F~ilMI _ Chronography

F~ilMI _ Chronography

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1936

Movie Toast with Morning Tea 1936

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1936

The number of films released during the year 1936 dropped to 134 from 154 in the previous year 1935.

Most of the old online studios like East India Film Company, Imperial, Kolhapur Cinetone, Madan, Saroj, Sharda were finding their way gradually to the annals of history on Indian Cinema. Probably, they were unable to sustain the audience interest with their kind of films and had to give way to the more socially relevant and / or thematically interesting films! In terms of number, Imperial and Madan had an impressive eight to ten releases each, but in spite of their ‘pioneering works’, their films left much to be desired.

Studios like Bombay Talkies, New Theatres, Prabhat, Sagar experimented and established and / or reinvented and resurrected themselves with different, unconventional and contemporary subjects. They created their own brands of film making and went on to become role models for their successors.

Some of the noteworthy flms of the year were: “Achhut Kanya” (Bombay Talkies), “Amar Jyoti” (Prabhat), “Bambai Ki Billi” (Imperial), “Deccan Queen” and “Manmohan” (Sagar) and “Manzil” (New Theatres), a fair mix of the seminal and social, spectacular and stunt and, never the least, successful. Of these, “Amar Jyoti”, “Bambai Ki Billi” and “Deccan Queen” as also “Lagna Bandhan” had something common running through them i.e. the ‘lost and found’ thread. Interestingly, the sub plot of the very first talkie film “Alam Ara” released in 1931 was based on the underpinning of ‘lost and found’ and it set a successful trend. Filmmakers down the years are reveling in the art and craft of losing and finding themselves in a newer light. 

Bombay Talkies

Himanshu Rai’s newly established studio released three films of varied themes: “Achhut Kanya”, “Janmabhoomi” and “Jeevan Naiyya”; all the three presented a new actor named ‘Kumudlal Kunjalal Ganguli’ opposite Rai’s actress-wife Devika Rani. 

Kumudlal started as a lab assistant with the studio. By a quirk of circumstances, a nervous, reluctant and shy Kumudlal was forced to don the grease paint and face the camera despite a screen test which failed him because of his ‘girlish features and a broad jaw line’. Destiny had clearly written the arrival of a new actor, the adulation that he was to enjoy as a star, the accolades and awards that he were to win and the legendary status that he was to be accorded. The same nervous and shy Kumudlal went on to become the legendary actor Ashok Kumar who regaled the audience for over five decades.

Ashok Kumar made his debut as a lead actor in “Jeevan Naiyya”, a sensitive film about social ostracism of dancing girls. The film was a moderate success and was followed by two more socially relevant films: “Achhut Kanya” and “Janmabhoomi”. All the three films paired him opposite Devika Rani. As a popular lead pair, they acted together in about eight films of Bombay Talkies.

The innocuous and innocent “Achhut Kanya” was a hard hitting comment on the caste system and social inequalities but layered with impassioned lyricism and romanticism. Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani played the star crossed lovers nursing silently the wounds of their unrequited love; he played the upper crust Brahmin boy and she, an ‘untouchable’ girl. The film came in the wake of Gandhiji’s protest against the isolation and segregation of the ‘untouchables’ and went on to become the biggest hit of the year. The film shot Ashok Kumar to instant stardom and after that, there was no looking back for the actor. For more details on the five decade long fascinating journey of the thespian, click link: The Timeless Travelogue of the Ageless Ashok Kumar.  

Janmabhoomi”, as the title suggests, could be termed as a patriotic film and the first of its kind.  The film was about a selfless doctor renouncing all material pleasures including his love and dedicating himself to the needy in a remote village. This nobility and sacrifice was used metaphorically as serving the country and hence the patriotic tag. The film also depicts class conflict which gets transmuted eventually to class collaboration.

These films were directed by Franz Osten and music was given by Saraswati Devi. “Janmabhoomi” was the first film to have an explicitly worded nationalistic song Jai jai janani janmabhoomi filmed on Chandraprabha and sung by her composer-sister Saraswati Devi.  

There was no playback then and the actors had to willy-nilly sing their songs. In his debut film, Ashok Kumar sang Koyi hamdam na raha which was later used note to note by his multi talented younger brother Kishore Kumar in his film “Jhumroo” (1961). The most popular song of the year was the timeless romantic duet Main bann ki chidiya banke bann bann dolun re sung by Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani for the film “Achhut Kanya”. Saraswati Devi, it is believed, had a harrowing time recording the song in the untrained voices of the lead actors. She rehearsed the actors for twelve hours everyday for about a week and then recorded the song. In the final recording, she kept their vocals to the minimum and embellished the song with long interlude music.

All the songs were written by J S Cassyap ‘Natawan’. The lyrics of the ‘chidiya-panchhi‘ dulcet duet, on a casual hearing, may sound juvenile. But, on a spiritual note, they connote subtly the dream of the ‘untouchable’ character to break free; to break free from the ‘bondage of untouchability’ and belong to another world free of the caste and creed discrimination and be ‘touched’ by the warm feelings of acceptance and love. At a personal level, the lyrics are reflective of the off screen liberated persona of Devika Rani.   

Bombay Talkies experimented and released two films titled “Mamta” and “Miya Biwi” with two different star cast as ‘one film’. However, it was “Achhut Kanya” that gave ‘status and standing’ to Bombay Talkies and the lead pair.

New Theatres

New Theatres had three releases: “Manzil”, “Maya” and “Millionaire” (or “Karodpati”). “Manzil” was based on a sensitive story Grihadaha by Saratchandra Chatterjee on human relationships between three people belonging to different strata of the contemporary society. The film revolves around two friends (Prithviraj Kapoor and Pahadi Sanyal) and their disoriented emotions and feelings for the girl (Jamuna) they both love. The film was directed by P C Barua and, as in Devdas, he finds a solution to their dilemma in the form of death of the guilty friend; death, incidentally, was a leitmotif in most of Barua’s films marked by doom and despair.  

A crucial part of the film is reminiscent of a real life incident that took place in and around the same year. As is well known, the liberated Devika Rani (actress-wife of Himanshu Rai) and her co star Najam ul Husain eloped during the shooting of “Jeevan Naiyya” and were traced back. On her return, she was forgiven and accepted again by a restrained Rai. “Manzil” too had a similar track of the staid and serious minded husband forgiving his errant and liberated wife and accepting her. The similarity ends there!

R C Boral and Pankaj Mullick composed music for the film. Renowned Urdu poet Arzoo Lucknowi made his debut as a lyricist. The song Sundar naari preetam pyaari, written in chaste Hindi and sung by Pankaj Mullick, can be credited as the first Hindi film song in praise of beauty.

