FILM MEDIA IN SUBCONTINENT-1
FILM MEDIA IN SUBCONTINENT AND PAKISTAN-I
Film is a term that encompasses motion pictures as individual
projects, as well as the field in
general. The origin of the name comes from the fact that
photographic film has historically been the
primary medium for recording and displaying motion pictures.
Many other terms exist for an individual motion picture,
including picture, picture show, and most
commonly, movie. Additional terms for the field in general
include the big screen, the silver screen, the
cinema and the movies.
Films are produced by recording actual people and objects with
cameras, or by creating them using
animation techniques and/or special effects. They comprise a
series of individual frames, but when these
images are shown rapidly in succession, the illusion of motion
is given to the viewer. Flickering between
frames is not seen due to an effect known as
persistence of vision
— whereby the eye retains a visual
image for a fraction of a second after the source has been
A true art-form
Film is considered by many to be an important art form; films
entertain, educate, enlighten and
inspire audiences. The visual elements of cinema need no
translation, giving the motion picture a universal
power of communication. Any film can become a worldwide
attraction, especially with the addition of
dubbing or subtitles that translate the dialogue. Films are also
artifacts created by specific cultures, which
reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them.
Films come to subcontinent
The Lumière Brothers of France exhibited their short films in
December 1895 at Grande Cafe,
Paris. The following year, they brought the show to India and
held its premiere at the Watson Hotel in
Bombay on 7 July 1896. It was a package of 6 films viz, Entry of
cinematograph, Arrival of the train, The
sea bath, A demolition, Leaving the factory and Ladies and
Soldiers on wheels. From 18 July 1896, films
were released at the Novelty Theatre on a regular basis.
Entrance tickets ranged from four anaas to one
Raja Harishchandra (1913) was the first silent feature film made
in subcontinent. It was made by Dadasaheb
Phalke. By the 1930s, the industry was producing over 200 films
per annum. The first Indian sound film,
Ardeshir Irani's Alam Ara (1931), was a super hit. There was
clearly a huge market for talkies and musicals;
Bollywood and all the regional film industries quickly switched
to sound filming.
The 1930s and 1940s were tumultuous times: like the whole world
the subcontinent was rocked by the
Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence
movement, and the violence of the Partition.
There were a number of filmmakers who tackled tough social
issues, or used the struggle for independence
as a backdrop for their plots. In late 1950s, Bollywood films
moved from black-and-white to colour. Lavish
romantic musicals and melodramas were the staple fare at the
cinema. Successful actors included Dev
Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor.
Constrained by rushed production schedules and small budgets,
some writers and musicians have
Accusations of plagiarism
been known to resort to plagiarism. They copy ideas, plot lines,
tunes from sources Hollywood and other
Western movies, Western pop hits).
In past times, this could be done with impunity. Copyright
enforcement was lax here. As for the Western
sources, the film industry was largely unknown to Westerners,
who would not even be aware that their
material was being copied. Audiences also may not have been
aware of the plagiarism, since many in the
Indian audience were unfamiliar with Western films and tunes.
While copyright enforcements are more familiar with foreign
movies and music, flagrant plagiarism may
have diminished -- however, there is no general agreement that
Telling stories from the epics using hand-drawn tableau images
in scroll paintings, with
accompanying live sounds have been an age old tradition. These
tales, mostly the familiar stories of gods
and goddesses, are revealed slowly through choreographic
movements of painted glass slides in a lantern,
which create illusions of movements. And so when the Lumière
brothers' representatives held the first
public showing at Mumbai's (Bombay) Watson's Hotel on July 7,
1896, the new phenomenon did not create
much of a stir here and no one in the audience ran out at the
image of the train speeding towards them, as it
did elsewhere. The viewer took the new experience as something
already familiar to them
In Calcutta, Hiralal Sen photographed scenes from some of the
plays at the Classic Theatre. Such films were
shown as added attractions after the stage performances or taken
to distant venue where the stage
performers could not reach. The possibility of reaching a large
audience through recorded images which
could be projected several times through mechanical gadgets
caught the fancy of people in the performing
arts and the stage and entertainment business. The first decade
of the 20th century saw live and recorded
performances being clubbed together in the same program.
