Some individuals, some groups, some institutions, achieve greatness for the way they conducted themselves during their time. Much after they cease to be in the limelight they are still talked about for the fame that was achieved, the glory that was enjoyed.
The Bombay Talkies Limited was one such, commonly known as the Bombay Talkies, a movie studio founded in 1934 that peaked during its days of existence and later went down to an inglorious end. But while it was there, it achieved name and fame that has been unparalleled till today, for the movies that were shot, the stars that were born there or passed by, the directorial genius that gave it unsurpassed popularity, the international standing that it enjoyed worldwide and of course flourished as a business of no mean proportions.
What was Bombay Talkies?
A set of dedicated people of the likes of popular leading lady Devika Rani, film maker Himanshu Rai, a financier Rajnarayan Dube, got together to start the production house initially in Malad, a suburb of Mumbai. Dube was a businessman with splendid financial acumen that got the production house humming to produce 102 movies in its time. His expert running of the affairs of the company and its listing on the Bombay Stock Exchange as the first public limited film company in India, perked up the interest of prominent businessmen of that time like F.E.Dinshaw, Sir Firoze Sethna and others who expressed their interest in investing in the production house. The production house like any legitimate organization had public issues, distribution of dividend and bonus to its employees.
In fact the financial affairs being so well organized, reputed directors of the time like Franz Osten and Niranjan Pal were regulars for the House and there were some very fine cinematic creations of that time that were made and have stood the test of time.
The formidable presence of Bombay Talkies
What does a production house do and how does it achieve its glory? A production house is meant to provide facilities at par with the standards of the time in areas of sound quality and echo proofing, masterful editing, dubbing, shooting excellence and storage in quality film and so many other aspects that go into the making of a film and its preservation. There are two standards that a production house strives to achieve. One, of being the leading production company in the land, the other the more ambitious but more paying in returns, the international status. Most production houses would aim for the former, since the effort and the investment to gain international fame was both taxing and beyond the reach of most houses. Bombay Talkies, thanks to its reputed trio, reached the pinnacle of success by actually achieving that envious position because it strove to make it there. Not only were the production facilities of international standard but the services of European technicians in the technical aspects of editing and other post production tasks ensured a quality of finish enjoyed by very few in the world.
In addition the setting of high standards of professionalism in film making and acting paid rich dividends. Compared to its rival companies the level of work was far superior and naturally became the most sought after production house for its quality of work. Experimenting with aestheticism and technology normally not associated with the then Indian films, it put Indian cinema on a new platform of excellence and was soon viewed as a formidable challenge even to the West. It even tread dangerous ground in dealing with subjects like inter-caste marriage in an age which considered it as taboo. e.g Achhut Kanya, starring Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani.
Stars associated with Bombay Talkies Productions
Devika Rani featured in a number of productions under the Bombay Talkies banner and the films doing well at the box office, brought her and the production house as well, unprecedented fame. Because of her beauty and talent she became the most sought after leading lady of her time. Jawani ki Hawa and Jeevan Naiya, movies featuring her in the mid 30s were highly successful and were followed by more successes subsequently.
Soon Bombay Talkies also became the launching pad for many actors and actresses who would become legends much later. Besides Devika Rani, Ashok Kumar, Leela Chitnis, Raj Kapoor, Mehmood, Madhubala, Dilip Kumar and some other great thespians started their filmy career with Bombay Talkies. Names that we are aware, that are uttered with the deepest respect and awe for their talent and natural flair for taking Indian cinema to new heights in acting, had once to go through the rigors of acting lessons and natural performances of this career-shaping production house and its team of talented directors.
Giants of Indian Cinema who travelled for a time with Bombay Talkies
- Raj Narayan Dube, the genius who managed the monetary affairs of Bombay Talkies was with Bombay Talkies since inception in 1934 till it closed down in 1956. He invested much of his personal wealth earned from Dube Industries, involved in construction activities, in Bombay Talkies. He passed away in 1990.
