Aurora Film Corporation has numerous firsts to its credit. For a studio that has been around for a hundred years, that's no big deal.
“We are the only film producing house in India being run by a family for three generations,” claims managing director Anjan Bose. He adds, “All others — Chhayabani, New Theatres, Chandimata, Sri Bishnu and Shri Krishna Pictures — have either closed down or have changed hands. Celluloid replaced nitrate films. Then came digital technology and now HD – we have seen it all.”
It all started with a young man's desire to explore uncharted territory. By 1906, motion pictures were being screened at Kolkata's famous Star Theatre. Young Anadinath Bose saw the potential this new medium held. He got together a travelling cinema unit, putting together magic, theatre and motion pictures. He travelled from village to village, with imported silent films. The babu culture prevalent in those days made sure he had no dearth of patronage from the zamindars. He was joined by projectionist Debi Ghosh and magician Charu Ghosh.
They started to produce silent films, generally featuring female dancers with Anadinath shooting the films with a hand-winding camera. Debi Ghosh soon took charge of the camera and became the cinematographer. However, Anadinath had his eyes on bigger things.
In 1907, he entered into an agreement with films and projection equipment maker M Charles Pathe’s Pathe & Company. He would import movies from the French company and screen them in his touring cinema. He would also sell film equipment from the French company to other fledgling film companies. They opened a branch in Mumbai in the same year.
Anadinath continued to expand his operations, this time eyeing film production. In 1911, the trio formed the Aurora Cinema Company, setting up Aurora Studio and Film Processing Laboratory at Raja Rajballabh Street in North Kolkata. Later the studio was shifted to Maniktala. a year later, Anadinath would take over entire management of the company. Aurora Cinema Company also started importing short silent movies from Keystone Co of the USA for his touring cinema and ventured into film distribution. In 1916, Anadinath bought his first movie camera.
Aurora remained largely a distribution and exhibitionbusiness until 1917, when they were awarded the contract for short films for the army. Anjan Bose recollects, “Aurora bagged an order from the British during World War I to shoot films for the entertainment of soldiers. This helped Anadinath learn a lot.” It also let him expand his operations.
In 1919, he took over the Manmohan Theatre on Beadon Street of North Kolkata for the screening of his shows. On August 13, 1921, Aurora released its first full-length feature film, Dasyu Ratnakar at Russa Theatre, now known as Purna Cinema, in Bhawanipur in South Kolkata. West Bengal's oldest film production company was truly on its way.
Since then, the Aurora Cinema Company, renamed Auroa Film Corporation in 1929, pioneered one innovation after the other. The concept of the newsreel was first started in India by them. Initially branded as Tuki Taki and later as Aurora Samayiki, these newreels remain the only extant documentation of Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the celebration of the first Independence Day and Tagore's funeral. Haate Khari, the first Indian film for children, is also Aurora’s gift to the nation. Aurora’s Bhagini Nivedita, directed by Bijay Basu, is the first Bengali film shot in England. The same director’s Raja Rammohan, was the first tax-free Bengali film.
Film personalities like Pramathes Barua, Kanan Bala, KL Saigal and many others were involved with this studio since its inception. Aurora purchased Pramathes Barua’s Barua Pictures Limited and produced two silent films — Pujari (1931) and Niyoti (1934). And then in 1955, Aurora became a part of history when they distributed Satyajit Ray's path-breaking Pather Panchali. Ray collaborated twice more with Aurora – Aparajito (1956), which they distributed, and Jalsaghar (1958), which they produced, both of which went on to win international acclaim.
Aurora has a history of nurturing cinematic greats. Ritwik Ghatak made several short films under the banner. “Mrinal Sen first came with his father to our studio and joined as a sound-recordist. He had aptitude for films and used to watch shootings whenever he had time. This I came to know from my father Ajit Bose. Several of his films, including Kharij and Ek Din Achanak, were made here,” says Anjan Bose.
Tragedy struck in 1946. “A sudden fire in the studio at Raja Rajballabh Street, from self-combustion of the nitrate films, caused major damage. Except a few historical films like the Tagore and Netaji newsreels that were in a laboratory building at Narkeldanga, everything was gutted,” rues Bose. The setback seems to have been too much to handle for Anadinath and he breathed his last on September 21, 1946.
After him, control of Aurora went to his two sons Ajit and Arun, who in turn passed it on to Ajit's son Anjan. With the changing times, Aurora has kept updating itself. It now has a state-of-the-art fully air-conditioned studio at Salt Lake. Its modernised post-production unit for video films at Tollygunge is also doing good business. However, Aurora has steered clear of feature films since 1973, now concentrating on documentaries.
Says Bose, himself a documentary filmmaker and winner of three National Awards and a Dadasaheb Phalke award, “Firstly, we cannot produce something which will lower the standards we have set. We will not compromise on quality. Neither will we compromise with lobbies to distribute films. That would be inglorious for a distributor who distributed Pather Panchali or Parash Pathar by Satyajit Roy.” The last film Aurora produced was Duranto Joy by Ardhendu Mukhopadhyay in 1973 and the last film it distributed was Utpalendu Chakraborty's Moyna Tadanta in 1982.
The company is doing well economically. But a question looms large over the fate of the family and their control over this glorious institution. Anjan lost his only son last year. He has a daughter but whether she will take the reins of the family business only time will tell.