Influence of traditional arts – music, dance on cinema
The strong influence of its traditional arts, music, dance and
popular theatre – which was already in
existence for the last about 80 years, on the cinema movement in
subcontinent in its early days, is probable
responsible for its characteristic enthusiasm for inserting song
and dance sequences in subcontinent cinema,
even till today.
First local film showing
Director Dada Saheb Phalke made a studio in Dadar Main Road,
wrote the scenario, erected the set
Raja Harish Chandra
and started shooting for his first venture Raja Harishchandra in
1912. The first full-length story film of
Phalke was completed in 1912 and released at the Coronation
cinema on April 21, 1913, for special invitees
and members of the Press. The film was widely acclaimed by one
and all and proved to be a great success.
Phalke hailed from an orthodox Hindu household - a family of
priests with strong religious roots. So, when
technology made it possible to tell stories through moving
images, it was but natural that the film pioneer
turned to his own ancient epics for source material. The
phenomenal success of Raja Harishchandra was
kept up by Phalke with a series of mythological films that
followed - Mohini Bhasmasur (1914), significant
for introducing the first woman to act before the cameras -
Kamalabai Gokhale. The significant titles that
followed include - Satyawan Savitri (1914), Satyavadi Raja
Harischandra (1917), Lanka Dahan (1917), Shri
Krishna Janma (1918) and Kalia Mardan (1919).
(Here we will discuss different regions in the subcontinent
where the film art flourished. The
mention of Lahore as one very strong pocket which nurtured a
film industry will be made in the next setting
along with cinema life in Pakistan).
The first film in Southern India was made in 1916 by R Nataraja
Mudaliar- Keechaka Vadham. As
the title indicates the subject is again a mythological from the
Mahabharata. Another film made in Madras -
Valli Thiru-Manam (1921) by Whittaker drew critical acclaim and
box office success.
a region rich in culture and intellectual
activity, the first Bengali feature film in 1917, was remake
of Phalke's Raja Harishchandra. Titled Satyawadi Raja
Harishchandra, it was directed by Rustomjee
Dotiwala. Less prolific than Bombay based film industry, around
122 feature films were made in Calcutta in
the Silent Era.
The first feature film in
also the first in entire South India, Keechakavatham was made during 1916-
17, directed by Nataraja Mudaliar.
Calcutta film Industry
Madan Theatres of Calcutta produced Shirin Farhad and Laila
Majnu (1931) well composed and
recorded musicals. Both films replete with songs had a
tremendous impact on the audience and can be said
to have established the unshakeable hold of songs on our films.
Chandidas (1932, Bengali), the story of a
Vaishnavite poet-priest who falls in love with a low caste
washerwoman and defies convention, was a superhit.
P C Barua produced Devdas (1935) based on Saratchandra
Chatterjee's famous story about frustrated
love, influenced a generation of viewers and filmmakers.
Cinema Starts Talking
In the early thirties, the silent Indian cinema began to talk,
sing and dance. Alam Ara produced by
Ardeshir Irani, released on March 14, 1931 was the first Indian
cinema with a sound track.
Mumbai became the hub of the Indian film industry having a
number of self-contained production units.
The thirties saw hits like Madhuri (1932), Indira, M A (1934),
Anarkali (1935), Miss Frontier Mail (1936),
and Punjab Mail (1939).
Hindu cast system was first to get attention
The hindu culture based strongly on cast-divide and not be
changed by long muslim rule, but
strongly felt by hindu scholars, was the first to get attention
when a strong mass medium like film was
Among the leading filmmakers of Mumbai during the forties, V
Shantaram was arguably the most
innovative and ambitious. From his first Ayodhya ka Raja (1932)
to Admi (1939), it was clear that he was a
filmmaker with a distinct style. He dealt with issues like cast
system, religious bigotry and women's rights.