Millionaire” (or “Karodpati”) was a complete deviation for both New Theatres as well as K L Saigal from the usual serious, sensitive and seminal films they are associated with. The film, the first of its kind, was set in the backdrop of the film world and is about a crazy movie buff played by Saigal. He suddenly wins a jackpot and wants to enter the glamour world. The film takes several twists and turns leading from one hilarious situation to another.  

Music was by R C Boral and lyrics by Kidar Sharma. Saigal sang the fun song set in qawali style Jo naukri dilaade B A banaanewale along with Pahadi Sanyal. In another song, Kidar Sharma parodied Dr Iqbal’s famous philosophical and spiritual rhapsody Kabhi ae haqeeqat-e-muntazir, nazar aa libaas-e-majaaz mein (beseeching the long and eagerly awaited Absolute Truth to appear and manifest in the human form). He replaced Iqbal’s words ‘muntazir‘ and ‘majaaz‘ with his amusing lyrics which went Kabhi ae haqeeqat-e-rasbhari, nazar aa libaas-e-sharaab mein (imploring the eagerly awaited well endowed beloved to appear in an intoxicating form).

The third and the lesser known film was “Maya” with Jamuna, Pahadi Sanyal and Azurie in the lead. The film had a sub plot of the ‘unwed mother’ though the film was not about the sensitive issue. Again, it was directed by Barua with music by R C Boral and Pankaj Mullick.

During the year, New Theatres presented a socially relevant film of International Film Art Productions titled “Pujarin”. It was a remake of New Theatres’ Bengali film “Dena Paona”. Based on a story by Saratchandra Chatterjee, the film depicted the evils of the dowry system and exploitation of women in the 19th century Bengal. K L Saigal was the hero of the film and the song Jo beet chuki so beet chuki sung by him became very popular.


Amar Jyoti” was a socially relevant film directed by V Shantaram. The film focussed on the issue of societal discrimination and inequality towards women in the male dominated society. Set in an imaginary seaport kingdom, this adventurous costume drama presented Durga Khote as a wronged woman denied custody of her own son as per the prevailing patriarchal system. To vindicate the injustice meted to her, she turns into a rebellious pirate, protests against the system, takes revenge on the wrong doers and fights for her rights ultimately leading to a revolution. 

Durga Khote is supported in her daredevil exploits and dauntless mission by Vasanti (her trusted advisor’s little daughter and aide) and Shanta Apte (a young princess held in captive by Durga Khote and in love with a poor shepherd played by Nandrekar). Khote brings about a transformation in Apte and her ideologies on love and relationship and stresses on the need to crusade for her identity and equality. Incidentally, the shepherd she loves turns out to be the long lost son of Durga Khote.

Durga Khote ignites the screen with a resplendent performance having multi layer dimensions to her role: as a pirate seething in anger and seeking revenge, as a mother sobbing in silence for her lost son and suppressing her emotions in the interface with him and, finally, as a woman rebelling at one level for her individual rights to equality and social status, and on another level, rising above the self for a revolution by handing over the legacy to Shanta Apte.  

The film’s climax avoids the clichéd reunion and rejoicing; instead, “Amar Jyoti” lights up a neo-realist climax. In the mother-son interface, the mother comes to know the identity of her lost son and is ‘united’ with him emotionally but disallows her identity to be disclosed the other way around. The truism being not to allow the son to be shocked and stunned from the picture of idealism and nobility that he has painted of his mother!    

“Amar Jyoti” was the first Indian film to be screened at the Venice International Film Festival. Thematically, technically and tunefully, the film was noteworthy; the scenes of the surging waves striking against the solid rocks (symbolic of the subservient challenging the strong), ships ablaze on high seas, the swashbuckling spectacles, spirited pirates seizing and subjugating the people in power.

The film had music by Master Krishnarao and had the popular song Suno suno he bann ke praani sung by Shanta Apte. The song, written by Pandit Narottam Vyas, uses a wild imagination and allegory exhorting the shrubs, stones and spiny structures of the jungle to assume ministerial tasks! Yet another song that became popular was Aaj hamen bann behad bhaata sung by Shanta Apte and Nandrekar.

The film was a big hit inspiring Shantaram to focus on more serious issues relating to women in films like “Duniya Na Maane” and “Aadmi”.       

Imperial Films

From among the nine releases of Imperial, the most talked about film was “Bambai Ki Billi”. It was a remake of the company’s silent film “Wildcat of Bombay” (1927) starring Sulochana aka Ruby Myers in the title role. For Myers it was a challenge replicated; she played a role modelled on Robin Hood looting the rich and helping the needy and poor. And, in her daring adventure, she portrayed with great relish as many as eight characters: a policeman, a Hyderabadi gentleman, a medical student, a gardener, a fruit vendor, a street urchin, a European lady to name a few to outwit the police and entertain the audience. Needless to mention, the film was a wild hit.

“Bambai Ki Billi” too had the ‘lost and found’ angle to it. The much wanted Wildcat on the run turns out to be the long lost daughter of a Judge; she is kidnapped when young by a notorious gangster who then blackmails the Judge to acquit him from a murder charge. She grows up to become a Wildcat on the prowl for her prey and takes revenge appearing in different disguises.

It is stated that Ruby Myers commanded a princely salary of Rs. 5,000 per month (more than the salary of the then Governor of Bombay). She flaunted her well sculpted figure in chiffon sarees and sleeveless blouses and moved around in a Chevrolet. In fact, she was a fashion icon, an epitome of glamour and grace, sensuality and style and her films redefined entertainment and demonstrated an excitement unheard of before.

In the film, Ruby Myers was cast opposite the hugely popular D Billimoria of the silent era and the two were paired romantically in a number of hit films till almost the end of the decade.

The film was directed by Nandlal Jaswantlal who is remembered today for his two super hit films: Filmistan’s “Anarkali” (1953) and “Nagin” (1953).  Incidentally, Ruby Myers was a part of Filmistan’s “Anarkali” and played the role of Jodha (wife of Akbar). It would also be interesting to note that she essayed the role of Anarkali in the silent film made by the same name in 1928 and again in the talkie version of the same film in 1935.


Sagar had a couple of good releases during the year but the two noteworthy hits were: “Deccan Queen” and “Manmohan”. “Deccan Queen” marked the debut film of Surendra as an actor-singer  and the film’s credits flashed his name as ‘Surendranath B A, L L B’. The film was directed by Mehboob, his second directorial venture following the success of his debut film “Judgement of Allah” and had music by Pransukh Nayak.

The Bombay based Sagar presented Surendra as an answer to the Calcutta based New Theatres’ Saigal. Even the song Birha ki aag lagi more mann mein sung by Surendra was on the mould of Saigal’s Baalam aaye baso more mann mein from “Devdas”. It was Anil Biswas who helped Surendra come out of the Saigal syndrome and create a distinct identity for himself.  

