Thirty frames of hope and despair

  • Film Division staff

    Film Division staff giving final touches to the exhibition that previews a selection of artefacts from the upcoming National Museum of Cinema in Mumbai as ...

  • Fatima Begum

    Fatima Begum (1892–1983) was India's first female film director. She was the mother of Zubeida, a superstar of the silent film era. In 1926, she ...

  • JJ Madan of Madan Theatres

    JJ Madan of Madan Theatres was the big daddy of film importing.  In 1907, he established Elphinstone Picture Palace, currently known as Chaplin cinema, the ...

  • Alam Ara

    Alam Ara is a 1931 film directed by Ardeshir Irani. It was the first Indian talkie. It was so popular that police aid had to ...

  • Lumiere Brothers’

    A newspaper advertisement calling for a viewing of the Lumiere Brothers’ 10-minute films on sea bathing, life in a factory, women on soldiers travelling by ...

  • Father India

    A poster of Father India. The title of Mehboob Khan’s epic film  Mother India was clearly inspired by it. (Photo: Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times)

  • Samskara

    Samskara, 1970, is a Kannada film written by UR Ananthamurthy and directed by Pattabhi Rama Reddy. The film starring Girish Karnad is said to have ...

  • VS Kundu

    VS Kundu, Director General, Films Division, who put together the exhibition. (Photo: Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times)

If cinema is the experience of a community, a museum of cinema needs to be more than a house of history. It must mark out periods of enterprise, bow to pioneers, and also look at its failures, its rebels. The 30 panels and artefacts brought to Siri Fort, Delhi, as a preview to the upcoming National Museum in Mumbai, have attempted a difficult balance to showcase 100-year-old memories of one of the world’s oldest movie-making industry. 

“We had to consider major centres of cinema production. Bhojpuri cinema, for example, now talked about, was not thought to have a national presence. As an institution, we can’t be totally inclusive or exclusive,” said VS Kundu, director-general, Films Division, while overseeing the outlay  of the exhibition.

From the panels hang facts about Indian cinema but there is enough evidence of scandal  and power-play.  The Lumiere Brothers’ landing in Bo mbay in  1896 with 10-minute films set in motion the best and the worst of creative and competitive energies among wannabe filmmakers to produce the first silent (Raja Harishchandra,1913), talkie (Alam Ara, 1931) and colour (Kisan Kanya, 1937) films. PHOTOS: National Museum of Cinema

At Siri Fort, of course, former rivals seemed to have called truce.  Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Studios who made Alam Ara and  Kisan Kanya, and Madan Theatres’ JJ Madan, the big daddy of film importing, are smiling stiffly at each other from across panels.

Women artistes – thankfully not a separate category – are a strong presence. There is Fatima Begum, India’s first woman director; Mandakini, the first child star; Kusum Kumari, the first female star and Kanan Debi, one of the early actresses who was a playback success. The entry of sound gave birth to cinema in different languages, opportunities for smuggling in anti-British propaganda in films, speak its angst in songs and thus move towards imagining and then consolidating the national project.

The teething and glory periods of Manipuri, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Malayalam, Telegu, Gujrati, Marathi and Kannada cinema are detailed. Some highlights – India makes a mark in international film festivals with Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito in 1957; Sita Bibah, 1936, the first Oriya talkie was made just five years after Alam Ara. Recent stars like Aamir Khan get a look-in. India’s idealism at Independence, and reformism after it, have full play here. What isn’t is the turbulent sixties rife with peasant struggles and seventies’ state reorganisation amply portrayed by directors like Ritwik Ghatak, John Abraham, Mrinal Sen. 

Gaps in selection will perhaps be filled by research facilities planned alongside Gulshan Mahal, the heritage building that will house the museum. “Socio-economic trends and movements will be studied. Academic interests will surely be served,” said Kundu.

Tomorrow: Interview with Jahnu Barua, doyen of Assamese cinema; a look into Dadasaheb Phalke’s contribution to the Industry.


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