Even when Shantaram took up stories from the past, he used these
as parables to highlight contemporary
situations. While Amirt Manthan (1934) opposed the senseless
violence of Hindu rituals, Dharmatama
(1935) dealt with Brahmanical orthodoxy and cast system. Duniya
Na Mane (1937) was about a young
woman's courageous resistance to a much older husband whom she
had been tricked into marrying. Admi
(1939) was one of Shantaram's major works.
Tamil cinema emerged as a veritable entertainment industry in
1929 with the creation of General Picture
Corporation in Madras (Chennai). Most of the Tamil films
produced were multilingual productions, with
versions in Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada until film production
units were established in Hyderabad,
Trivandrum and Bangalore. The first talkie of South India,
Srinivas Kalyanam was made by A Narayanan in
Mehboob Khan 40s to 50s
Mehboob made his films down to earth, dramatic, even
melodramatic. Roti made in the early 1940s
inspired by the German Expressionism, is a real critique of
Indian society with prophetic insight. It deals
with two models - one of a millionaire, possessed by money and
power in an industrial civilization, the other
of a tribal couple living in a primeval state of nature. The
millionaire is saved by the couple after an air
crash, the tribal couple immigrates to the city, do not find
happiness and return. The millionaire is ruined in
the city, tries futilely to find salvation among the tribal.
Mehboob remade his film Aurat (1940) in colour and with
drastically different imagery as Mother India
(1957), which was a massive success and later even acquired an
epic status. The story revolves around
Radha, played by Nargis, one of the strongest woman characters
of Indian cinema. Her husband having lost
both arms in an accident leaves her. Alone, she raises her
children while fending off the financial as well as
the sexual pressure from a moneylender. One of her sons, Birju
becomes a rebel and the other one Ramu
remains a dutiful son. In the end the long suffering mother
kills her rebel son, as his blood fertilizes the soil.
Highly successful and critically acclaimed, Mehboob's films
often derive from clash between pre-capitalist
ruralism and an increasingly modernized state with its
commercial-industrial practices and values.
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bimal Roy entered the field of cinema
as a camera assistant. His
directorial debut was with Udayer Pathey (1944). He introduced a
new era of post World War romanticrealist
melodramas that was an integration of the Bengal School style
with that of De Sica. Do Bigha Zamin
(1953) and Sujata were two of the most notable films of Bimal
Roy, who basically was a reformist, a
humanist liberal. Do Bigha Zamin was one of the Indian first
films to chart mass migration of rural people
to cities and their degradation in urban slums. Though the
situation was tragic, Roy sought to relieve the
starkness by brave and hopeful songs and dances. Sujata dealt
with the disturbances created to a lost soul
from the world of untouchable underclass who escaped
accidentally to the world of the urban middle class.
Born in Peshawar, now in Pakistan as son of Prithviraj Kapoor,
Raj Kapoor acted the role of a
megastar, successful producer and a director. He started as a
clapper-boy in the Hindi film industry and
latter became one of the most successful directors of the
industry. He set up the R K Films in 1948 and
made his first directorial venture Aag. His earlier films Awara
(1951) and Shri 420 (1955) evince a
sentimental approach to social reforms, presenting political
independence as a loss of innocence in
exchange of stability.
Pakistan shared its film history with India from 1896 to 1947.
Lahore produced many films and a
Pakistan film history from 1896-1947
big number of Pakistani artists debuted in this period.
Pakistani artists before 1947
The first silent film from Lahore was
The Daughter of Today
released in 1924 and the inaugural
Punjabi or talkie film from Lahore was
in 1932. (Alam Ara was released in 1931, which
means Lahore was going as fast and one top hum after Bombay for
film making in the subcontinent.
To be continued...