The story, screenplay, dialogues and songs were written by Zia Sarhadi, then a relatively less known writer with Marxist ideologies. “Deccan Queen” was the first film to have the heroine in a double role. Aruna Devi played the role of a sober and simple typist girl in love with a Police Inspector (Surendra) and also that of the dreaded and wanted ‘Deccan Queen’ out to take revenge on her cheaters and wrong doers. The eponymous ‘Deccan Queen’ was used for the heroine to show her speed and swiftness to elude and outwit the police and law makers!


The film’s story says that a brother and sister (who grows up to be the ‘Deccan Queen’) are separated in their childhood by people ‘trusted’ and ‘close’ to the family for their own benefits. As the narrative unfolds, we see a simple and sober look alike of the ‘Deccan Queen’ working in a company and in love with the Inspector. But, no where it is mentioned in clear terms that the two are sisters; only their uncanny resemblance to each other leads one to think that they could be long lost sisters.

Yet another film of Sagar with the lead actor in a double role and entrapped in the ‘lost and found’ drama was “Lagna Bandhan” (also called Forbidden Love). Motilal played the dual role: one as a drunken and debauched prince and the other as his identical twin kidnapped by his own outlaw uncle when they were young. Again, greed and revenge are the motto behind the kidnap and after several twists and turns, the two brothers are united. Sabita Devi and Azurie provided the romantic interest.

The second major film of Sagar was “Manmohan” which was a bigger hit than the company’s previous film “Deccan Queen”. This film was also directed by Mehboob and the story, screenplay, dialogues and songs were written by Zia Sarhady. “Manmohan” was ‘inspired’ by New Theatres’ “Devdas” and had a similar storyline; in fact, some branded it as a ‘poor man’s “Devdas”‘. But, with Mehboob’s midas touch and showmanship, the film went on to become a massive hit.

The film starred Surendra and Bibbo in the lead and had music by Ashok Ghose. The song Tumne mujhko prem sikhaaya sung by the lead pair became immensely popular.


Other films of Sagar released during the year include: “Do Deewane” (starring Motilal and Shobhana Samarth), “Jeevan Lata” (Motilal and Sabita Devi, the popular lead pair of many films) and “Village Girl” (Surendra and Sabita Devi).

The success of “Deccan Queen” and “Manmohan” consolidated the position of Mehboob as a director of great stuff and also put Sagar on a higher pedestal. In the years to come, it was a clear case of the ‘creation’ becoming bigger than the ‘creator’!

Notable Natter ~ 1936

Before making a name for themselves in mythological and musical films, Prakash Pictures dabbled in action and costume dramas. Some of their releases during the year were: “Azaad Veer”, “Passing Show”, “Snehlata” and “Tope Ka Gola”. All the four had Jayant in the lead who had made his debut in 1935 with films of Prakash Pictures.

Similarly, before embarking on his historical marvels, Sohrab Modi experimented with one more screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. After his directorial debut in 1935 with “Khoon Ka Khoon” (based on Hamlet), Sohrab Modi directed “Sayeed-e-Hawas” based on King John. In fact, the film was a ‘stage recording’ of the play and produced by his Stage Film Company. In the years to come, the company came to be known as Minerva Movietone with a picture of a roaring lion in the emblem symbolising the majestic persona of Modi.

“Sayeed-e-Hawas” marked the debut of G M Durrani as a singer. He sang the song Maston ko aen farz hai peena sharab ka which was also composed by him. 

Wadia’s film “Miss Frontier Mail” was the first film to feature a parody song Jao jao ae mere saadho, sabhi bhulaao gham. It is a parody of Jao jao ae mere saadho raho guru ke sang sung by K C Dey in “Pooran Bhagat” (1933). As in other films of Nadia, the highlight of the film was the stunts performed by her on top of a speeding train and fighting single handedly a gang of bandits.

Incidentally, the film’s theme of a masked man wanting to disrupt the railway service of a certain place and make way for an airline service reminds of B R Chopra’s “Naya Daur” (1957) where the city bred Jeevan tries to ‘replace’ the hand driven horse carts (tongas) by machine driven vehicles in the name of industrialisation.

The year marked the debut of K N Singh (Krishan Niranjan Singh). He was introduced by Prithviraj Kapoor to Debaki Bose who cast him in East India Film Company’s “Sunehra Sansar”. However, his first released film was the action film “Bandit of the Air” in which he played an action hero. Before joining films, he was a sportsman and was exceptionally good in the javelin throw and shot put. He was also selected to represent in the Berlin Olympics in 1936 but destiny had other plans for him.

Leela Mishra made her debut in Kolhapur Cinetone’s  film “Honhaar” which was directed by Gajanan Jagirdar. She was cast opposite Shahu Modak but as she refused to embrace or touch the hero, she lost the role of heroine. Instead, in the same film, she played mother to Modak and the film paved way for her to play the eternal ‘mother’ or mausi’ from the young age of 28!

P L Santoshi, father of today’s renowned director Rajkumar Santoshi, made his debut as a lyricist with an eminently forgettable film “Vish Vaman”.

Legends born during the year include popular names like Gulzar (writer-filmmaker), Manmohan Desai (filmmaker), Mala Sinha, Nutan and Vyjayantimala (actresses).

The year witnessed a mix of seminal and social films like “Achhut Kanya” and “Amar Jyoti”, “Manmohan” and “Manzil”, spectacular and stunt films like “Jungle Queen” and “Bambai Ki Billi”, “Deccan Queen” and “Miss Frontier Mail”, comedy and costume dramas like “Millionaire” and “Sayeed-e-Hawas”, historical and patriotic films like “Rajput Ramani” and “Janmabhoomi”.

However, the changing taste and trend, audience reaction and response giving way to the seminal, sensitive and socially relevant films saw the other genre of films receding slowly to the background. If not wholly, at least substantially! With melody coming to the fore and musical scores getting replete in every film, songs started getting wider acceptance and due popularity. A successful beginning was made in the earlier year with films like “Chandidas”, “Devdas”, “Amrit Manthan”.   

         Top Twelve Popular Songs of 1936

Name of Film Song Singer/s
Achhut Kanya Main bann ki chidiya banke bann bann Ashok Kumar ~ Devika Rani
Achhut Kanya Udi hawa mein jaati hai Devika Rani
Amar Jyoti Suno suno he bann ke praani Shanta Apte
Amar Jyoti Aaj hamen bann behad bhaata Nandrekar ~ Shanta Apte
Deccan Queen Birha ki aag lagi more mann mein Surendra
Jeevan Naiyya Koyi hamdam na raha Ashok Kumar
Manmohan Tumne mujhko prem sikhaaya Surendra ~ Bibbo
Manzil Sundar naari preetam pyaari Pankaj Mullick
Millionaire Jagat mein prem hi prem bhara hai K L Saigal
Millionaire Jo naukri dilaade B A banaanewale K L Saigal ~ Pahadi Sanyal
Pujarin Jo beet chuki so beet chuki K L Saigal
Rajput Ramani Ab pyaare pyaare aavenge anand din Shanta Apte

Manohar ‘M T’ Iyer

Photos Courtesy: Google and Personal Collection

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F~ilMI _ Chronography

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1935

Movie Toast with Morning Tea 1935

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1935


The year 1935 has a distinctive and unmistakable stamp in its story telling; it exudes an air of closeness and familiarity, a sense of direction and responsibility.

