indian cinema heritage foundation

Ramachandra Gopal Torney - A Pioneer of Indian Cinema

14 Apr, 2020 | Archival Reproductions by Sanjit Narwekar
Dadasaheb Torney

At this point, it would be interesting to catch up with another pioneer, a talented practitioner of the new art form, who showed a marked indifference to posterity preferring to be in the midst of the action rather than planning his career with care. Ramachandra Gopal Torney was born on April 13, 1880, at Sukulwadi in the Sindudurg district of western India. He completed his high school at Malvan and came to Bombay to join the Greaves Cotton Electrical Company in Bombay. As we have seen earlier Torney was instrumental in making the first story-film Pundalik in 1912, a full year before Dadasaheb Phalke made his path-breaking Raja Harishchandra but could not make a further breakthrough because he was almost immediately transferred to the company’s office at Karachi.

Torney was instrumental in making the first story-film Pundalik in 1912, a full year before Dadasaheb Phalke made his path-breaking Raja Harishchandra
Once in Karachi, he continued to work for the office but simultaneously opened a film distribution company to import and show American films in Karachi. While doing this he met a dynamic young man, Baburao Pai, whom he immediately recruited to look after his concern. However, when he saw Phalke’s Lanka Dahan and Shri Krishna Janma something in his very soul stirred and he decided that he wanted to get into active filmmaking. This time he did not dither and quit his job and came to Bombay where he used contacts to open an agency to sell American projectors to keep body and soul together.

In the meantime, he scouted around for production opportunities. Impressed by the work being done by Baburao Painter he accepted a proposal to join the Maharashtra Film Company where he moved about freely from department to department, imbibing whatever he could. However, in spite of the friendships he stuck up, he felt uncomfortable in the restricted atmosphere of a studio. Hence, by 1922, he had left the Maharashtra Film Company and was on his own again. This time he started importing film equipment under the new name of Movie Camera Company.
Impressed by the work being done by Baburao Painter he accepted a proposal to join the Maharashtra Film Company where he moved about freely from department to department, imbibing whatever he could.
He soon discovered that Baburao Pai was capable of looking after his business and so, teamed up with director Manilal Joshi to produce Prithvi Vallabh (1924). The mild reception to the film saw Torney back in the business of film distribution, also working as the General Manager of the Royal Art Studio. In 1928 he started Famous Pictures,  a distribution concern which was to endure the next couple of decades. During this era, however, it distributed the films of the Aryan Film Company and Prabhat Film Company.
 
Dadasaheb Torney and K P Bhave with cameraman S D Patil standing behind
 
With the company secured and Baburao Pai to look after its interests, Torney convinced Ardeshir Irani to develop his own production facilities. Not only did he help him do that but also took over as General Manager of the new company, Imperial.
With the company secured and Baburao Pai to look after its interests, Torney convinced Ardeshir Irani to develop his own production facilities. Not only did he help him do that but also took over as General Manager of the new company, Imperial. While at the Imperial, Torney directed a couple of movies for the company but they were of no great consequence: Sindabad The Sailor (1930) and Dilawar (1931). However, he made a greater contribution. It was Torney, with his contacts in America and ever alert to new trends, who first imported the Audio Camex Recording Machinery and offered it to the Sagar Film Company. Torney also helped many other companies including the Ranjit Film Company and the Prabhat Film Company to make his first Talkies.
It was Torney, with his contacts in America and ever alert to new trends, who first imported the Audio Camex Recording Machinery and offered it to the Sagar Film Company. Torney also helped many other companies including the Ranjit Film Company and the Prabhat Film Company to make his first Talkies.
Having helped the birth of the talkies he went back to developing his own interests: he established the banner of Saraswati Film Company in collaboration with Dorabsha Callah and Baburao Pai and set himself up as a producer on December 31, 1931. His first film was Shyam Sunder, which was written and directed by Bhalji Pendharkar, who had earlier written his film Prithvi Vallabh and who was to develop into a major director in the early talkie era. Torney made several interesting films during the talkie era, most of them directed by other directors, generous to the core, Torney helped many a filmmaker to prosper-sometimes at the cost of his own well being.

These were filmmakers who were more or less self-taught and had made it in the industry exclusively on their own merit but there were also those who had trained with one or two of the prominent film companies before setting up on their own.

This is a reproduction of the original published in Marathi Cinema in Retrospect published by Maharashtra Film, Stage and Cultural Development Corporation Ltd. in 1995

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About the Author

Sanjit Narwkar took his Bachelor's degree in Statistics and his Master's degree in Economics from the University of Bombay. After a year of banking research, he took up a full-time career in film journalism. He has been Assistant Editor, Film World, Chied Sub Editor, Star & Style, and News Editor, Screen. He is presently Bureau Correspondent (India) for the Tokyo-based trade magazine Movie/TV Marketing. Among the books he has written/edited include: Genres of Idnian Cinema, Indian Documentary In The Eighties, Films Division And The Indian Documentary. He has also complied and edited the single-volume reference book Directory of Indian Filmmakers & Films, published by Flicks Books, UK. He has also scripted four Marathi feature films, several television serials and innumerable documentaries. He has worked on several Selection Committees for international film festivals. He has also conducted interviews for the Ora Archives Programme of All India Radio. 

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