Indian cinema: 1940-49

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Indian cinema: 1940-49

Title and authorship of the original article(s)

Brief history of Indian cinema By UrooJ,, mid-2000

Bollywood Cinema By h2g2, mid-2000


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P.C. Barua’s Devdas (1936/ Hindi-Urdu): Jamuna and K.L. SaigalK.L. Saigal. This was at least the third screen adaptation of Saratchandra Chatterjee’s classic novel of the same name. Naresh Mitra’s Devdas (1928/ Bengali) and P.C. Barua’s Devdas (1935/ Bengali, with Barua playing the doomed hero and K.L. Saigal in a walk-in role) came before. Almost all subsequent versios were hits, indeed landmarks. These include Vedantam Raghavaiah’s Devadasu (Telugu: 1953/ with Akkineni Nageswara Rao), Bimal Roy’s Devdas (1955/ Hindi-Urdu/ with Dilip Kumar), Khwaja Sarfraz’ Devdas (1965/ Pakistan/ Urdu) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent Devdas (2002/ w Shahrukh Khan).

1940 : Film Advisory Board set up in Bombay to mobilize public support through war propaganda films. Himanshu Rai dies. Devika Rani takes over production control of Bombay Talkies. P.K. Atre, Master Vinayak and others start Navyug Chitrapat with public finance.

1941 : Wadia Movietone’s Court Dancer (English) released at Metro in Bombay and sent to the USA. D.M. Pancholi’s Khazanchi becomes a trendsetter for its foot-tapping music by Ghulam Haider. First Pushtu Film - Sarhad pictures Laila Majnu. V. Shantaram splits with his partners at Prabhat. He briefly joins Film Advisory Board as Chief Producer after his predecessor Alex Shaw leaves for London.

1942 : Production hit due to shortages of raw stock. Government restricts lengths of films to 11,000 feet to conserve stock for war propaganda films. Mehboob Khan, Shantaram, Homi Wadia and A.R. Kardar set up their independent Film Production Units. The Bombay Film Society is formed. First film in Sindhi, Ekta and Marwari, Nazrana. V.P. Sathe and others start the journal Sound featuring politics, fiction, reviews and essays on Indian Film.

1943 : Government imposes control of supply of raw stock. Exhibition of ‘approved’ propaganda films made compulsory under Defence of India Rules 44A. Kismet one of the biggest hits in Indian Film history is released. Information Films of India is started. K. Ramnoth starts the Cine Technicians Association (CTA) of South India. Court Dancer finds release in the USA. Kailash Mukhopadhyay starts the seminal Bengali Film monthly, Rupamancha.

1944 : Government appoints Film Advisory Committee to regulate distribution of raw film. Increase in Entertainment Tax in Bombay, Madras, United Province and Central Province. Death of Dadasaheb Phalke.

1945 : Film Trade representatives resign from the Film Advisory Committee. Control of distribution of raw film stock removed.

1946 : Information Films of India disbanded. Dharti ke Laal produced by Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and directed by K.A. Abbas wins critical acclaim at home and abroad. Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani made as a war-effort film. Ranakdevi establishes the Gujarati Cinema as a financially viable industry.

1947 : Vijay Bhatt’s Ram Rajya (1943), A.R. Kardar’s Shah Jehan(1946) and V.Shantaram’s Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani shown at Canadian National Exhibition in Totonto. AVM Film Co. starts with Nam Iruvar. Paul Zils and Fali Billimoria start the Documentary Unit - India. Udaya Studios is the first film studio in Kerala. Satyajit Ray, Chidananda Das Gupta and others start the Calcutta Film Society. Foundation of the Bengali film weekly Rupanjali. Deaths of Master Vinayak, K.L. SaigalK.L. Saigal.

1948 : Government revives the production of documentaries and newsreels. S.S. Vasan’s Chandralekha is his first major hit in Hindi. Uday Shankar’s Kalpana is applauded in India and abroad for its innovation and artistry. RK Films with Raj Kapoor as Producer and Director debuts with Aag. Ajit is made on 16mm Kodachrome and blown up to 35mm. Nehru announces a freeze on construction of movie theatres. The Bengali film monthly Chitrabani is initiated.

1949 : June 30. Government re-introduces compulsory exhibition of ‘approved’ documentary films. Countrywide closure of cinemas in protest against the Government’s taxation policy. Entertainment Tax is raised to 50% in the Central Provinces and 75% in West Bengal. Indian Cinematograph 1918 amended to include new censorship classification for ‘Adult’ and ‘Unrestricted’ exhibitions of films. Film Enquiry Committee appointed under chairmanship of S.K. Patil. Films Division is set up. Dharti ke Lal is the first film to receive widespread release in the U.S.S.R. Dev Anand and Chetan Anand start Navketan Productions

Hindu Hollywood, 1944

Beverley Nichols, Verdict on India (1944) 8ate

'How big is the film industry in India?'