In all, 154 films were made and released. Premier studios like Imperial Films, Kolhapur Cine, Madan Theatres, Mahalaxmi Cine, Ranjit Movietone, Saroj Movietone, Wadia Movietone continued to churn out the typical formula laden costume drama, fantasy, mythological, stunt and also social films with different measure of success. There were clear indications that the audience wanted something more meaningful and matured, pithy and purposeful.

Prakash Pictures too joined the fray with their action and costume films before making name for themselves in the mythological, musical and social films of the 40s and 50s.  

Some of noteworthy films of the year clearly belonged to the relatively newer studios:  “Devdas” and “Dhoop Chhaon” (New Theatres), “Jawani Ki Hawa” (Bombay Talkies), “Dr. Madhurika” and “Judgement of Allah” (Sagar), “Chandrasena” and “Dharmatma”  (Prabhat).

New Theatres

After its first break through film “Chandidas” in 1934, New Theatres came up with the celluloid version of Saratchandra Chatterjee’s controversial but all time classic and popular novel “Devdas”. The film was made with the same title in Bengali and Hindi and both were directed by Pramathesh Barua. While Barua himself played Devdas in the Bengali version, the role in the Hindi version was played by K L Saigal. The roles of Paro and Chandramukhi in the Hindi version were enacted by Jamuna and Rajkumari respectively.

P C Barua Director New Theatres

Devdas” was all about the doomed love between a zamindar son and his poor neighbour’s daughter Parbati (Paro). Their love remains unrequited and the doomed and disillusioned Devdas seeks solace in alcohol and in the care and compassion of Chandramukhi, a girl of ill repute.     

If one observes minutely, the character of Devdas is a anti hero but emotionally fragile and tragic who is torn between his inner conflicts and a driving passion. What touches and moves us are his weaknesses, his moral ambiguity, indecisiveness, struggle with his conscience and, not the least, his humanity which differs and comes across sharply in his relationship with his family, Paro, Chandramukhi and his faithful servant Dharamdas.

Barua was loyal to the novel but deviated only in its treatment. By avoiding heavy melodrama and clichéd stereotypes, he raised the film to a noble tragedy. The film remains a benchmark in the genre of romantic tragedies.


Timir Baran made his debut as a composer with “Devdas”. The two evergreen classics: Balam aaye baso more mann mein and Dukh ke ab din beetat naahin, both rendered by K L Saigal remain among his career best songs.

Kidar Sharma too got his break as a lyrics and dialogue writer with this film and as a poster painter and screen painter with two more films of New Theatres made in the same year viz. “Dhoop Chhaon” and “Inquilab” (After The Earthquake). Both these films are significant for two different reasons.

The film finally belonged to K L Saigal.  He was born to ‘live’ the role of Devdas. And, like the death of the alcohol afflicted character in the film, he died in real life too – sick, sullen, somber and sozzled at the age of 42 in January 1947!!    

Dhoop Chhaon”, starring Pahari Sanyal, K C Dey, Uma Shashi, was a landmark film of the year. The film was directed by Nitin Bose. He had joined the studio as a photographer and then went on to direct films like “Chandidas”, “Dushman”, “President”, “Dhartimata”. Credit goes to him for elevating the films of New Theatres technically as also for introducing ‘pre-recorded’ or ‘playback’ singing.  

During the filming of the song Main khush hona chaahun, khush no na sakun, Bose was beset with some technical problem. Along with his younger brother Mukul Bose, a sound engineer, he made a promising attempt at introducing the  ‘playback’ technique though it came in full force after almost a decade.  

The song was sung by Parul Ghosh, Suprova Circar and Harimati and composed by R C Boral. The film had some memorable songs like Baba mann ki ankhen khol, Teri gathri mein laaga chor musafir jaag zara, Andhe ki laathi tu hi hai all in the voice of K C Dey.

The year saw two other films of New Theatres: “Karvaan-e-Hayaat” starring K L Saigal and Rajkumari and “Inquilab” (also known as After The Earthquake). The latter film was directed by Debaki Bose and had an impressive array of stars like Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote, K C Dey, Nawab. The great showman Raj Kapoor  made his first screen appearance as a child star in the film. He was just about 11 years then.

Bombay Talkies

After making a few silent films like “The Light of Asia”, “Shiraz”, “A Throw of Dice” with German collaboration, Himanshu Rai returned to India with his actress-wife Devika Rani. He then made a bilingual “Karma” in 1933 and established his now iconic studio Bombay Talkies in 1934.

The first film made under the banner of Bombay Talkies was “Jawani Ki Hawa” starring Najam ul Husain and Devika Rani. Legendary actor Ashok Kumar made a fleeting appearance in a shot in a train sequence.  

Bombay Talkies Jawani Ki Hawa

The film was directed by German director Franz Osten and photographed by Josef Wirsching.

Franz Osten

The film introduced a woman composer named Khorshed Minocher Homji aka Saraswati Devi.

Bombay Talkies Saraswati Devi


After the spectacular success of “Amrit Manthan” in 1934, Shantaram directed two films “Chandrasena” and “Dharmatma” which were released in 1935.  

Chandrasena” was made earlier by Shantaram as a silent film by the same name and released in 1931. The talkie version, an episode from the great epic Ramayana, was a visual delight with the Shantaram’s innovative camera movements and special effects of human figures and arrows flying and Hanuman picking up human figures (a must in mythologicals).  

Keshavrao Bhole composed music for the film and he had the knack of producing different ‘sound’ in his music for different genre of films. He was more ‘modern’ as compared to his predecessor Govindrao Tembe who was more conservative and traditional.

Taking hints from Mahatma Gandhi’s crusade against social evils like caste system and untouchability, Shantaram made a bold attempt to make “Dharmatma”. The film was based on the life of the 16th century poet Eknath who too opposed these social evils. It was originally titled as “Mahatma” (named after Gandhi ji) but following the censor objection for its ‘direct reference to the national leader’, Shantaram renamed the film as “Dharmatma”. 

Marathi stage actor Bal Gandharva played the title role. But he was so used to playing female roles in several plays for over two decades, he found himself totally out of sync in the role of a male protagonist. Quite naturally, the film was a disappointment at the box office.

Master Krishnarao made his debut as a composer in “Dharmatma”.  He was a purist and had consummate expertise in Khayal, Thumri and other forms of classical music. Incidentally, legendary maestro Vasant Desai assisted Krishnarao and also played a small role in the film.


