indian cinema heritage foundation

The Legacy of Walter Kaufmann: His Contribution to Hindi Cinema

27 May, 2020 | Book Excerpts by Amrit Gangar
Walter Kaufmann as a young boy in Prague. Image Courtesy: Walter Kaufmann Archive

Walter Kaufmann was born in a German speaking Jewish Family in Karlsbad, Bohemia (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic) on April 1, 1907. Karlsbad was a famous spa city and according to Kaufmann every summer had visitors like Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter, Felix Weingartner, among others. The profound musical environment of Karlsbad with its outstanding symphonies and regular opera performances had a strong influence on the young Walter Kaufmann.

Kaufmann’s parents Julius and Josephine Kaufmann (nee Wagner) lived at Mineralwasser-Versendung in Karlsbad and Walter was born there at House No.1043. According to Kaufmann’s birth certificate, his father was a private official domiciled at Karlsbad. In 1938, his family moved to Bilkova in Prague.

During a very turbulent time in history, Walter Kaufmann had the opportunity to work in the German film industry in Berlin (‘Be-llywood’), and also in the Indian film industry in Bombay (‘Bo-llywood’). Germany‘s biggest film production studios, Universum-Film-Aktiengesellschaft (better known as Ufa), were situated in Babelsberg, Berlin. Bombay housed the maximum number of film studios in India.
 

UFA Studios, Berlin. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Kaufmann began his stint with the Indian film industry when most of its facilities were based in Dadar. Producer-Director Mohan Dayaram (M.D.) Bhavnani with whom Kaufmann worked had his office in Dadar. Incidentally, Bhavnani had also apprenticed at the Ufa in 1924, where Kaufmann had composed film music in the 1920s.
Kaufmann began his stint with the Indian film industry when most of its facilities were based in Dadar. Producer-Director Mohan Dayaram (M.D.) Bhavnani with whom Kaufmann worked had his office in Dadar. Incidentally, Bhavnani had also apprenticed at the Ufa in 1924, where Kaufmann had composed film music in the 1920s. It is possible that Kaufmann and Bhavnani had met in the Ufa. However, as Kaufmann said later, Bhavnani had invited him to write film music for his film. While in Bombay, Kaufmann also composed music for several documentary films and newsreels produced by the Information Films of India (IFI) set up by the British Government in India. So in a sense Kaufmann provided music to films beyond mainstream cinema.
 
Film Director Mohan Bhavnani (1903-1962). Image courtesy: Amrit Gangar
By the time Walter Kaufmann arrived at Bombay in 1934, it was an end of the silent film era in India. Though the first sound film Alam Ara was produced by Imperial Film Co. in 1931, silent films continued to be made until 1934. Bombay was a major centre of production and by the end of 1934, talking picture production had reached its peak with 86 companies in Bombay and Maharashtra alone.
 
By the time Walter Kaufmann arrived at Bombay in 1934, it was an end of the silent film era in India. Though the first sound film Alam Ara was produced by Imperial Film Co. in 1931, silent films continued to be made until 1934. Bombay was a major centre of production and by the end of 1934, talking picture production had reached its peak with 86 companies in Bombay and Maharashtra alone. Thus by 1934-35, Indian talkies had firmly established themselves. However, when Kaufmann arrived in India he found that there was neither a theatre nor an opera house in the European sense of the term. By 1917, the Opera House in Bombay, like many other dramatic theatres, began to show films, catering to the growing popularity of cinema and, in 1925 Pathe’s Cinema rented the whole theatre. From 1929 to 1932, however, Madan’s Theatre leased the Opera House to various Indian theatrical concerns like the Parsi Elphinston Dramatic Company.
 
Prem Nagar (City of Love, 1940), Bimla Kumari on the song-synopsis booklet cover, Image courtesy: Osian's CARD, Walter Kaufmann composed background music for this film
 
Fairly soon, Kaufmann reconnected with Mohan Bhavnani, about whom he wrote, “He was not particularly successful with the Indian public because he had too much taste. But he was excellent…”  Kaufmann composed inter alia the music for Bhavnani’s film The Mill which was banned by the film censors in Bombay and elsewhere. Director-Producer Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani’s films, included Mazdoor (The Mill, 1934), Jagran (The Awakening, 1935), Navjeevan (1935), Jhoothi Sharm (Naked Truth, 1940) and Prem Nagar (City of Love, 1940). Jagran was released in Bombay on 1 January 1936 and Walter Kaufmann is credited as music director of the film along with S.P. Mukerji.