'Pretty big, and getting bigger everyday. For instance, there are over a hundred production companies. Their chief centres are Bombay, Calcutta, Poona, and Madras, and between them they employ about 80,000 people.'

'What about the movie theatres?'

'Well of course they vary tremendously, from air-conditioned palaces like the Metro in Bombay to bug-ridden barns with wooden benches in the smaller cities. Even so, there are over 1600 buildings capable of showing talkies.'

'What about the villages?

'The vans go out to them. Little travelling talkies about 500 of them. They usually show one long religious picture, and a Government "short". Some of the shorts are pretty good; they give elemental lessons in sanitation, first aid, rotation of crops, etc.' [Even metropolitan Delhi had a cinema hall officially classified as a 'touring talkie' till the 1980s. It was probably called Raj and was perhaps in the RK Puram area. It was stationary and never actually went from place to place. But it was housed in a temporary tin shed, like travelling talkies in rural India. Video cassettes and later video discs made them irrelevant in the villages . Around 2003 films started getting beamed from satellites to theatres in small towns bringing to an end another era.]

'Dim lights!'

The lights went out.

The producer began to rehearse the actors once again. Now there would be no point in narrating this incident, which is common in all film studios, were it not for the fact that it happened again a few minutes later and again and again, in all eight times. The lights went on, the lights went out, the make-up man dashed backwards and forwards, but aways it ended in the middle with the producer shouting 'cut'. And the curious thing was that he shouted it with the utmost good humour and the stars, instead of looking peeved or embarrassed, merely smiled.

'Does this always happen?'

'Pretty often. It isn't because they've got bad memories but because they try to do. too much. For instance, this girl's only halfway through starring in another picture for another company. She'll be acting in that to-morrow. No wonder she gets her lines mixed!'

'But why do the producers allow it?'

'They can't help it. Indian film stars are the most independent people in the world.'

Here are some financial facts about India's Hollywood. For one film a star may get as high a fee as 75,000 rupees, which is about $25,000. If she does three of these a year, which is quite possible, she is actually better off than if she were in Hollywood, because Indian income tax (even when 'the collector manages to extract it, which is seldom) is a fleabite compared to the British or the American.

This fortune she cherishes with remarkable diligence. No big cars, no grand houses [not in 1944 perhaps; things had changed in the 1950s: at least the men flaunted their wealth], and not even a hint of a gigolo. Bombay's Beverley Hills is a quiet suburb which does not boast a single swimming pool. No tourists even go to see it, no photographers ever pry their way over the garden walls [that started in the 21st century]. When the star walks out to her taxi in the morning, nobody turns his head [by the mid- or late- 1950s it was impossible for stars to step into the public and not be mobbed]. There is no demand for 'personal appearances' in India. [By the 1960s, maybe even the '50s, there was. In the 1990s has been stars, including minor ones, could make a living by inaugurating showrooms in affluent small towns, when they stopped getting film roles.]

Maybe she lives so quietly because her career is so short. Its end is as sudden as its beginning. Strange as it will sound to the Western director, an Indian girl may be starred in a full-length role within a few days of her first screen-test, and neither she nor anybody else sees anything odd in it. She twinkles brightly for a very few years three is considered quite a long life and then, suddenly, she disappears. The public have had enough of her. Why, nobody seems to know. She may be prettier, she may be a better actress; it makes no difference. Out she goes.

Compared with the wages of the stars, the wages of the rest of the personnel are modest, and of the writers, pitiable. For the complete scenario and dialogue of a full-length film an author considers himself lucky to receive two hundred rupees, which is about sixty dollars. That is one reason why Indian films arc marking time. '.

Religious themes dominate

But the real reason for the stagnation of India's Hollywood (which is almost entirely dominated by Hindu capital) is the same as the reason for the stagnation of everything else: religion.

The great majority of Indian pictures deal, in one form or another, with religious or mythological subjects. The camera is permanently focused on the remote past. 'The screen is literally a shadow screen across which there flits an endless procession of saintly ghosts, whispering the stories of ancient superstitions.

Plagiarism in the 1940s

Now and then, it is true, an advanced producer will attempt what he calls a modern 'social'. Since most of the script-writers are unable to think up any new ideas for themselves these 'socials' are pinched almost in their entirety from old American successes. They lift situations which were originally devised for somebody like Lucille Ball, wearing pyjamas against a background of skyscrapers, and they hand them to dove-eyed young women in flowing draperies, capering through miles of mango groves. The result is, to put it mildly, unhappy. Sophisticated back-chat doesn't ring true in a saree, particularly when the temple bells are ringing in the distance.

Offbeat producers

You must have a producer who is something of an iconoclast; he needs bite and speed and punch, he must have the spirit of attack.