Sagar Movietone

Sagar, like Ranjit, was known for providing unabashed entertainment through its costume, fantasy, mythological and stunt films. In 1935, the studio turned to making films with social message. Based on a novel by Kanhaiyalal Munshi, the partners of Sagar made “Dr. Madhurika” with Sabita Devi in the title role and Motilal as her lawyer husband. ‘Women’s Director’ Sarvottam Badami directed the film. The film had music by Pransukh Nayak.

Sagar Movietone Dr. MadhurikaDr. Madhurika” was a film way ahead of its time. The central character was portrayed as a career conscious woman with modern day mindset, thinking and values. Liberated and living on her terms, the film goes a step further and shocks the audience when Madhurika, as a proponent of population control, refuses to bear a child. However, after several dramatic twists and turns, she is shown as giving up her career for a better family conforming to social values.

The climax of the film did not go down well with certain sections of the society. Progressive leader Kamala Chattopadhyay (wife of poet Harindranath Chattopadhyay) vehemently criticised the ending by saying “any woman with a steady head above her shoulders cannot be represented by Dr. Madhurika”.

Despite all the controversy and criticism, the film was a big hit and stood out from the rest of Sagar’s formula films. The film with all its modernity had an unconventional song Mori pyaari pyaari gaiyya aur doodh ki dilwaiyya which was rendered by Sabita Devi.

Sagar Movietone judgement of allahDuring the year, Sagar released another film after which the ‘creation became bigger than the creator’. The film was “Judgement of Allah” which was directed by Mehboob Khan.

Mehboob’s journey from an ‘extra’ at Imperial and Sagar to a filmmaker ExtraOrdinaire is simply inspiring and fascinating. Between 1927 and 1930, he was seen as an ‘extra’ in Imperial’s silent films like “Alibaba and Forty Thieves”, “Shirin Khusru” and a few others. Thereafter, between 1931 to 1934, he did small roles of varied types in films of Sagar like “Veer Abhimanyu”, “Romantic Prince”, “Bulbul-e-Baghdad”, “Chandrahas”, “Mahabharat”, “Mirza Sahiban”, “Premi Paagal”,   “Grihalaxmi”, “Naachwali”, “Sati Anjani”.

Mehboob was not content doing these films; his interest was in doing something beyond this. He would listen to scripts of aspiring writers who came to Sagar, give unsolicited but valuable suggestions, give some dramatic twists and turns and, at the end, contribute something significant to the story. Because of his humble background, disagreeable looks and lack of education, none gave a serious thought to his latent talent or his potential except Faredoon Irani, the studio’s cameraman. Irani had taken a liking for Mehboob from the beginning.  

Mehboob would write his own scripts and he was too eager to venture into direction. He would express his desire to Faredoon Irani who was confident about his prodigy, a genius in the making. He would frequently ask Irani to speak to the bosses who would just brush aside his request saying “what can be expected of an illiterate fellow; how can he write scripts and direct a film; he has no experience of anything; he works as an ‘extra’ and let him continue with that…”

Irani tried his best to convince the bosses and went to the extent of taking personal responsibility for what Mehboob would shoot on trial basis. He staked his salary if the bosses were not happy with the end results. Such was the confidence and conviction of Irani. And, Mehboob didn’t let down his God Father!  

Finally, the bosses agreed, Mehboob read out the story written by him, assembled his stars and went about shooting. He was all charged and shot for three days (time given to him for shooting) and showed the rushes to the bosses. Chimanlal Desai and Dr. Ambalal Patel (the partners of Sagar) and few other key persons of the studio watched the rushes with bated breath and by the end of it, they were dazed and amazed, excited and exhilarated. They had discovered a great director in the ‘extra’ whom they rebuked and ridiculed. The green signal was given and Mehboob was all set to take up the director’s mantle.

Inspired by Cecil DeMille’s “The Sign of the Cross”, Mehboob wrote his script and titled the film “The Judgement of Allah”. He had an ensemble of stars working under him: Kumar, Yakub, Sitara, Indira, Azurie and others. Music was by Pransukh Nayak. And, of course, Faredoon Irani was the cinematographer.

Working ceaselessly day and night, Mehboob wrapped up the shooting in five months with the outdoor scenes shot in Hyderabad. And, finally the film was made, released and it went on to become a huge hit. In years to come, the creation became bigger than the creator.

The film and its spectacular success was a testament to Mehboob’s conviction, dedication, perseverance and talent bestowed from the heaven by Allah!!



Ranjit was known for the unabashed entertainment its films provided. But, with rival companies like Bombay Talkies, New Theatres and Prabhat setting new standards, the company’s films started getting lukewarm response. Among the six releases of Ranjit during the year, “Barrister’s Wife” was the only noteworthy and successful film. The film starred Gohar (in a double role) and E Billimoria. Later year films like “Mamta” (1966) and “Dard” (1980) were inspired by the film.   

Notable Natter ~ 1935  

A mention was made of the most prolific and popular playwright Agha Hashr Kashmiri in the earlier year. He had great command over Arabic, Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit and Urdu. His writings had a major impact on the development of Indian Cinema. Many of his plays won country wide acclaim and were adapted successfully for films by Madan Theaters and New Theaters. To quote B D Garga, “such was his popularity that when he died in June 1935, all studios remained closed for the day and theaters suspended their films shows as a mark of respect to the Indian Shakespeare”

Leela Chitnis made her acting debut in an eminently forgettable film “Dhuandhaar”.  

Shobhana Samarth also made her acting debut in Kolhapur Cinetone’s “Nigah-e-Nafrat” opposite Master Winayak (father of Nanda).

Nadia made her debut as a stunt actress in Wadia’s “Hunterwali” in which she wields the ‘hunter’ and uses it without fear. Soon she came to be hailed as the Fearless Nadia!    

Sohrab Modi, acclaimed for his historical films, debuted as a director with Stage Film Company’s “Hamlet”. Also titled “Khoon Ka Khoon”, the film was a screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by the same name. Modi played Hamlet opposite Naseem who played Ophelia. Naseem was the mother of Saira Banu and incidentally, her mother Shamshad Begum was also a part of the cast.   

Anil Biswas made his debut as a composer with Eastern Arts’ “Dharam Ki Devi” starring Kumar and Sardar Akhtar. The film was directed by Hiren Bose. The same year, he gave music jointly with Ustad Jhande Khan in the company’s “Bharat Ki Beti” directed by P Atorthy.

Ghulam Haider, who brought a musical revolution in the early 40s, made his debut as a composer with “Swarg Ki Seedhi”. The film was directed by A R Kardar.  

nargis dutt 5 years

And, last but not the least, the hit romantic pair of Raj Kapoor – Nargis in the later years saw its genesis in 1935. While Raj Kapoor made his screen appearance as a young boy of eleven in New Theatre’s “Inquilab”, Nargis debuted as child star Baby Rani (barely six years) in “Talash-e-Haq” in which her mother Jaddanbai was in the lead opposite Yakub. The year is a witness to the blossoming of two flowers on the filmi firmament that went on to bloom in the cinematic paradise from late 40s to mid 50s.  