- Devika Rani was a classic beauty and had a force of personality. She was as popular internationally as she was in India. She was also one of the pioneer founders of Bombay Talkies who lent her charismatic skills, acumen and cinematic popularity to the betterment of the standing of production house internationally. She won the Dada Saheb Phalke award on 1969 for her contribution to Indian cinema. Before she passed away in 1994 she won many more awards.
- The legendary thespian Dilip Kumar was spotted by Devika Rani and Raj Narayan Dube, asked to audition for a role and the rest as we know is history. He is celebrated as one of the greatest actors on the big screen of Hindi Cinema who has displayed the entire gamut of human emotions so very convincingly that nobody else has ever been able to do so till date.
- Raj Kapoor, showman of Indian cinema started his filmy career as attendant in Bombay Talkies. The same duo of Devika Rani and Dube saw the makings of something big in the earnest lad. He went on to win nine Filmfare awards and was twice nominated at the Cannes International Film Festival. He has been one of the most acknowledged directors for directing fresh female faces and bold themes. He had a brilliant journey in Hindi cinema winning even the Padma Bhushan in 1971 and Dada Saheb Phalke award in 1987. In 1988 his lifetime journey came to an end.
- Aghajani Kashmeri (a.k.a. Kashmiri and Agha Jani) who has written more than 50 highly successful film scripts, spent his youth training as a screenplay writer under Himanshu Rai and Rajnarayan Dube at the Bombay Talkies studio. The first script Aghajani wrote for the Bombay Talkies was Vachan (Vow), which was directed by Franz Osten. He passed away in 1988.
There have been others and many more who owe their Hindi Cinema journey to Bombay Talkies, for it cut, polished and shone them till they dazzled the world with their acting prowess and brought audiences to share their cinematic emotions unabashedly, that they could carve a name for themselves immortally in the history of Indian Cinema.
The slow decline of the once famous Bombay Talkies
It is said that good things start seeing bad days when some evil eye is cast upon them. For a production house that saw very good days of fame and fortune for fifteen to twenty years, suddenly had cracks developing in the establishment, in-fighting and rivalry making their mark in the enviably smooth run of so many years. It remains unclear to this day what exactly could be pin-pointed to be the reason for the slide in the success run of Bombay Talkies. But allegations are made that Devika Rani as the head producer had differences with her managers Ashok Kumar and Sashadhar Mukherjee and two rival camps emerged. The latter were allegedly attempting to begin their own production company under the guise of Bombay Talkies that led to the beginning of this unwarranted situation.
Despite attempts on both sides being made to salvage a working relationship, the air got poisonous with malicious talk, doubts, ego clashes and a lot of infighting that did not augur well for Bombay Talkies. Even the calming influence of Rajnarayan Dube, the financier, who interceded on Devika Rani’s behalf, failed to unite the company.
In such a highly volatile situation, with both parties failing to come to terms, the downfall and end of Bombay Talkies was a foregone conclusion. Rajnarayan Dube the backbone and financial wizard who saw to it that Bombay Talkies brought out some of the most memorable films of all time in the 102 film run, was disillusioned and withdrew his support. It was only a matter of time that Bombay Talkies wound up its operations in 1954, bringing an end to an era, a golden period in Indian Cinema when film making, acting and the meritorious aspects of cinema as an art had touched the lives of so many ‘greats’ of today’s Indian Cinema. Great actors and actresses of Hindi Cinema by the deep influence of the Bombay Talkies journey in the beginning of their careers, later laid the foundation of the more enduring and sustaining character of Indian Cinema, to cause it to be known and applauded as it is today, worldwide.
And so like a grand epic after a great promise that delivered while it lasted, Bombay Talkies will now remain a fond memory, a tale of greatness that will remain the inspiration of what has been achieved and what is still possible. But for those who have had the good fortune to be part of its grand period, they shall by virtue of their own screen immortality and the tales that they narrate about what they were and what they have achieved, tell the current and future generations of a memorable journey, that remains a part of their lives forever.