Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1934
As mentioned in the inaugural post on the f~ilmi developments in 1931, the Parsi Theatre and the playwrights associated with it had their influence on the Indian talkie in its initial stage. According to B D Garga, pioneering historian and commentator of Indian films, ‘the playwrights of the Parsi Theatre perceived cinema not as a new medium but merely as a photographed theatre’.
With the influx of Urdu playwrights and writers brimming with ideas, imagination and originality and the increasing sway of Urdu Theatre, films became far more entertaining and interesting: several characters were introduced and side tracks and sub plots incorporated; the actors brought into their acting some of the better known and widely accepted clichés of the theatre; characters started speaking their dialogues in some rhythm as in the recitation of the Urdu couplets (i.e. in tarannum). And, songs too became an integral part of cinema carrying forward the narrative.
In all, 122 talkie films were released in 1934. Among these was Dadasaheb Phalke “Setu Bandhan“, an episode from the great epic Ramayana and the only talkie film made by him . It was shot as a silent film and sound was synchronised with it to woo the audience; but Phalke failed. Times, trends and tastes were rapidly changing and Phalke’s mythological films, with all their magic shots and visual appeal, had ceased to attract the audience and their expectations.
Among the top five noteworthy and successful films of the year were: “Amrit Manthan” (Prabhat Films), “Chandidas” (New Theatres), “Seeta” (East India Film Company), “Grihalaxmi” (Sagar Movietone) and “Gunsundari” (Ranjit Films)
After the initial two successful films: “Ayodhya Ka Raja” and “Maya Machhindra”, the first film which Shantaram and his partners made for Prabhat in their newly built Prabhat Studios was “Amrit Manthan”. Set in the Buddhist period, it was a purposeful film depicting the conflict between Buddhism and the primitive religious practices such as human and animal sacrifices to propitiate the deity.
Chandramohan, known for his large penetrating eyes and powerful dialogue delivery, made his debut in the film as the fanatic Rajguru. With menacing looks and maniacal beliefs, he stole the show and relegated the other actors into the background. His eyes spoke and struck terror and Shantaram exploited them to the hilt. He was, arguably, the first director to discover the dramatic impact or potential of the close up shots. His camera would pick up all the minute details, enlarge them out of proportion and tell a story in a dramatic way as could be discerned from extreme close up shots he took of the eyes of Chandramohan. Similarly, the long shots he took, with its microcosmic effect, were also a visual delight.
“Amrit Manthan” also featured Shanta Apte in a major role after her debut in Bhalji Pendharkar’s “Shyam Sundar” (bilingual) in 1932. The song Kamsini mein dil pe gham ka vaar kyon in the ghazal mould sung by Shanta Apte became very popular. As Urdu writers and theatre had started making their impact, the ghazal form of writing and composition too was slowly making its way into Hindi film songs.
Many ‘firsts’ were associated with the film “Chandidas”. It was the first breakthrough film of New Theatres. The film was first made in Bengali and was directed by Debaki Bose. Spurned by its spectacular success, Sircar made the film in Hindi too; the Hindi version was directed by Nitin Bose. This was the first film to use background music to enhance the emotional impact of several dramatic scenes.
K L Saigal played the role of the 15th century rebel poet-priest Chandidas in love with a lower caste washer woman played by Uma Shashi. The first popular romantic duet heard in Hindi films was also in “Chandidas”: Prem nagar mein banaaungi ghar main sung by Saigal and Uma Shashi. The first attempt to use a full fledged orchestra was also made in the film by R C Boral.
The songs were written by Agha Hashr Kashmiri who was the most popular playwright and writer of the time. He was hailed as the ‘Indian Shakespeare’; he had a tremendous influence on the writers who succeeded him and on the overall development of Indian Cinema. More about the Kashmiri Qayamat along with the next Movie Toast!
New Theatres released yet another film titled “Daku Mansoor” during the year starring Prithviraj Kapoor, K L Saigal, Pahari Sanyal, Uma Shashi, Husn Bano, Nemo (the actor who played the fat manipulative socialite in Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420). This film was also directed by Nitin Bose and, despite an ensemble of big names, the film sank without a trace.