Await more Movie Toast with Morning Tea till next week

Manohar ‘M T’ Iyer

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F~ilMI _ Chronography

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1934

Movie Toast with Morning Tea 1934

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.

Dadasaheb Phalke

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.

New Theatres

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. Also, the company’s another film “Rooplekha” directed by Barua was a disaster at the box office. 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!!!


Await more Movie Toast with Morning Tea till next week

Manohar ‘M T’ Iyer

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F~ilMI _ Chronography

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1933

Movie Toast with Morning Tea 1933 reduced

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.

New Theatres

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

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.

Bombay Talkies

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

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F~ilMI _ Chronography

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1932

Movie Toast with Morning Tea 1932

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~ 1932

In 1932, as many as 60 films were made and released by established as well emerging companies: Imperial, Madan, New Theatres, Prabhat, Ranjit, Sagar, Saraswati Cinetone to name a few.

Madan Theatres

Madan Theatres held a record of producing as many as 16 films in 1932. They were the most prolific and the most advanced of all. The company was also the first to introduce colour (processed abroad) in its devotional venture “Bilwamangal” which was based on a play written by Agha Hashr Kashmiri. The film starred Patience Cooper as a beautiful courtesan with whom Bilwamangal falls in love hopelessly. The film was a musical hit.

Yet another remarkable film featuring Patience Cooper was “Pati Bhakti”, the talkie version of the company’s silent film by the same title, with the same actress and released in 1922. As the title suggests, the film advocated that women should be devoted and faithful to their husbands. The film was also involved in a controversy over an ‘obscene’ dance number which the censors demanded to be deleted.

Incidentally, Patience Cooper was the first actress to play a double role as twin sisters in Madan Theatres’ silent film “Patni Pratap” (1923). She repeated the feat as a mother and daughter in the company’s silent film “Kashmiri Sundari” (1925).

Master Nissar and Jahan Ara Kajjan continued their reign as the sensational singing super stars with as many as four hit musicals: “Bilwamangal”, “Chatra Bakavali”, “Gulru Zarina” and “Indrasabha”. The last mentioned film had about 60 songs. Kajjan had a few more releases like “Alibaba and Forty Thieves”, “Aankh Ka Tara” and “Pati Bhakti”. Unfortunately, songs from these films are not available as no records were made.

Incidentally, the film “Aankh Ka Tara” had a song Hai kya kya jalwa bhara hua. Ghanshyam tumhari ankhon mein based on a traditional melody in the voice of Indubala. The same tune was heard later as Taqdeer banaanewale ne kaisi taqdeer banaayi hai in “Duniya” (1949) in the voice of Pushpa Hans and Ooparwale teri duniya mein kabhi jeb kisi bhi khaali na ho in “Haath Ki Safai’(1974) in the voice of Mahendra Kapoor.


Of the eight releases of Imperial, the most significant film was the “Madhuri”. The historical film was set in the backdrop of the battle between kings of  Ujjain and Kanauj and had Sulochana (Ruby Myers) and Prof. Vinayakrao Patwardhan in the lead, quite a casting coup.

The film was a comeback vehicle for Sulochana. With the advent of sound, her highly successful career suffered a set back because of language problem. In fact, ‘sound’ rung the death knell for several Anglo Indian and Jewish actresses who could not speak Hindi. But Sulochana, it is believed, took a sabbatical to learn the language and then made a grand comeback with Madhuri.

With the advent of sound, dialogues and songs became integral part of talkie films. Music was by Pransukh Nayak and of the 16 songs, four sung by Patwardhan were released on long play records.


After a spate of successful silent films, Prabhat released its first talkie film “Ayodhya Ka Raja” (Ayodhyacha Raja in Marathi) which was followed by “Maya Machhindra”. Both the films were directed by V Shantaram; the former was perhaps his tribute to Dadasaheb Phalke as he chose the same story of Raja Harishchandra for his first talkie film.

Both the films featured almost the same stars: Durga Khote (in her first major roles), Govindrao Tembe (who also gave music and sang), Winayak, Baburao Pendharkar, Nimbalkar, Bajar Battoo, most of them forgotten names today.  The song Chhod akash ko sitaare zameen par aaye written (not sure), composed and rendered by Tembe in “Maya Machhindra” in the natya sangeet style became very popular. Indeed, all the stars of the era descended from the heaven as a boon to the film industry. “Jalti Nishani” was yet another film from Prabhat.


Sagar Movietone

Sagar Movietone released a variety of films “Bulbul-e-Baghdad” (fantasy), “Maya Bazar” and “Subhadra Haran” (mythological), “Meerabai” (devotional) and “Zarina” (costume).

The film “Meerabai” with Jal Merchant and Zubeida in the lead as Krishna and Meera respectively was the first film to be made on the life of saint-poetess.

Critics described “Zarina” as an “occidental transplantation” because of its technical brilliance and the Hollywood influence. The film was directed by Ezra Mir who had a rich experience of working earlier with Madan Theatres as well as in Hollywood. Ezra Mir was known to be the best and most experienced among the directors of Sagar Movietone till the unexpected impact created by Mehboob Khan in 1935 with his maiden film “Judgement of Allah”.

Saraswati Cinetone

The company was established during the year and released a mythological film “Shyam Sundar” starring Shahu Modak. He played the role of Krishna in the film. The image stuck on him and he went on to play the charismatic Krishna in about 30 films. Bhalji Pendharkar introduced Shanta Apte in the film; she played Radha and the role of her husband was played by her own brother Baburao Apte. “Shyam Sundar” was the first film to celebrate silver jubilee.

New Theatres

Among the new studios, New Theatres was emerging as one of the premier and path breaking film studios of the 30s with three releases: “Mohabbat Ke Aansoo”, “Subah Ka Sitara” and “Zinda Laash”. K L Saigal made his debut as a singing star and R C Boral also got his break as a composer in these films. Unfortunately, all the three films failed at the box office inspiring B N Sircar, the studio’s boss, to devise new strategy in the very following years.


Notable Natter ~ 1932

Legends of Hindi Cinema born during the year include popular names like: Amrish Puri (character actor-villain), Asha Bhosle (playback singer), Meena Kumari (actress), Mehmood (comedian) and Yash Chopra (filmmaker).

