indian cinema heritage foundation

Jal Khambata


Active in the early era of Indian cinema, actor Jal Khambata is known for films such as Lal-e-Yaman (1933), Shikari (1932), Hind Kesari (1935), Miss Frontier Mail (1936) and The Court Dancer: Raj Nartaki (1941). Attached to the Orient Pictures Corporation initially, he worked in the studio’s productions featuring drama as well as social genre films. He also worked in films produced by Wadia Movietone.

Among the earliest films he featured in, was Balidan (1927), a costume drama silent film directed by Naval Gandhi. The star cast included Ruby Mayer, Zubeida and Master Vithal. Produced by Orient Pictures Corporation, it was based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore with screenplay by Jamshed Ratnagar. Balidan has been cited as one of the top ten lost films of Indian cinema by P K Nair. It has also been hailed as "an excellent and truly Indian film" by the Indian Cinematograph Committee, 1927–1928. The film was apparently used to illustrate how 'serious' Indian cinema could match Western standards. A quasi-historical story, it was set in the fictional land of Tippera. It features Queen Gunavati (Sulochana), King Govinda, Aparna the beggar girl (Zubeida) and the priest Raghupati who officiates at a Kali temple. The story addresses the conflict between reformist enlightenment and obsolete, inhuman ritual, questioning the contemporary validity of traditional rituals. The dramatic pivot is the conflict between the king who banned animal sacrifice, and the priest who calls for the king's own blood. Emotionally, the film revolves around the childless queen and a beggar girl whose pet goat has been taken for the sacrifice and who loves a servant in the temple.

In 1930, he starred in Orient Pictures’ social genre silent film Devadasi/ Bride of the Gods, playing a character named Sadashiv, alongside a cast comprising Zubeida, Lavji Lavangia, Rupvanti, Makhijani, and Raja Sandow PK

The same year, Khambata also acted in Veer Rajput/ Rajput Chivalry (1930), directed by Naval Gandhi and written by Baldeo Singh. The cast included Zubeida, Lavji Lavangia, Rupmati and Baldeo Singh. 

He went on to act in films such as Orient Pictures’ Farebi Jaal/ Trapped (1931) directed by Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani, starring alongside Durga Khote and Sushila; Karma No Kahar (1932) directed by Pessi Karani; and the adventure genre Shikari (1932) directed by Thorold Dickinson and Naval Gandhi.

He played the role of the king in Wadia Movietone’s Oriental fantasy derived from classic Parsi theatre – Lal-E-Yaman (1933). Directed by J B H Wadia and written by Munshi Ashik, Joseph David and Munshi Sefta, the cast included Karimja and Padmadevi. The plot revolves around the heir to the Yemeni throne, Prince Parviz, who is falsely imprisoned by his stepmother who claims power. Parviz receives a magic dagger from a mystic sufi fakir to liberate himself and his people. The dagger makes him invisible. He kills the Apeman and the genii, rescues the captive Princess Parizad and, finally, overwhelms the soldiers sent to recapture him. The king learns the truth and repents.

Wadia Movietone’s Kala Gulab (1933) saw him act alongside Sayani Atish, Feroze Dastur and Sharifa, while British India Film’s Harijan (1933) featured him in a cast comprising Zubeida, Waman Talpade and Lavji Lavangia directed by Naval Gandhi.

He would act in Bag-e-Misar/ Shann-I-Islam(1934) directed by J B H Wadia; and the Homi Wadia directorial Hind Kesari (1935). The latter was a Ruritanian drama mainly featuring the stunts of the horse Punjab-Ka-Beta (Son of Punjab). Good King Mansingh is dethroned by evil minister Zalim Singh. Princess Hansa transforms lover Prince Randhit from an easy-going youth into the masked Hind Kesari, savior of the poor.

In Miss Frontier Mail (1936) he played Sundar’s father in the Wadia Movietone stunt drama film directed by Homi Wadia and written by JBH Wadia. It starred Fearless Nadia, Sardar Mansur, John Cawas, Sayani Atish and Gulab. The third in the Diamond Thriller series, this installment was also a success. According to The Bombay Chronicle of 29 July 1936, the film was running to full houses even in its tenth week. It was also dubbed the Wadia brothers’ “Speediest Diamond Thriller”. The plot revolved around a character named Savita whose father, the station master, is framed for a murder committed by a masked man. The masked man is intent on disrupting the railway service of the town to make way for an airline service. 

Khambata played the high priest Goswami Kashishwar in Modhu Bose’s directorial The Court Dancer: Raj Nartaki (1941), made under the Wadia Movietone banner. It starred the famous dancer Sadhana Bose with Prithviraj Kapoor, Nayampalli and Protima Das Gupta. Made simultaneously in English, Bengali and Hindi, the film was distributed in Europe and US through Columbia in Hollywood. It managed to recover its cost with the virtue of being released in three languages. The story of the film, set in the early 19th century in the Manipur kingdom, is about social barriers and a court dancer. The story pivots around Prince Chandrakriti's responsibilities to his kingdom requiring him to marry the princess of Tripur although he loves the court dancer Madhuchanda. The mystical head of a temple sect persuades Madhuchanda to give up her hold on the prince. She does so at the cost of her reputation and becomes a public outcast. The film established JBH Wadia’s reputation as an intellectual filmmaker.

Muqabala (1942) directed by Nanabhai Bhatt and Babubhai Mistry, saw him play a character named Dinanath as part of a cast headlined by Fearless Nadia. The story revolved around twin sisters separated at birth, one growing up surrounded by luxury and the other brought up by a gangster as a dancer. It was apparently the first film in India to use the double role format. 

He played a solicitor in Fearless Nadia starrer Jungle Princess (1942) directed by Homi Wadia; and a character named Bhagwati in the Homi Wadia-written Tigress (1948) directed by K Talpade