Another film “Rooplekha” directed by Barua was a disaster at the box office. However, the film is remembered for being the first Hindi film to use the technique of ‘Flashbacks’ which give interesting twists to the plot and carry forward the narrative with an element of curiosity and surprise. Since then, ‘Flashbacks’ have been an integral part of Indian cinema. Probably, these were films which Sircar had planned before devising his strategy of banking on literature and legends.
Continuing the trend, Sagar Movietone released a variety of films during the year: “Anokhi Mohabbat”, “Grihalaxmi”, “Nachwali”, “Phantom of the Hills”, “Sati Anjani”, “Shehar Ka Jaadu”.
“Grihalaxmi” featured Sabita Devi in the title role opposite Jal Merchant. The film was directed by Sarvottam Badami (his second film after “Chandrahaas” in 1933) and was the most successful of all.
Ace filmmakers like Bimal Roy and Raj Khosla have been acclaimed as ‘Women’s Directors’. But, much before them, Sarvottam Badami came to be known for his heroine dominated films as suggested by their titles like “Grihalaxmi”, “Dr. Madhurika”, “Jeevan Lata”, “Village Girl”, “Kokila”, “Kulvadhu”, “Ladies Only”.
“Shehar Ka Jaadu” introduced Motilal as the hero opposite Sabita Devi. The youngster wanted to make a career in Navy but could not appear for the exams due to ill health. His casual visit to a film studio and his modern and suave looks caught the attention of the film’s director. And he was cast in “Shehar Ka Jaadu”. That indeed was a magic! Mehboob once again missed the chance of getting cast as a hero; earlier, he was considered for R C Torney’s silent film but eventually he was replaced by a more saleable name E Billimoria; Mehboobwas contemplated for by Ardeshir Irani for the very first talkie film “Alam Ara”; but again lady luck eluded him and he was replaced by the popular and commercially saleable stunt star Master Vithal.
Coming back to Motilal, he was more of a reserved type and Sabita Devi, fun loving and flippant. In the very first scene they shot together, Motilal was required to slap Sabita Devi. He was reluctant but she insisted on making the act look more natural. And finally, Motilal slapped her hard and the shot was approved.
In another scene, the roles reversed and Sabita Devi was required to slap Motilal. And despite the slap being hard enough and audible, the sound man asked for retakes. And finally, there were fourteen such takes. Motilal’s cheeks had indeed turned laal. Being a newcomer, there wasn’t anything that he could do but get slapped repeatedly. Only much later, he came to know that the sound man was instructed by his leading lady for those retakes.
Sagar’s “Naachwali” featured Jaddanbai (mother of Anwar Husain and Nargis) in the title role. She also sang a couple of songs in the film. As in many other films of Sagar, this film too featured Mehboob Khan in a small role. He was yet to realise his true potential and that his actual interest was something beyond acting. Incidentally, when he became a director and then a producer, he was the first to give Jaddanbai’s 14 year old daughter Nargis a break as heroine in his first production “Taqdeer” (1943) made under his banner Mehboob Productions.
Jaddanbai had acted earlier in films like “Insaan ya Shaitan” and “Raja Gopichand” (both 1933). Besides “Naachwali”, she was seen in one more film “Seva Sadan” released in 1934.
There was always a debate as to who between Jaddanbai and Saraswati Devi was the first female composer; the two gave music in “Talash-e-Haq” and “Jawani ki Hawa” respectively released simultaneously in 1935; but, the historical film “Adl-e-Jahangir” released in 1934 had music by Ishrat Sultana making her the first female composer. Incidentally, Ishrat Sultana was more popularly known as Bibbo who acted in several films of Sagar and made a hit team with Surendra.
East India Film Company
When films based on mythology were on the wane, the East India Film Company released “Seeta”. The film was based on the Uttara Khanda of the epic Ramayana and depicted the fate of Seeta after Rama’s victory over Ravana and return to Ayodhya. Debaki Bose directed the film though he was on the payroll of New Theatres.
