A renowned novelist and playwright before he took up film direction, Premankur Atorthy made some significant contributions to early talkie cinema. One of New Theatres’ premiere directors, he was particularly adept in the genre of literary adaptations.
Born in 1890 in Faridpur, he was educated in Kolkata. Beginning with Brahmo School, he subsequently studied in Duff School, Keshab Academy, City School and Brahmo Boys Boarding and Day School. Failing to impress at his studies, a young Atorthy ran away to Bombay and learn the sitar from Ustad Karamatullah. Upon his return to Kolkata, he took up writing as a profession. He soon established himself as a novelist, playwright and essayist. He worked for the literary journal Bharati and along with Hemendra Kumar Roy and Pasupati Chatterjee edited Nachghar, which became one of the first journals to carry articles on cinema. One of the significant achievements of his literary career was to establish Betaar Jagat, the journal of All India Radio. Mahasthavir Jatak (1944) was a fictional autobiography which earned him great plaudits. Other notable literary works included Anarkali (1922), Achalpather Jatri (1923), and Chashir Meye (1927).
He began his journey in cinema as a scenarist and actor for Indian Kinema Arts, making his debut in Punarjanma (1927). He assisted Prafulla Roy in Chasher Meye (1931) which was based on his novel. He also penned the script for Nitin Bose’s Buker Bojha (1930). By this time, he had become associated with B N Sircar. This resulted in him directing New Theatres’s first talkie Dena Paona (1931). He followed it up by an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore in Chirakumar Sabha (1932). Further adaptations followed of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (Kapal Kundala, 1933) and Agha Hashr Kashmiri (Yahudi Ki Ladki, 1933). New Theatres was establishing its forte in literary adaptations and Atorthy became the prime proponent of the genre. He directedK L Saigal in some of his earliest roles in Mohabbat Ke Ansu(1932), Subah Ka Sitara(1932), Zinda Lash (1932), Kapal Kundala (1933) and Karwan-e-Hayat (1935). His Urdu language films were part of New Theatres’ expansion drive in North India.
He became the first Bengali filmmaker to venture into western India when he made Bhikharan for Kolhapur Cinetone in 1935. He also made Sarla (1936) for Imperial Film Company. He also supervised the making of H K Shivdasani’s Yasmin (1935) which was made by Krishna Studios. Cutting down on his output in the 40’s, he made films like Kalyani (1940), Avatar (1941), Lajwanti (1942), Dikshul (1943) and Sudhar Prem (1950).
The veteran litterateur and director passed away in 1964.