indian cinema heritage foundation

'Ye Raat Phir Na Aayegi'- Bombay Talkies

22 Mar, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

In one of Mumbai’s major suburbs Malad (West), between SV Road and Link Road is situated the 'B.T. Compound’. Littered with sludge and garbage, divided into countless random narrow streets this industrial area holds within itself hundreds of factories and small scale industries and echoes of the din made by the machines, chisels and hammers. Those who spend most of their time amongst these factories are far from knowing the glorious past of this place in fact most of them do not even know why it was named 'B.T. Compound.  "Well sir, who has that much time? ... and even then what will we get out of knowing about it?" said the man standing at the paan shop in plain and simple words.

Bombay Talkies has given more than 3 dozen hits and actors like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, the singer-actor Kishore Kumar and singer Kavi Pradeep all started their careers here.
His argument is quite accurate. Anyways what does a common man caught up in the hustle bustle of life has to do with the fact that this is the same place where once instead of the din of machines and hammer sounds of ‘lights ', ‘sound’, ‘camera', ' action’ and ‘cut’ echoed across the hallways or that prominent producers like Sashadhar Mukherjee were birthed by Bombay Talkies which has given more than 3 dozen hit films along with Achhut Kanya (1936), Kangan(1939), Bandhan (1940), Jhoola (1941), Kismet (1943), Jwar Bhata (1944), Ziddi (1948) and Mahal (1949) or that actors like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala and singer-actor Kishore Kumar and song writer and singer Kavi Pradeep all started their careers here.

In a relatively open space in the middle of the 'BT Compound' till today stands the arched structure which once housed the residence and office of the founder Himanshu Rai. According to the ‘B.T. Compound Small Scale Industries Association’s’ former president J.M. Sharma, the structure was alright till the 1980’s decade and even housed 2-3 factories. But then suddenly one day due to a fire the bungalow was destroyed and since then just its structure stands. Next to the bungalows the studio floors still stand but both of them have turned into factory floors now.

Of the famous trio ‘Lal-Bal-Pal’ from our freedom struggle, Bipin Chandra Pal’s son Niranjan Pal was pursuing his medical studies in London when he met Himanshu Rai and soon they turned into close friends. As Niranjan Pal’s aptitude was not towards studies, he soon gave up his desire to be a doctor and joined the Kent Film Company in 1913. In fact all the credit of making Himanshu Rai an actor goes to Niranjan Pal as he had persuaded Himanshu Rai to act as the main lead in his play Goddess
Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din


Made in partnership with the German Company Emelka Cojern and Indian producer Moti Sagar’s The Great Eastern Film Corporation the film The Light Of Asia Alias Prem Sanyas was Himanshu Rai’s first film where he played the role of Lord Buddha. His co-star in the film which was released in 1925 was an Anglo-Indian woman named Sita Devi whose real name was Rene Smith.  There after he played the main lead in A Throw Of Dice/ Prapancha Pash (1929) and Shiraz (1928).
Rabindra Nath Tagore’s niece Devika Rani, who was studying architecture in London, came in contact with Himanshu Rai for the film’s set design and Himanshu Rai ended up casting her as the heroine of the film.
Karma, Himanshu Rai’s first talkie film was made in the year 1933 in London in both English and Hindi. Himanshu Rai was also the film’s producer. Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore’s niece Devika Rani, who was studying architecture in London, came in contact with Himanshu Rai for the film’s set design and Himanshu Rai ended up casting her as the heroine of the film. Directed by J.L. Freer Hunt and composed by Earnest Broadhurst, the film’s financer was Sir Richard Temple whose father used to be Mumbai’s Governor at one time. All this information was given to me during a meeting by Niranjan Pal’s son and Hindi cinema’s once famous PRO Colin Pal whose entire childhood was spent in Bombay Talkies.
Actress Devika Rani. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

(According to Colin Pal, Sir Richard Temple’s father was Mumbai’s Governor. But according to historical documents Mumbai had just one governor with the surname ‘Temple’ and his full name was Richard Temple. He was at this post from 1877 to 1880. Colin Pal has passed away a few years back and it is no longer possible to verify whether the father and son shared the same name.)
After Karma’s release, Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani and Sir Richard Temple came to Mumbai where in the year 1933 they created the first public limited company Bombay Talkies.
As Colin Pal recalled, Himanshu Rai was already married to a German woman when during the film Karma he married Devika Rani. After Karma’s release, Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani and Sir Richard Temple came to Mumbai where in the year 1933 they created the first public limited company Bombay Talkies. Due to Sir Richard Temple’s influence, the well-known industrialists F.E.Dinshaw, Sir Feroze Sethna, Sir Chimanlal Setalwad and Sir Kawasji Jehangir also joined hands with Bombay Talkies and the land situated at Malad was bought from Sir F.E.Dinshaw to make a studio.
A still from Jawani Ki Hawa. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Bombay Talkiesfirst film Jawani Ki Hawa was released in the year 1935. The main lead was Najmul Husain, the heroine was Devika Rani and the composer was Saraswati Devi. The first 16 films of Bombay Talkies Jawani Ki Hawa, Mamta (1936), Miyaa Biwi (1936), Jeevan Naiya (1936), Achhut Kanya, Janma Bhoomi (1936), Izzat (1937), Jeevan Prabhat (1937), Prem Kahani (1937), Savitri (1937), Bhabi (1938), Nirmala (1938), Vachan  (1938), Durga (1939), Kangan and Navjeevan (1939) were directed by German citizen Franz Osten and the story and screenplay writer of the first 8 films was Niranjan Pal.  Ashok Kumar, who was working as a lab assistant in Bombay Talkies, started his acting career with the film Jeevan Naiya and the company’s film Basant (1942) featured child actor Madhubala for the first time on screen. The banner is also responsible for producing Dilip Kumar’s first film Jwar Bhata and singer-performer Kishore Kumar’s first film Ziddi.  
A poster of Devika Rani in Jeevan Naiya. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din


