found the images shot by him did not yield the desired results.
Shantaram was not one to be deterred by such mishaps; rather the experience had a decisive influence on him and he forged ahead brimming with new ideas and techniques. And the first big step in this direction was Shantaram and his partners shifting base from Kolhapur to Poona. On the outskirts of the town, they built their sprawling studio with all in house facilities like waterproof stages, editing rooms, sound recording facilities, camera department, laboratory including artificial sets of forests, mountains and rivers.
As a competition to Calcutta’s New Theaters and Poona’s Prabhat, Himanshu Rai too was all set to break new grounds with his Bombay Talkies modeled on Hollywood’s MGM and Universal Studios. After making three successful films with German collaboration: “The Light of Asia”, “Shiraz” and “A Throw of Dice”, he and his actress-wife Devika Rani returned to India. And, the first film (again a joint production) he made was “Karma” (a bilingual in Hindi and English) starring him and Devika Rani. “Karma” had a four minute long kiss between the lead actors. It may be noted that films, under the iconic studio’s name, came to be made only from the following year.
The Wadia brothers viz. J B H Wadia and Homi Wadia established their new studio by name Wadia Movietone. They were known for their action, costume, fantasy and stunt films. The first film made under the banner was Lal-e-Yaman which was directed by J B H Wadia.
Notable Natter ~ 1933
A R Kardar, after acting in and directing a silent film titled “Mysterious Eagle” in 1929, directed his first Hindi talkie film “Aurat Ka Pyar” for East India Film Company. He went on direct six more films for the company and then moved to Ranjit Films before forming his own Kardar Productions in the early 40s. It may be noted that his first directed film was “Heer Ranjha” in Punjabi in the year 1932.
K C Dey made his debut as a composer with East India Film Company’s “Aab-e-Hayaat”. From the same year, he went on to act, sing and compose in films of New Theatres as its in house artiste.
Kanan Devi has always been known as an in house artiste of New Theatres. But, she made her acting debut in talkie films with Radha Film Company’s “Char Darvesh”. Its only after doing a few eminently forgettable films like “Khooni Kaun” and “Maa” that she joined New Theatres in 1937.
Trilok Kapoor also made his debut as an actor in “Char Darvesh” and later went on to play the role of Lord Shiva in a number of mythological films.
Zohrabai Ambalawali is said to have made her singing debut in Imperial’s “Daku Ki Ladki” under the music direction of Pransukh Nayak. She was barely 15 then. Also, she is credited as Zohra Jaan and not Zohrabai Ambalawali ! A question that arises is whether the two Zohras are the same! Because, according to legendary maestro Anil Biswas, it was he who gave her the first break in “Gramophone Singer” in 1938.
Madhubala, the Venus of Indian Screen, descended the earth on 14 February 1933, a day marked as Valentine’s Day or Lovers’ Day and celebrated all over the world with red and pink hearts. But Lo, Madhubala was born with a congenital heart disease!
The Super Six
Bombay Talkies ~ New Theatres ~ Prabhat were all known for being methodical and orderly, efficient and systematic; their films were distinguished by their tone and tunes, theme and treatment, texture and technical competence; performances were marked by naturalness, simplicity and spontaneity. Sagar and Ranjit were known for their wide variety of films which provided unabashed entertainment and they also succeeded. The newly established Wadia created a niche for themselves with their brand of action and stunt films and redefined entertainment. The 30s are remembered fondly and with great nostalgia by the intent and content of the films of these super six studios.
Manohar ‘M T’ Iyer
Photos Courtesy: Google and Personal Collection