Manohar ‘M T’ Iyer

Photos Courtesy: Google




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F~ilMI _ Chronography

Movie Toast with Morning Tea ~1931

Movie Toast with Morning Tea 1931

The first day of the calendar year marks a new dawn helping us raise a toast to the collective consciousness of cinema. Each one waves out a greeting to the other in some special way which is deemed to be remembered all through the year and beyond. On this day, this year 01 January, 2018, here comes MI ‘Movie Toast with Morning Teamubarakbaad to all the movie and music mavens. This delectable and delightful treat will be served every week in the form of year wise musings on movies, music and manoharanjan in the realm of Hindi Cinema!! The inaugural post features the epoch making year 1931 which marked the advent of sound.

Movie Toast with Morning Tea

The world economic crisis and the Great Depression of the late 20s fostered a new marvel called ‘sound’. Ardeshir Irani introduced ‘sound’ to the Indian Cinema and is hailed as the ‘Father of Indian Talkie’. He started his career as an exhibitor in the days of tent shows. Later, he exhibited Dadasaheb Phalke’s silent films “Kaliya Mardan” and “Shree Krishna Janma” in the Alexandra Theatre which he co-owned. The spectacular success of Phalke’s films inspired Irani to make his own films.

Alam Ara

Irani made a few silent films, first under the banner of Majestic Films and then under his now iconic Imperial Films. Seeking inspiration from Universal Pictures’ “Show Boat”, he made “Alam Ara“, the first full length Indian talkie film. The film starred popular stars of the time Master Vithal and Zubeida and it inaugurated a new chapter at the Majestic Cinema on 14 March, 1931. Ergo, the ‘Sound’ Era began and the idea of ‘synchronising recorded sound with running pictures’ clicked.

Joseph David, a playwright from the Parsi Imperial Theatrical Company, adapted a play written by him for the screen. Irani was assisted in the film by one Rustam Bharucha. Music was composed by Pirojshah Jamaji Mistry and B Irani. Incidentally, they all belonged to the Parsi community or theatre and the contribution of the faction to cinema is commendable.

The film had in all seven songs which were recorded with just three instruments viz. Harmonium, Tabla and Violin. Wazir Mohammed Khan sang the beautifully worded minstrel song :

दे दे खुदा के नाम पे प्यारे, ताक़त हो गर देने की,
कुछ चाहे अगर तो मांगले मुझसे, हिम्मत हो गर लेने की।

Since then, music lovers, with a ravenous appetite for good music, haven’t stopped begging for more songs. And, the bollywood badshahs have been bounteous enough in dishing out a bellyful of these melody notes to movie buffs like us who are reveling in the feast of the flow of good songs, ad infinitum!

The Golden Era of Music was all set to dawn and dazzle in times to come!

Coping with Constraints

“Alam Ara” was made under severe constraints. Irani’s Imperial Studio was located near Grant Road railway station. There were no sound proof stages. So, most of the shooting was done indoors in the night when the trains were not running and human movement was minimal. Technical facilities were also not available. Microphones were hidden at incredible places to keep them out of range of the camera. The shooting, recording, editing, laboratory processing with sound in view were unimaginably distressing and formidable.

The film took several months to complete because of difficult recording conditions. To keep the potential competitors in the dark, all efforts were taken to maintain secrecy surrounding the painstaking ‘pioneering effort’; in other words, the making of the film was guarded closely with utmost care and caution.

Casting Coup

Like Dadasaheb Phalke, Ardeshir Irani too had problem finalising the stars. He wanted to cast the commercially saleable star Sulochana (an Iraqi Jew whose real name was Ruby Myers) in the title role. But, being the first talkie and because of her faulty diction, he settled for a lesser known star Zubeida who had good command over Hindi and Urdu.

Similarly, Irani considered Mehboob Khan (who started his career as an ‘extra’ with Irani and went on to become a filmmaker extraordinaire) for the role of the prince. Again, being the first talkie film and a fantasy film with lot of fights and stunts, Irani signed Master Vithal as the hero, the biggest stunt star of the silent era. Being a Maharashtrian, Vithal too had difficulty with his diction. But, Irani changed the story halfway making him either dumb or appear in a dazed and subconscious state and took care of his ‘diction drawback’.

Besides the lead actors, others who were a major part of the historic film include now big and popular names like Prithviraj Kapoor, W M Khan, Jilloo (who played mother in law of Nargis in “Mother India” and mother of Madhubala in “Mughal-e-Azam”) and Jagdish Sethi (who played father of Shyama in “Aar Paar”)

Lost and Found Lore

“Alam Ara” was also the first film with the ‘Lost and Found‘ sub plot. Not many must have given even a remote thought to this. Set in an imaginary kingdom, the story is about a King Sultan Saleem Khan and his two warring and childless wives Gulbahar and Naubahar. A fakir (mendicant) predicts that Naubahar will soon beget the heir to the throne. Out of jealousy, Gulbahar tries to seduce the Chief Minister Adil (played by Prithviraj Kapoor) for a child. Her advances are thwarted by him and, to seek revenge, she has him imprisoned and his wife banished. The wife dies giving birth to a girl child who is brought up by a group of banjaras (nomads) and is named Alam Ara (played by Zubeida).

As she grows up, a charm around her neck / a precious stone embedded in the necklace reveals that she is the daughter of the imprisoned Minister. With the help of the nomads, she sets out to free him. In the palace, she meets the handsome prince Jahangir Khan (son of Naubahar, played by Vithal) and both fall in love. After a lot of dramatic twists and turns, Alam Ara unites with her long lost father, the vicious queen Gulbahar is punished and the lovers marry.

Alam Ara sets out to ‘Lose’ herself to ‘Find’ her father. In the process, she not only loses her heart to the prince but also finds her father. The entire idiom of ‘Lost and Found’ formula in Indian films is the story line finding expression in the very first talkie film “Alam Ara”!

Silence Speaks

Even after the transition from silent to talkie films, a number of silent films were made. Of the total 1330 silent films made since 1913, over 200 films were made and released in 1931 alone; these films were made by the now forgotten leading film companies like Imperial, Kohinoor, Mehta-Luhar, Ranjit, Sagar, Saraswati, Sharda, Surya to name a few.

Talkie Triumphs

A total number of 24 talkie films were made and released in 1931. Most of these films came from the stable of Madan (seven films), Imperial and Krishnatone (five each), Sagar (three), Ranjit and Saroj (one each). The Indian talkie paved the way gradually to the studio system….

Madan Theatres

Close on heels of “Alam Ara” followed musicals like Madan Theatres’ “Laila Majnu”, “Shakuntala” and “Shirin Farhad”. The last named film had about 17 songs and the film had an incredible run for 14 weeks thereby establishing music and dance as an integral part of Indian cinema. Music in these films was given by Vrajlal Varma and the songs are lost forever.

These films featured the legendary singing stars Master Nissar and Jahan Ara Kajjan. With their good looks, sound musical background, good command over Urdu, rich theater experience and an impeccable dialogue delivery, Nissar and Kajjan became the first and the most popular singing stars of the Indian cinema.