There are such producers in India, but they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Among them must be mentioned Sohrab Modi, who recently showed me his film 'Sikander', which deals with the Indian invasion of Alexander the Great. This is a virile picture, with pace and flair, well up to the standard of that old masterpiece 'The Birth of a Nation'.

Another highly intelligent producer is J. B. H. Wadia, who made history with 'The Court Dancer', India's first motion picture with English dialogue. However, even 'The Court Dancer' cannot be called an unqualified success. It has some poetical photography; but to Western eyes its popular star Sadhona Bose is regrettably heavy on her feet, and its English dialogue is startlingly jejune. For instance, on numerous occasions, the only verbal come-back to a dramatic statement is the bald interjection 'Oh!' The effect of this is unintentionally comic. 'Darling, they are coming to kill you,' says the hero, or words to that effect. 'Oh!' replies Miss Bose. It is not an inspiring monosyllable, delivered in bulk.

Yet both Modi and Wadia have touches of genius; both are determined to devote their lives to lifting Indian films out of the slough of despond into which they have sunk. Their task will be a stern one.

Weary resignation in other films

The attitude of most of their contemporaries, even when they attempt to face up to the ancient tragedies with which their country is beset, is one of weary resignation. For example:

A Hindu Maiden had a Muslim brother! And in their Holy Friendship was embodied a Nation's sigh!

So runs the advertisement of an important film called Bhalai, which is a big box-office success. Need one say more? It is a theme that calls for blistering satire, and all it gets is a sigh. It is all very well to advertise a star like Ramola as 'The It girl of the Indian Screen' , or to ape the jargon of Hollywood in the publicity of Winayak's 'My Child' ('A skyful of stars! An eyeful of spectacle!! A soulful of sentiment!!!) In spite of this veneer of modernity, the religious element creeps in almost invariably, and needless to say, it is coloured by the personal religious prejudices of the producers most of whom are Hindus.

Film criticism

As a result there is practically no honest film criticism in India. With a very few honourable exceptions, the critic's pen is twisted according to his caste, his creed, or his political convictions.

Let me hasten to add that these statements are fully substantiated by Indians themselves.

'Film criticism in India is either a matter of blackmail or of bribery'

It was one of the chief publicists of Indian films who said that; I omit his name to spare him embarrassment.

'There is no honest film criticism to be found in the whole of India. There is no newspaper or magazine which cannot be influenced. Nobody attaches any value to film reviews.'

It was a Hungarian, F. Berko, who said that (he did not say it in India, of course, but in an American movie magazine).

'The world's low' 'a collection of journalistic sewer-rats' 'clowns with dirty fingers'. These are only a few of the epithets which Indians have coined for their own brothers of the critical profession.

This is a gloomy picture, but it is not an ungenerous one, and though it is painted by an Englishman it is not as dark as that which is painted by some Indians themselves, who seem to have lost all hope of advancement.

Extremely long films

Until recently all Indian films were of quite intolerable length; fifteen thousand feet was. nothing out of the common. The audience demanded it. So intent were they on getting their money's worth that they would sit in silence through a whole list of credits, unmoved by the names of the stars, the authors, the directors, only to burst into wild applause when the length of the film was flashed across the screen. 15,487 feet. Whoopee! That meant the film must be good! [No. It meant that that the audience felt it would get their money's worth]

The [2nd World] war has put a stop to these inordinate longueurs, owing to shortage of celluloid Government has issued an order that no film may be more than 1 1 ,000 feet. And though the audience chafes, and mutters that this is yet another example of the brutality of the British Raj, the producer and the intelligent film goer heaves a sigh of relief.

Indian actors

The Indian actors themselves. They form the true riches of the Indian screen. They have a born sense of drama; it is as natural for them to act as for thrushes to sing. We mentioned above that a girl may be given a star role a few days after her first screen test, and that nobody sees anything odd in it. Well, there isn't anything odd in it. She is a star and though it sounds incredible she has very little to learn.

Unlike his Western prototype, the Indian producer has to be constantly curbing his actors and actresses; their features are so mobile, their gestures so eloquent, and their emotional equipment so rich and spontaneous that his task is to damp the flame rather than to add fuel to it.

Moreover, the country abounds in magnificent types. There is no finer male specimen in the world than the Pathan. In the streets of the big cities you will see droves of lovely girls, with the huge eyes, the small chins, the delicate noses and the frail but firm figures which are the dream of the casting director. As for the eccentric types the fanatics, the clowns, the wizards, the grotesque India has them by the millions.

See also

Indian cinema: historical outline Covers the era before the first Indian feature film

Indian cinema: 1913-20

Indian cinema: 1920-29

Indian cinema: 1930-39

Indian cinema: 1940-49

Indian cinema: 1950-59

Indian cinema: 1960-69

Indian cinema: 1970-79

Indian cinema: 1980-89

Indian cinema: 1990-99

Indian cinema: 2000-09

Indian cinema: 2010-19
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