Saluting Silent Cinema
Saluting Silent Cinema. It was a dull week at the theatres with ‘Gunday’ not faring as well as expected and ‘Highway’ though critically acclaimed taking a slow start. There were hardly any events from the production houses and stars seemed mostly outdoors. Aamir Khan made a surprise appearance by agreeing to release the book of a veteran titled ‘Reel’ by Reel Story of Sagar Movietone & Chimanlal Desai.
Earlier silent cinemas were better than the talkies of the day. This proves that the only way to make good cinema is to hire talented artistes which they did and today’s filmmakers don’t
It was a dull week at the theatres with ‘Gunday’ not faring as well as expected and ‘Highway’ though critically acclaimed taking a slow start. There were hardly any events from the production houses and stars seemed mostly outdoors. Aamir Khan made a surprise appearance by agreeing to release the book of a veteran titled ‘Reel’ by Reel Story of Sagar Movietone & Chimanlal Desai.
The event was attended by actor Anil Kapoor, directors Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Rajkumar Hirani, Vijay Krishna, music director Ravindra Jain, Tushar Bhatia, writer Prasoon Joshi, veteran actor Sushila Rani Patel and historian Nalin Shah. Released in English and Gujarati simultaneously it is a rare book reliving the history of a leading film company which started in 1930 originally by Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Film Co. and later taken over by Chimanlal Desai and Dr. Ambalal Patel who served as distributors in Bangalore.
Chimanlal Desai dares to tell his story about how he made Silent film ‘Meri Jaan or Romantic Prince’, 1931 before the Talkies. A spirited Desai described those days as the golden period of cinema and confessed that the only way to make good cinema is to hire talented artistes which they did and today’s makers don’t.
The first Gujarati Talkie ‘Narsinh Mehto’ was produced by Sagar in 1932 and later the company produced films in Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Punjabi among other languages. Desai recalled that many artistes began their career with their banner and rose to prominence but they never tied them to stringent contracts instead let them put on wings and fly and this includes the gr4eat Mehboob Khan who got his first break as a director in Sagar Movietone’s ‘Al Hilal’ in 1935.
Other illustrious artistes that Sagar Movieton launched included Motilal, Surendra, Kumar, Maya Banerejee, Bibbo, Sabita Devi, Snehprabha Pradhan and Noor Mohammed. Music Composers like Pransukh Naik, Anil Biswas, Ajit Merchant, sound recordists Kaushik, Chandrakant Pandya and cinematographer Faredoon Irani and all of them remained eternally greatful to the banner for the opportunity. “There was no back biting among artistes and we were always happy to meet each other, happy to see their progress” as he said so Anil Kapoor and Aamir Khan exchanged meaningful glances and smiled and said they were happy to watch their colleagues prosper as well.
Desai elaborated that story was the most important factor of filmmaking in the olden days and nobody started a film unless they had a great story. “Our banner often made films adapted from literature, particularly regional writers. “We made films based on novels of renowned Gujarati litterateur ‘Kanhaiyalal Munshi’/ ‘Dr. Madhurika- 1935’, ‘Ver ka Badla’- 1935, ‘Do Diwane’- 1936, ‘Kulvadhu’- 1937 and RVDesai’s ‘Kokila’, 1937. In 1940, when the company was amalgamated with General Pictures to form National Studios, our productions multiplied and so did expectations of the audience.”
The banner made 52 Hindi films which include titles Silver King (1935), Deccan Queen (1936), ‘Jeevanlata’ (1936), ‘Gramophone Singer’ (1938), ‘Postman’ (1938), ‘Hum’, ‘Tum aur Who’ (1938), ‘Uski Tamanna’ (1939), ‘Alibaba’ (1940). Mehboob Khan’s ‘Aurat’, the original of ‘Mother India’ was originally produced under Sagar Movietone but it was released under National Studios. Chimanlal Desai said he was proud to be a part of cinema for years and produce 75 films in 15 years - 61 Hindi, 4 Gujarati Films, 5 Tamil Films, 3 Telugu Films, and one each in Bengali and Punjabi.
Few are aware Desai has directed ‘Sanskar’ (1940), ‘Radhika’ (1941) , ‘Nirdosh’ (1941), ‘Savera’ (1942), ‘Adab Arz’ (1943), ‘Gunjan’ (1948), in ‘Radhika’, Desai introduced the beautiful Nalini Jayvant whom he married later. Soon Desai quit National Studios after three films and started his own company Amar Pictures. Amar Pictures made six films and shut down after Gujarati film ‘Kariyavar’ in 1948. “It was the right decision to shut down production at the right time and shift attention to something more lucrative. I shifted to exhibition and successfully ran Neptune Theatres and New Talkies at Bandra for decades.”
Desai ended his speech saying he wanted to release his book in the centenary year of Indian cinema but was not able to complete it. The advantage of the delay was that he was able to assemble stalwarts like Aamir Khan and Anil Kapoor for his launch. He emphasized that ‘Sagar Movieton’ is a labour of love, a result of detailed research for two long years encompassing several unknown facets about the banner and the first decade of Indian Talkies. The book carries rare vintage photographs and memorabilia and a CD containing 79 songs of various films of ‘Sagar Movietone’, National Studios and Amar Pictures written and compiled by: Biren Kothari. The book is special and a tribute to the Silent and beginning of Talkie cinema.
Theatre turns cinematic
The world of theatre infact proved more exciting than the big screen. A new genre of entertainment, inspired by theatrical performance was introduced by Nandita Das and Mahesh Dattani that for the first time included film making techniques to create a visual experience for theatre audience. A combination of theatre and films CinePlay exponentially will expand the reach of theater by collapsing physical, geographical and economic limitations and at the same time become a platform for Theatre Education, for students and teachers. Its objective is to create an inclusive, self-sustainable platform to benefit all stakeholders, especially the theater community. It is the first time a theatre production combined a 2K picture quality, surround sound and subtitle options and the journey began with Dattani’s Dance like a Man, a contemporary classic comprising 500 live performances was a magical experience.
Very soon actor director Nandita Das and Subodh Maskara’s play ‘Between the Lines’ will also be presented in the ‘CinePlay avtaar.
Other exciting play to make news was is Six Characters in search of an author is the story of a director rehearsing for a play when he is rudely interrupted by six strangers looking for an author. The director and the six characters get enmeshed in an argument which seamlessly flows into a play. This play within a play is a tragic projection full of heightened emotions and even though written centuries ago, is as controversial and relevant in present times. Penned by the Nobel Prize winner novelist and poet Luigi Pirandello, the beauty of the story is the various interpretations.
- Bhawana Somaaya/Tweets @bhawanasomaaya