Unfortunately, Bhavnani’s film Mazdoor or The Mill produced in 1934 for which Walter Kaufmann had composed background music had to face censorship problems. In an advertisement, Kaufmann is credited for the film’s ‘orchestration’. (Music was composed by B.S. Hogan).
 
Mazdoor / Mill (1934) for which Walter Kaufmann had composed background music – song-synopsis booklet cover. Image courtesy: Amrit Gangar
The President of the Mill Owners’ Association was a member of the censor board in Bombay and tried to get the film banned allegedly for its communist propaganda. The Punjab Board cleared the film initially, but following near-riots after it was released in Lahore, banned it. The Delhi ban was followed by a Central Government Decree that the film had an inflammatory influence on workers.
 
The President of the Mill Owners’ Association was a member of the censor board in Bombay and tried to get the film banned allegedly for its communist propaganda. The Punjab Board cleared the film initially, but following near-riots after it was released in Lahore, banned it. The Delhi ban was followed by a Central Government Decree that the film had an inflammatory influence on workers.
While drawing attention of the screening organizations, particularly in Bengal and the Punjab, The Mirror weekly appealed to the film industry to “make separate representations to respective Provincial Governments to be on their Boards of Film Censors.” While addressing the Government directly, it argued, “The principal ground motivating the demand has been that the film industry in India has always been and still is, in such a condition that the grant or otherwise of a certificate by the Board of Film Censor can make or mar the future of any individual producer.”
Mazdoor was re-released in 1936 as Garib Parivar but it was banned again. And finally though the ban was lifted after five years of its making, there was uproar against the way film censors were behaving. While drawing attention of the screening organizations, particularly in Bengal and the Punjab, The Mirror weekly appealed to the film industry to “make separate representations to respective Provincial Governments to be on their Boards of Film Censors.” While addressing the Government directly, it argued, “The principal ground motivating the demand has been that the film industry in India has always been and still is, in such a condition that the grant or otherwise of a certificate by the Board of Film Censors can make or mar the future of any individual producer.” Referring to Bhavnani’s film The Mill it said, “Government may as well remember that the banning of The Mill in 1935 was the cause of the subsequent liquidation of the firm producing that film. Instances of other producers who have similarly gone to the wall are on record. Instances of films are equally well on record where extensive alterations, ordered by a Board unaided by experts like representatives of our industry, have produced an effect as bad as on the producers of The Mill and other prohibited producers.” Mazdoor/ The Mill remains a significant film because it was the well known Hindustani litterateur Munshi Premchand’s first ever direct encounter with cinema. Writing for films, Premchand lived in Bombay for ten months but left the city with a bitter feeling that cinema was no place for a literary person.
 
Prem Chand (1880-1936), Indian Postal stamp
Mazdoor/ The Mill remains a significant film because it was the well known Hindustani litterateur Munshi Premchand’s first ever direct encounter with cinema. Writing for films, Premchand lived in Bombay for ten months but left the city with a bitter feeling that cinema was no place for a literary person.
Jagran / The Awakening (1935) for which Walter Kaufman had composed background music – song-synopsis booklet cover, Image courtesy: Amrit Gangar

Anyway, Mohan Bhavnani persisted, and also collaborated with Walter Kaufmann. In 1936, his film Jagran or The Awakening had music composed by Walter Kaufmann in collaboration with S.P. Mukerji. It was actually Bhavnani’s sequel to Premchand scripted Mazdoor /The Mill. Written by Narottam Vyas, an admirer of Premchand, the title evoked the journal Jagran edited by Premchand. Produced independently by Bhavnani, the melodrama about unemployment was shot at the Wadia Movietone Studios, Parel in Bombay. (Later in 1942, Wadia Movietone was bought by V. Shantaram, who started Rajkamal Kalamandir there.) Sometime later, Walter Kaufmann’s friend Willy Haas joined Bhavnani and wrote scripts for his films, including Jhoothi Sharm (Naked Truth) and Prem Nagar (City of Love), both the films were released in 1940.
 