(Legend goes that during the making of Bombay Talkies’ first film Jawani Ki Hawa Devika Rani fell in love with the film’s hero Najmal Hussain and left her husband Himanshu Rai and Bombay Talkies both, and went to Kolkata with Najmal Hussain. Because of the efforts of Bombay Talkies’ shareholder and well-known director Sashadhar Mukherjee, Devika Rani returned to her husband’s side but all roads for Najmal Hussain’s return were sealed. Bombay Talkies’ lyricist Jamuna Swaroop Kashyap was to be cast as the hero in the next two films Mamta and Miyaa Biwi. But due to his sudden illness, Ashok Kumar, who was Sashadhar Mukherjee‘s brother in law, had to be promptly made the hero of the film Jeevan Naiya.)
Sashadhar Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar, Raibahadur Chunnilal Kohli, Kavi Pradeep, camera man Marshall Braganza, Dattaram Pai and Kanu Roy separated from Bombay Talkies and established the Filmistan production house in 1943.

According to senior film journalist (late) Badri Prasad Joshi ji, after Himanshu Rai’s sudden death in 1940, the responsibility of Bombay Talkies was taken over by Devika Rani. But Devika Rani’s unconventional working style created a rift between the company’s shareholders and staff members. The situation became so bad that Sashadhar Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar, Raibahadur Chunnilal Kohli, Kavi Pradeep, camera man Marshall Braganza, Dattaram Pai and Kanu Roy separated from Bombay Talkies and established the Filmistan production house in 1943, in Mumbai’s suburb Goregaon (West).
A poster of Kismet. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din


At the same time Ashok Kumar’s film Kismet which was released in 1943 by Bombay Talkies made a record of being screened in Kolkata for three years in a row. Also made in 1943, the film Hamari Baat proved to be Devika Rani’s last film after which she sold all her shares to producer Shiraz Ali Haqeem and married the Russian painter Roerich and eventually settled in Kullu-Manali and then in Bangalore. According to Colin Pal, after Devika Rani’ departure, Bombay Talkies was owned by the era’s well established silver mogul Gobind Ram Seksaria and the management was looked after by Hiten Chowdhary.
Ashok Kumar was so emotionally attached to Bombay Talkies that he couldn’t affiliate himself with Filmistan and in 1947 he returned to Bombay Talkies.
In the next 4 years only 5 films were made under the banner of Bombay Talkies, Char Ankhen (1944), Jwar Bhata, Pratima (1945),Milan (1946) and Nateeja (1947) but none could create any box office success. Ashok Kumar was so emotionally attached to Bombay Talkies that he couldn’t affiliate himself with Filmistan and in 1947 he returned to Bombay Talkies. He bought Bombay Talkies and made films like Majboor (1948), Ziddi, Mahal, Mashal (1950), Sangram (1950), Maa (1952) and Tamasha (1952) under its banner. After coming to Mumbai from Kolkata, director Bimal Roy and writer Nabendu Ghosh stepped into the Mumbai film industry through the film Maa. But despite all efforts by Ashok Kumar to pull back the company from the strain of 28 lakh rupees it incurred during its dissolution he couldn’t return Bombay Talkies to its former glory and Tamasha proved to be the last film made under this banner.  
A poster of Tamasha, the last film made under the Bombay Talkies banner. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din


In 1954 some people associated with Bombay Talkies decided to do something about the deteriorating condition of the company and started a cooperative to finance the film Baadbaan (1954) but their efforts proved to be futile as well and Bombay Talkies which had given 39 films in 19 years, became a part of history. In some time the entire property was bought by Seth Tolaram Jalan’s Prakash Cotton Mills. During the end of the 1950’s decade, Prakash Cotton Mills gave the green lush grounds full of trees to Ramkumar Jalan Charitable Trust on lease who promptly cut the trees and made shades all over to create small scale industries on the once green grounds.
 
According to J.M.Sharma, 4 acres of the 17 acres of land of Bombay Talkies has been reserved by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation as space for a garden. The remaining 13 acres of land houses almost 900 small industries that make products varying from a needle to parts of a ship. As a result due to the process started in 1960-61 the erstwhile Bombay Talkies has become an industrial area known as B.T. Compound….and beneath the din of machines and hammers, the sounds of ‘lights ', ‘sound’, ‘camera', 'action’ and ‘cut’ have been lost forever.
(Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series.)

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