Ardeshir Irani (Imperial Films) and J J Madan (who took over Madan Theatres after the demise of his father J F Madan, the first movie Moghal of India and essentially a showman with extraordinary business instinct), were among the major forces to shape the future of talkie films particularly in the early 30s. But the rich contribution of Parsis to Indian Cinema has never been accorded the deserved recognition.

The Parsi Theatre and the playwrights associated with it had their influence on the Indian talkie in its initial stage. They banked heavily on the Indian epics and mythology, Persian legends and romances, Arabian fantasies and tales, English plays for their scripts. Though these scripts were mere reproduction and devoid of imagination or innovations, the films, replete with songs, dances, spectacle, stunts, melodrama, were safe bets at the box office.

Sagar Movietone

Other noteworthy films of the year were Sagar’s costume drama “Romantic Prince” starring Vithal and Zubeida (the stars of the first talkie film) and the mythological film “Veer Abhimanyu” starring Jal Merchant and Zubeida who went on to become one of the popular lead pairs of the 30s. Music in these films was given by S P Rane. Incidentally, before he went on to become a director extraOrdinaire, Mehboob Khan played small roles as an ‘extra’ in both these and other films of Sagar.

Sagar introduced Yakub in the title role in “Romantic Prince”, his first talkie film. He went on to do many more films of Sagar but is best remembered for his portrayal of the rebellious Birju in the Mehboob directed rural epic “Aurat”. The role was played by Sunil Dutt in its remake “Mother India”.

Incidentally, Yakub made his debut in Bhalji Pendharkar’s silent historical film “Bajirao Mastani” (1925), a full 90 years before Sanjay Leela Bhansali made his spectacular film in 2015. Some divine connection; both Yakub and Ranveer Singh who played Bajirao exuded an incredible intensity and raw sensuality.

Ranjit Film Company

The prestigious company’s first talkie film was the mythological film “Devi Devyani” starring D Billimoria and Gohar. Ustad Jhandekhan made his debut as a composer with this film.

New Theatres

Among the other premier studios of the 30s, B N Sircar’s the now iconic New Theatres was established in February 1931. New Theatre’s first talkie film was “Dena Paona” in Bengali and directed by Premankur Atorthy who went on to direct the four initial films of K L Saigal in 1932-33. 

Notable Natter ~ 1931

Prithviraj Kapoor arrived with a bang on the firmament of talkie cinema with “Alam Ara” in 1931. And, the year saw his progeny Shammi Kapoor make a beginning of a biological birth ~ Yahoo!!

The three films of Sagar released in 1931: “Abul Hasan”, “Romantic Prince” and “Veer Abhimanyu” had an actor playing prominent roles in these and other films of the company. He was Sankata Prasad, the elder brother of Kanhaiyalal who excelled in playing the roles of a sly money lender, lala, munim, pandit, station master and other roles in films set in rural background.

Timeless Titles

Alam Ara: “Alam Ara” was made again in 1956 and 1973. Both the remakes were directed by Nanubhai Vakil and featured W M Khan who sang the minstrel song again in both the films. Music was by A R Quereshi and Iqbal Quereshi respectively.

There were several versions in later years of popular films based on legends and history which were made in 1931:


The film critic extraordinaire and highly charismatic editor Baburao Patel (of Film India fame) was smitten at first sight by the gracious looking Sushila Rani and her divine voice. This was sometime in 1942. Later, to promote his lady love, he made two films and the first was “Draupadi” in 1944. The film starred Sushila Rani in the title role opposite Chandramohan. Later, she married the already married Patel with three grown up children.

Heer Ranjha

1931 ~ starring Master Fakira and Shanta Kumari (music by Ali Baux, father of Meena Kumari)
1932 ~ starring Rafiq Ghaznavi (also composer) and Anwari and directed by A R Kardar
1948 ~ starring Ghulam Mohd (not the composer) and Mumtaz Shanti
1970 ~ starring Rajkumar and Priya Rajvansh and directed by Chetan Anand
1992 ~ starring Anil Kapoor and Sridevi and directed by Harmesh Malhotra

Laila Majnu

1931 ~ two films were made in 1931 itself;
one starring Nissar and Kajjan and directed by J J Madan
other starring Rafiq Ghaznavi and Ram Pyaari
1945 ~ starring Nazir and Swarnalata
1953 ~ starring Shammi Kapoor and Nutan and directed by K Amarnath
1976 ~ starring Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta and directed by H S Rawail


1931 ~ starring Nayampalli, Mazhar Khan and Vimala and directed by Ezra Mir;
Ezra Mir went on to direct a number of films for Sagar Movietone in the 30s
1967 ~ starring Pradeep Kumar and Meena Kumari and directed by M Sadiq;


1931 ~ two films were made in 1931 itself; one starring Nissar nd Kajjan and directed by J J Madan
other starring Ashraf Khan and Najju Begum
1943 ~ starring Chandramohan and Jayshree and directed by V Shantaram

Shirin Farhad

1945 ~ starring Jayant and Ragini
1956 ~ starring Pradeep Kumar and Madhubala

A film with a rare title “Trapped” was made in 1931. Another film with the same title was made in 2016 with Rajkumar Rao in the lead.

The 1931 film was directed by Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani (director of several silent films and talkie films of 30s and 40s including “Prem Nagar” (1940) which marked the debut of Naushad as composer). Incidentally, in 1931, Mohan Bhavnani made a silent film “Vasantasena”, a film version of Sudraka’s Sanskrit classic “Mrichchhakatika” (The Little Clay Cart) which was not governed by commercial considerations. The film was shot in the magnificent temples of South India portraying the religious ceremonies in all its grandeur and richness. The film also brought members of educated class such as Kamala Chattopadhyaya, Kumar Chattopadhyaya, Enakshi Rama Rau, Nalini Tarkhud, Jaikishan Nanda to the screen as actors. This marked the beginning of breaking the prejudices against the film profession. For the record, Shashi Kapoor’s period film “Utsav” was based on the same classic.

For the ‘Record’, the first ever gramophone record to be issued of an Indian film was that of “Trapped”. And the song was Phulrahi belariyaa dole in Raag Durga by Master Vasant who also wrote the lyrics of this and the other songs in the film. It is presumed the music was also given by him though no information on the composer is available. Of the six songs, three were sung by Master Vasant and three by Durga Khote. She played a small role in this film before she graduated to playing major roles in the films of Prabhat and others.

With the advent of sound, many of the earlier studios found it difficult to adapt and afford the transition to sound and were forced to pull down their shutters. Many popular stars, mostly the Anglo Indians, too found themselves like a fish out of water, jobless and disoriented, their voices bringing and ringing their death knell. They could neither speak fluent Hindi or Urdu nor could they sing which was a must then.

Manohar ‘M T’ Iyer

Photos Courtesy: “So Many Cinemas” by B D Garga, Google and Personal Collection

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