Willy Haas (1891-1973). Image courtesy: Christoph v. Ungern-Sternberg
 
In his autobiography (in German) Haas wrote that his plans to immigrate to India became tangible due to the endeavours of his “friend, the composer Walter Kaufmann, who had a big position at All India Radio.”
In his autobiography (in German) Haas wrote that his plans to immigrate to India became tangible due to the endeavours of his “friend, the composer Walter Kaufmann, who had a big position at All India Radio.” Haas added, “I did not find words to thank him…. He said, ‘This evening you will come to my house for dinner. There you will see your boss Mohan Bhavnani and his wife.’ “
 
Royal Opera House, Mumbai. Image courtesy: Amrit Gangar

By 1932 it had become clear to Willy Haas that he would have to leave Germany which was in the grip of Fascist domination. As Anil Bhatti describes, “He returned to Prague in 1933, where he worked as editor and script-writer. After Hitler’s entry into Prague he decided to leave Europe. Although there was the possibility of getting an American visa, he chose instead to accept the offer of his friend Walter Kaufmann, the composer, who was already in India working with the All India Radio in Bombay. Through the mediation of Paul Claudel, Haas was able to go from Prague to the south of France, where he could meet some of his friends from Prague, among them Franz Werfel. He reached Bombay in June 1939, where a post of a scenario-writer with Bhavnani Productions was waiting for him. A film version of Ibsen’s Ghosts, The Legend of The Dead Eyes, which he called an ‘Indian religious village story of my own invention’ and a scenario Kanchan, in which the actress Leela Chitnis played the leading role, were the creative results that Haas mentions.” This information is based on ‘Career of Mr Vilem Haas’ (typed manuscript in the possession of Dr Herta Haas). This document, as Bhatti writes, was apparently required by Haas for his residential formalities in India.
However, Leela Chitnis's early German political connections (1930-33) are interesting. Her Marxist husband Dr Chitnis was associated with Com. M.N. Roy (real name Narendranath Bhattacharya) who was living underground or incognito in Bombay. One day, a German woman, Louise Guzzler, a member of the Polit Bureau of the underground German Communist Party arrived at Bombay Port and headed to the residence of the Chitnis’, where Roy was holding meetings. Louise was attracted towards Roy. As Leela Chitnis writes, 1932-33 was the most exciting period in her life.
However, as the actress Leela Chitnis mentions in her autobiography Chanderi Duniyet (in Marathi), after the completion of Bombay Talkies’ film Bandhan in 1940, she produced the film Kanchan for Chitra Production, the company she had started along with her second husband Gulani in 1941. In the same year, Bombay Talkies had completed Jhoola, starring her, and with that film her contract with Bombay Talkies was over. Preceding these two films was Kangan (1939). All these three super hit films had starred Leela Chitnis with Ashok Kumar. She does not refer to Willy Haas in her autobiography. However, her early German political connections (1930-33) are interesting. Her Marxist husband Dr Chitnis was associated with Com. M.N. Roy (real name Narendranath Bhattacharya) who was living underground or incognito in Bombay. One day, a German woman, Louise Guzzler, a member of the Polit Bureau of the underground German Communist Party arrived at Bombay Port and headed to the residence of the Chitnis’, where Roy was holding meetings. Louise was attracted towards Roy. As Leela Chitnis writes, 1932-33 was the most exciting period in her life. However, the situation changed once Roy was arrested in 1934 and Leela Chitnis and her husband Dr. Chitnis turned more towards literature and theatre, and eventually to cinema. Obviously, when Walter Kaufmann arrived in Bombay the political atmosphere in Bombay / India was quite charged.

In the field of films, Kaufmann also cooperated with Willy Haas in Bombay. It was most probably for the film called by Willy Haas Dorflegendchen (small legends of the village). Willy Haas wrote the script and Kaufmann composed the music. It is also possible that this refers to the film entitled Indische Legende (Indian legend) the script of which Willy Haas wrote after long studies of Indian village life and of Indian mythology.
 
