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Spinning a new reel: India’s oldest film production house turns new leaf

Established in 1906 in Kolkata, Aurora Film Corporation has set many milestones. But in the new digital age, owner Anjan Bose is attempting to reinvent it to stay relevant, and keep the film rolling.

art and culture Updated: Jan 28, 2018 09:37 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Aurora film production house,Kolkata,Satyajit Ray
The 111-year-old Aurora Film Corporation Pvt Ltd is located in Kolkata. Though its foundation is traditional film making, owner Anjan Bose (in photo) is hoping to give it a shot in the arm by turning to short films. (Samir Jana/HT Photo)

“I don’t care if my films lose money. Perhaps, 25 films will do so. I am ensuring a steady revenue stream from other sources to finance them. I want to make films different both in terms of content and how they are watched,” says Anjan Bose, 73, as he thumps the century-old table in front of him. There is fire, and challenge, in his eyes.

Bose cannot be dismissed as an old, well heeled crackpot. Film making is in his blood. He heads Aurora Film Corporation, the country’s oldest surviving film production and distribution firm.

His grandfather, Anadinath, set it up in 1906 and his father, Ajit, took it to greater heights.

Over the 112 years, Aurora has left behind a number of milestones. It was set up at a time films were shown in Calcutta by JF Madan in makeshift tents on the maidan and private lawns.

It produced the country’s first film for children (Hate Khori, 1939) and the first Bengali film that became tax-free (Raja Rammohan, 1965). In 1917, the British government asked Auroa to produce films for the entertainment of its armed forces.

Taking risks, too, is in Bose’s blood. In 1955, his father came forward to distribute Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali when no one else was willing to take the risk. He also distributed Ray’s Aparajito (1956) and Jalsaghar (1958).

This appetite for risk has prompted Bose to demolish a profit-making studio in Salt Lake, and build a 20-storeyed structure to accommodate studios for shooting films and provide post-production facilities. At least 10 floors are being sold or leased out to companies that will provide Bose the funds for his films.

  • 1906: Aurora Cinema & Bioscope Co is established
  • 1907: Agreement signed with Pathe & Co to institute a touring cinema unit, set up branch office in Mumbai
  • 1916: Acquired a movie camera
  • 1917: Invited by the British-era government to make films for the entertainment of troops
  • 1921: Produced full length feature film, Dasyu Ratnakar
  • 1955: Distributed Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali
  • 1956: Part funded, distributed Ray’s Aparajito
  • 1958: Produced, distributed Ray’s Jalsaghar
  • 1960: Produced first Bengali film to be shot abroad (Bhogini Nibedita)
  • 2018: Charting new journey with short films, new distribution channels

Bose is betting big on short films. “They are the future. The trend is clear globally and is bound to catch on in India,” he asserts. He wants to produce films mostly under 15 minutes, though he is not ruling out feature films and documentaries.

“It’s a fast-expanding market. Films of two- and five-minute duration are also catching the imagination of viewers abroad. Apart from TV channels, the digital medium is lapping up these films,” said Shyamal Karmakar, former dean and currently professor of editing at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and himself a filmmaker.

“With its diversity, India offers an inexhaustible possibility of offering ideas for such films,” Karmakar added.

Interestingly, Bose wants to stay away from established directors. “I am looking for fresh talents from the Film and Television Institute in Pune and SRFTI in Kolkata,” said Bose.

He has produced a short film titled “Malai” (Ice Cream), shot in Oriya. Directed by young duo Rajdeep Paul and Sarmistha Maiti, it is based on an exploitative marriage custom in Odisha.

“I am trying to get it premiered at a global film festival. I want to make 20 films like this that will be picked up globally,” says Bose. He expects the quality will draw foreign TV channels.

“He told us to stay off the beaten track. He does not want more of what’s going on...,” said Maiti who completed his course at SRFTI in 2012. “It was a challenge to work for a house that produced timeless masterpieces.”

Vintage equipment stored at Aurora Film Corporation in Kolkata. ( Samir Jana/HT Photo )

Aurora’s office on Lenin Sarani in central Kolkata unlocks the doors to a completely different world. The one-storeyed building is well over 100 years old, where Anadinath Bose shifted office in the 1920s. His grandson has retained all the furniture.

A modern computer, mostly used to watch films, appears strangely out of place.

Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen learnt their initial crafts at Aurora studios. KL Saigal, Pramathesh Barua, BN Sircar, Uttam Kumar and Kanan Bala, too, were involved with it for a number of years.

“We are shy of publicity, but we are true to the fundamentals. In 1958, my father spent ~90,000 to create the sets of Jalsaghar,” says Bose.

First Published: Jan 28, 2018 08:04 IST