The ensemble of star cast included names like Durga Khote (as Seeta), Prithviraj Kapoor (as Rama), Govindrao Tembe (as Valmiki), K C Dey, Trilok Kapoor among others. The opening scenes of the film showed events in the life of Rama and Seeta through mural paintings. The film was hailed as the best mythological film and was also screened at the Venice Film Festival.
The film had music by K C Dey (also in house artiste of New Theatres). Much before turning a composer in the mid 40s, S D Burman is believed to have recorded some songs for the film. Incidentally, songs recorded in his voice for “Yahudi Ki Ladki” in the previous year were rejected and recorded again in the voice of Pahari Sanyal (who is best remembered for his role as the father of Sharmila Tagore in “Aradhana”).
Chandulal Shah’s Ranjit Film Company renamed as Ranjit Movietone was one of the largest and most prolific film studios of the 30s. Earlier, Shah had directed silent films like “Gunsundari”, “Vishwa Mohini”, “Laxmi”, “Chandramukhi” and Raj Laxmi” all starring Gohar (later his partner spanning over three decades). All the films focused on the traditional role of women. “Gunsundari” starring Gohar and Raja Sandow was the biggest hit of them.
Shah made the film again in 1934 under his banner and with the same star cast. And the film was among the top five hits of the year. The film was made again in 1948 with the same title starring Nirupa Roy in the title role and the film was directed by Ratilal Hemchand Punatar, nephew of Chandulal Shah.
Notable Natter – 1934
Of the seven films released by Imperial, as many as four viz. “Gulsanobar”, Indira M A”, “Magic Flute” and “Piya Pyaare” starred yet another popular pair of the decade i.e. Ruby Myers and D Billimoria. The film “Indira M A”, as the title suggests, had Ruby Myers as an Oxford educated woman balancing her occidental education and oriental values. Accordingly, the film’s publicity material projected the otherwise progressive persona of Ruby Myers as one with a more mild and modest exterior.
Prakash Pictures was established (by Shankar Bhatt and Vijay Bhatt) in the year and the first film made by them was “Actress” (Bambai Ki Mohini). The banner later went on to give super films like “Ram Rajya”, “Baiju Bawra”, Goonj Uthi Shehnai”, “Hariyali aur Raasta” and “Himalay Ki Godmein” among others.
After acting in a few silent era films, legendary actress Lalita Pawar (then known as Amboo also) made a humble start as leading lady in talkie films like “Dard-e-Dil” and “Samaj Ki Bhool”. Thereafter, in the 50s and 60s, she switched over to playing vampish characters; in particular, she excelled playing the manipulative and malevolent mother or mother in law and shrewd and scheming sister or sister in law. So much power of the all pervading Pawar!
It is deemed that during the year legendary maestro Jaidev made brief screen appearances in Wadia Movietone’s films; he played the role of Narada in “Waman Avtaar” and Nanko in “Veer Bharat”. Unheard songs like Rakho jo aag daaman mein kaho anjaam kya aaye and Paraayi peer jaane veer Bharat ho to aisa ho were picturised on him. He also acted in one more film of Wadia titled “Kala Gulab”. These cameo earned him a toehold!
A pertinent question that provokes a thought whether Jaidev would have played the matured character of Narada at the age of 16!! Also, the film “Veer Bharat” credits the actor as Jaidev Malik; whereas the surname of Jaidev is Verma!! For the record, in the 30s and 40s, there were two artistes each named Noorjahan, Khurshid, Ghulam Mohammed, Shyam to name a few and possibly Jaidev!!!
Whatever it be, 3 August, 2018 marks the beginning of the birth centenary celebrations of the Jinxed Genius. To commemorate the momentous event, a musical tribute to the maestro has been organised on 14 August, 2018 at the Yashwant Natya Mandir, Mumbai. Await more sureele surprises relating to the Sangeetkar. Jai Ho!!!
Manohar ‘M T’ Iyer