Ek Din Ka Sultan (1945). Image Courtesy: Cinemaazi archives. 
It should be interesting to know that while in Bombay, Walter Kaufmann also worked with filmmakers and producers other than M. Bhavnani. Ek Din Ka Sultan, for which Kaufmann composed background music, was produced by Sohrab Modi’s company Minerva Movietone.
It should be interesting to know that while in Bombay, Walter Kaufmann also worked with filmmakers and producers other than M. Bhavnani. Ek Din Ka Sultan, for which Kaufmann composed background music, was produced by Sohrab Modi’s company Minerva Movietone. Written by Agha Jani Kashmiri with lyrics by Wali Saheb, Ek Din Ka Sultan was a minor historical. Hailed as ‘good entertainment’ it was released at New West End (today’s Naaz Cinema on Lamington Road, Mumbai) on 2 November 1945, barely a year before Kaufmann left Bombay for London. Critics received Ek Din Ka Sultan as a well-directed picture, having some beautiful production values. The film credits Walter Kaufmann for its background music. Its music directors were Rafique Ghaznavi, Shanti Kumar and D. Gadekar. Kaufmann had a definite thinking about film music as we can see in the text of his lecture include in the previous chapter.
The background music composed by Walter Kaufmann for Ek Din Ka Sultan is quite distinct from the usual Indian films of the time. Kaufmann’s background is very sparce, without congesting every centimeter of the soundtrack - the long patches of silence that he allows the film offer it a certain cinematographic (more dramatic) space; without the usual wailing violin or screaming santoor.
The background music composed by Walter Kaufmann for Ek Din Ka Sultan is quite distinct from the usual Indian films of the time. Kaufmann’s background is very sparce, without congesting every centimeter of the soundtrack - the long patches of silence that he allows the film offer it a certain cinematographic (more dramatic) space; without the usual wailing violin or screaming santoor. Kaufmann’s background score is minimal and mature, providing a certain tonal colour to the black & white film. Unfortunately, there are not many samples to look at, as even the National Film Archive of India in Pune has no Bhavnani films, except Prem Nagar, which does not acknowledge Walter Kaufmann’s name on its credit titles. However, according to the music director Naushad Ali, Kaufmann had composed its background score.
 
Music Composer Naushad Ali (1919-2006) at work. Image courtesy: Osian's CARD

Though Walter Kaufmann’s notes mention about his composing music for numerous documentary films produced by the Information Films of India (IFI), we do not find the exact information for want of actual source material. However, these films could be only after 1940 since the IFI was started by the Government of India in that year, just after the Second World War had begun.

However Walter Kaufmann spoke on Indian music as also film music. The Department of German at the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Canada), for example, wanted him to speak on “Music for Films” during its week long (27 November – 2 December 1955) Festival of the Arts.
 
Author Amrit Gangar outside the Bloomington house where Walter Kaufmann had once lived. Image courtesy: Aditi Deo

Walter Kaufmann died on 8 September 1984 in Bloomington. Constantly struggling with ill health, he did field work, research, wrote, composed, performed, living in exile was not always easy. He has left behind priceless, authentic information and knowledge for India and the world.

Walter Kaufmann was “frightfully good” as a greeting card sent to him said.    

This article is an extract from the book The Music that Still Rings at Dawn, Every Dawn: Walter Kaufmann in India, 1934-1946 written by Amrit Gangar and published by Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai, 2013.

All the images did not appear in the orginal book.


None of the information and/or images in the feature may be reprinted/replicated without the author's permission. 

 

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About the Author

Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai-based film theorist, curator, historian and author. He writes both in Gujarati and English and has been widely published. Two of his Gujarati books on cinema have won the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi’s awards. He was the Consultant Curator to the National Museum of Indian Cinema, Government of India, located in Mumbai. He has presented his theory of Cinema of Prayoga at various prominent venues in India and abroad, including the Tate Modern, London; the Pompidou Centre, Paris; Lodz Film School, Poland; Santiniketan, India, et al. He was Indian contributor to the Film International published from Tehran, Iran and the bilingual (English / Japanese) ART iT, published from Tokyo, Japan.


Gangar has been the curator of film programs for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kerala; the Kala Ghoda Artfest, Mumbai; the Mumbai International Festival for Documentary, Short & Animation Films; the Danish Film Institute, Copenhagen, etc. Besides Walter Kaufmann, he has also written books on Franz Osten (Bombay Talkies) and Paul Zils (one of the founders of the still active Indian Documentary Producers’ Association), both film directors from Germany. His book Chalchitra / Chhalchitra has been published by the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi, Gandhinagar. He was also active in Indian film society movement and headed the Mumbai-based film society Screen Unit that has published two major books on Ritwik Ghatak. 

Over the years, Gangar has worked on productions of numerous European and Scandinavian films and video installations, including Lars von Trier and Jorgen Leth's Five Obstructions. He is an Adjunct Professor at the IDC-IIT Bombay.


    

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